The Happiness Project

“A Non-Addictive Form of Vicodin, Non-Fattening Cheese Fries … or Writing”

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him or her, than by any other kind of argument.

I love it when I get to meet blog friends face to face, and I had a great coffee the other day with my friends who run the Drinking Diaries . They told me to check out Mommy Wants Vodka (note: her writing is a bit profane and explicit, just so you know), and I immediately wanted to ask “Aunt Becky,” a/k/a Becky Sherrick Harks, about her views about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Becky: Since I’m assuming that I can’t fantasize here and say something outlandish like, “a non-addictive form of Vicodin that’s magically transported into my medicine cabinet” or “non-fattening cheese fries” I will go with Option Number 2.

Writing. I love to write for my blog ( Mommy Wants Vodka ) and my audience who are an integral part of it. It’s funny. I never realized that I had any sort of interest in writing. It was like waking up one day and realizing that I could speak perfect Persian without ever having taken one of those language courses. And now I find that I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m trying to make a career out of it, not because I have to, but because I want to.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
At 18, I was pretty sure that happiness was juuuuuust around the corner. Just waiting for me. The next big thing was going to make me happy. If I could only land the perfect job or the perfect boyfriend or the perfect grades or the perfect whatever. I was waiting for other things and other people to make me happy. It took me years to learn that true happiness comes from within.

I will never be in control of what happens to me or around me, but I am in control of what happens within me and how I react to situations. Now I know that I alone can make me happy.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?

My motto is something I read somewhere MANY years ago in the sort of new age-y type book that I really never read, but it’s this: “Somewhere, someone is flying.”

For some reason, that image of someone evokes a fanciful happy blue carefree blue sky and reminds me that in the immortal words of the God (Mick) Jagger, “You got to scrape that shit right off your shoes.”

Dwelling does little good, after all. And somewhere someone IS flying.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
I try to talk myself through it, kind of like the way they teach smokers to get through a craving, by focusing on something else completely. If I can distract myself from the sadness, or talk myself through it by reminding myself that I’m either being a) rational or b) irrational (depending, of course, on the situation) I end up feeling better.

Then, I focus the all of that energy on doing something productive with my hands. I tend to my massive rose garden or my orchids, I plant, I create something where there was nothing. Or I nurture something and revel in what I am growing. By filling the empty space with something, I feel whole again.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
We’ve all been dealt some pretty crappy cards in life at one point or another. I am the product of two alcoholics, and my childhood was not exactly a Norman Rockwell painting, if you can imagine it. But we can all walk around with a big red VICTIM painted on our forehead, expecting people to tiptoe around our feelings and give us special dispensation for our VICTIM status, or we can dust ourselves off, accept that it sucked pretty hard and move on.

The people who have the VICTIM on their foreheads are the ones that I see that are in a cycle of unhappiness because they’re always blaming other people. It’s hard to get over, I know. I know.

We all have skeletons in our closets. We might as well pull them out and make ‘em dance.

* I always enjoy a visit to Zen Habits —great material on “simple productivity.”

** If you’re interested in launching a group for people who meet to do their happiness projects together, sign up for the starter-kit . More than 3,300 people have requested it. You might also like to check out the Facebook conversation for group leaders – that’s a good resource if you’re getting started.