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"Learn New Skills, Ask Questions, Practice Yoga--and Only Travel Carry-On."

Posted Nov 17 2009 10:00pm
Gwen-bell

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.

Sometimes, in ways that I don’t really understand, I begin to overlap with people in blogland, to the point that I feel like I should introduce myself.

This happened to me recently with Gwen Bell. Her name and her writing kept popping up, and finally I thought, “I need to say hello to Gwen Bell.” (This shows how far I’ve come in my resolution to “Make new friends.” A few years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of a cold-call email.)

Gwen Bell is a blogger and social media guru – she actually is a social media guru, unlike many people who claim that title. She and Chris Guillebeau just wrote The Unconventional Guide to the Social Web to help people figure out how to spread the word using social media. At the same time, she also does mind/body/tech workshops – one with Danielle LaPorte.

I know Chris and Danielle, now I know Gwen, in a perfect example of triadic closure – our tendency to befriend the friends of our friends. For people who are interested in how technology influences personal relationships, it’s worth noting that this triadic closure took place practically entirely VIRTUALLY. I’ve never met Chris or Gwen in person, and I’ve only met Danielle once. But triadic closure is still at work.

One of the best ways to get to know someone is to ask them a lot of questions about happiness (and lucky me, I have an excuse to do that).

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Gwen: Practicing yoga.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
You get to make happiness happen. To rely on someone else to "make" you "happy" is to live in a state of illusion.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I think that I prefer to kill things off rather than to let them peter out to a pitiful end (see my answer to question 7). And for that reason, I sometimes end a project or relationship before it has taught me the lesson it needs to teach me. This is a pattern I'm aware of and working with.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
To be happy you have to serve others. In order to best serve others you have to practice self-study and self-reflection.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Walking around (often with a camera in hand), noticing whatever arises. That, or striking up a conversation with a stranger. Being completely present with whatever comes up.

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?
Adds: recognizing things for what they are, practicing life (as opposed to "just living" or "getting by"), simultaneously setting and relaxing around the goal-concept. Detracts: failing to see that to be alive is to suffer.

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 had a particularly dark time in my life following my mom's death (I was eleven, she was thirty - it was a long illness). I'm not sure that I ever went back to the state of naivete I occupied before her death. People observe my melancholy when they meet me and I think it surprises them sometimes. Online, melancholy simply doesn't compute. One of the most important lessons I've learned (through a decade of practice with Zen Buddhism) is that melancholy is perfectly normal - it's neither happy nor unhappy - and it's all right to walk slowly through it.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I work on being happier in three ways:
- learning new skills
- asking questions of myself and others
- showing up for others

How do you cultivate an atmosphere of growth?
I keep a minimalist home. I sit regularly. I only travel carry-on. I surround myself with positive people - and encourage them as often as possible. I write posts that stretch my readers and myself. And I check in often with my personal manifesto to make sure I'm on track - without obsessing if I get off course. I make growth a daily practice.

* Speaking of small-world-getting-smaller-through-technology, I just saw a video of my SISTER on Sarah Fain Has Starfish Envy! (They're writing partners.) I love the internet!

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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