The Happiness Project

Hugging Kids and Drinking Pinot Noir—but Not Going Blonde

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 persuaded 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’m a new fan of the hilarious blog Mom-101 , so I was curious to hear what writer Liz Gumbinner had to say about happiness.

She writes about parenthood and life in general on her blog and in anthologies like Sleep Is for the Weak: The Best of the Mommybloggers , True Mom Confessions , and See Mom Run (just out this week). She’s also the publisher/editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks . I was especially interested in Liz when I found out that she also lives in New York City. (I rarely seem to meet any NYC bloggers—why is that?)

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Liz: Oh man, you’re going to make me start this off with the cheesiest, most cliche answer ever—but hugging my kids. There’s something about two little girls squealing and running toward you with arms outstretched that is the singularly most exquisite example of happiness that ever existed. (And to think my former answer was “pedicures.”)

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I used to have the cause and effect thing all backward. I thought that if, say, the right boy liked me, it would make me happy. Now I know that it’s happiness that attracts good people into your life. Also, I now know that that right boy grows up to be bald, twice-divorced, and a drunken slob at high school reunions.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I am the quintessential people-pleaser. I try to make everyone else happy, which often puts me last. I need to stop that. I mean, if you’re OK with that.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
There’s a story about a king who challenges his wise men to bring him something that, when he’s sad it will make him happy, and when he’s happy it will make him sad. They spend months on the project, and return to him with a small ring engraved with the saying, “This too, shall pass.” It’s a great reminder that everything is cyclical.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (Mine is reading children’s books.)
I am now outing the dorky new-agey side of myself, but I love the little bag of runes I’ve had since college. If I’m in a tough spot, I draw a rune, and it always gives me some much-needed perspective on the situation. Of course, there’s always mac ‘n’ cheese, a glass of Pinot Noir and some bad escapist reality TV, which is like the emergency comfort trifecta.

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?
The happiest people seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing. Unhappy people seem to be very focused on what other people are doing. (With the exception of reality-TV-watching, because really, those aren’t actual people, right?)

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy—if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I think overall I’m a happy person—I once had a co-worker ask what medication I was on, because I was always smiling. This was not the same co-worker who asked me if my boobs were real. (Aw, those were the days.) But I’ve certainly gone through some dark periods of depression or anxiety or sadness. One of the toughest times for me was when I was pregnant for the first time. I was on bedrest, I gained a lot of weight, my relationship wasn’t the best it’s ever been, and I felt like nothing more than an incubator. I got through it with the support of friends and family who loved me unconditionally and the knowledge that my situation was finite. See, also: “This too shall pass.”

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
For me, the opposite of happy isn’t sad; it’s anxious. So I try to avoid the people and situations that stress me out and don’t bring joy into my life. I try to stay off the blogs that exist only to be cruel, I don’t follow drama-starters on Twitter, and I have banished all the energy suckers from my circle of friends. In fact, I think taking inventory of who your friends are at any given time is a pretty strong indicator of where your own head is. I’m so lucky right now that Kristen Chase, my partner and co-publisher of Cool Mom Picks (and a great friend!) is so collaborative and positive and supportive in every way as is the rest of our staff. I feel lucky every day to have such positive, wonderful people in my work life day to day.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t—or vice versa?
I tried going blonde for a while. It didn’t make me happier, although it definitely changed the kinds of guys who tried to hit on me in bars.

* Although I don’t meet many NYC bloggers, I do manage to meet a lot of far-flung blogland friends when they come through New York. I’m a longtime reader of Beyond Blue , so am very happy to be meeting Therese Borchard in person, at last. I predict a long conversation about St. Therese of Lisieux , too. Can’t wait.

* For more discussion about happiness, join the Facebook Page . Lots of people, lots of fascinating conversation.