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"I Knew Far More About Happiness When I Was 8 Years Old Than I'd Learn in Decades to Follow!"

Posted Jan 27 2011 10:11am
Lori_Deschene

Interview: Lori Deschene.

Karl Staib of Work Happy Now fame was kind enough to make an e-introduction for me and Lori Deschene, who has the great site -- "simple wisdom for complex lives." One of my happiness-project resolutions is to Bring people together , and I certainly appreciate being the beneficiary when someone else follows that resolution. Lori and I write about a lot of the same subjects, from different perspectives, so I was very eager to hear what she had to say about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Lori: For me, it’s yoga. What’s challenging is that when I’m feeling my worst, I’m least likely to get to class. And yet in getting to class, I always dramatically transform my state of mind. I suppose that’s true for all the little things that make us happy: even if we don’t feel like doing it, we have to trust it’s worth it to push through that discomfort.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That I knew far more about happiness when I was 8 years old than I’d learn in decades to follow! The greatest causes of my unhappiness (and I imagine most people) are my run-away thoughts and feelings. Sometimes I let them pile up inside my head and then wonder why I feel so overwhelmed. When I was a kid, I was far more apt to act first and stew later, whether it was playing at the park, singing in the backyard, or running around with my arms flailing like Phoebe in my favorite episode of Friends.

I spent most of my 20s trying to learn about happiness, studying the psychology and science. Now that I’ve done all that, I realize my happiness is connected to my willingness to stop looking and start doing, just like I did back before I decided to solve a thought-based problem with more thinking.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Historically, I’ve created a lot of pain for myself by dwelling on the past and obsessing about the future. The former used to be a big problem for me. I was always rehashing the mistakes I made and feeling ashamed, or remembering someone else’s and feeling angry.

Then it all shifted to my fantasies of that elusive perfect tomorrow, when everything is magically better and the conditions just right for happiness.

I’m not as much of a dweller these days, but I still have a tendency to defend myself against potential negative outcomes. The biggest cause of my pain has been my dedication to avoiding it. My happiest days are when I decide that whatever’s coming, I can handle it, but it won’t define today.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
“Let go.” It’s a simple little phrase that we end up making so complicated. I think it’s like that Yoda quote: do or do not; there is no try. We never truly let go when we try to—we merely make excuses to hold on.

Letting go is simply letting go: releasing the past, the need to control the future, fears about what might be coming, insecurities about how you’re being perceived, anger over something that hurt you, guilt over how you hurt someone else.

The list of mental self torture goes on and on, and it’s all a huge roadmap for unhappiness. The only way off that road is to let go of the wheel.

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’m a huge fan of bubble baths—I take an insane amount. I have a freakish intolerance to heat, so they’re usually pretty hot. I’m also a big fan of pedicures because you get the hot water at your feet and you get to sit in a massage chair. These two things always pull me out of my head and into my body.

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?
Some of the words that I’ve noticed correlate with happiness include: excited, passionate, grateful, possible.

The words that often correlate with unhappiness include: can’t, shouldn’t, wish, hope I know those last two might seem out of place, but I’ve found that when people wish and hope for things they’re less likely to empower themselves and work toward them.

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 went through a very dark period of my life in my teens, and then spent the beginning of my 20s trying to distance myself from that place, literally. I moved around a lot and toured the country with marketing campaigns in an attempt to outrun myself.

Even as I transplanted myself all over the US, I isolated myself, feeling unconfident in my ability to be part of the world and form real relationships.

I didn’t want to hurt, and retreating within felt like the safest way to avoid that—but that just shifted probability: it was less likely someone else would hurt me but far more likely I’d torture myself.

Back then, I found pride in my fighter identity—that I was strong and no one could hurt me. Though it’s been a long journey of two steps forward and one step back, I realize there’s been a major shift in perspective.

I now take pride in being loving; and somehow without ever actively choosing, I started to love myself. I guess I did choose one small step at a time, and in doing that I earned my own admiration and respect.

That’s what’s making me happier. I no longer feel a deep aching need to be someone better than who I am. I might not always love my circumstances, but I no longer hate the person in the middle of them. I still get down on myself sometimes, but in the end, I take care of me.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I look at things a little differently now. I’m not trying to be happier; I’m just aiming to feel good more often than I feel bad, and I work at that through my daily choices. The second I want to be happier than I am, I’ve minimized my potential to feel joy now. I actually wrote about this recently in my post The One New Year’s Resolution That Creates Lasting Change .

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t–or vice versa?
Yes, repeatedly! For years everything was a major disappointment because I had unrealistic expectations of what achieving it would do for me. No goal, dream, or accomplishment can compensate for a deep feeling of emptiness and self-dissatisfaction. The only way to fill that hole is from within, and it’s a lifetime practice. We’ll never be happiness “after pictures.” Accepting that and eliminating the pressure to discover profound happiness, I’ve found, removes a huge road block to simple joy.

* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and each weekday morning, you'll get a happiness quotation in your email in-box. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com (don't forget the "1"). I'm thrilled by the response to this -- I started it just a few weeks ago, and more than fifteen thousand people have signed up already.

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