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.
There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. 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, than by any other kind of argument. I ask the same set of questions in each interview, the better to compare different people’s experiences.
Today’s interview is with Darren Rowse of the wildly popular blog about blogging, ProBlogger. He also recently came out with a book (which I bought, and it’s great), Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income. Darren’s site was a major source of happiness for me when I was starting this blog, because I was in my “Ask for help” mode, without a lot of living, breathing people to ask. It’s so satisfying when you find exactly the right source for the information you need.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Darren: Can I mention two? Please? OK – I know you won’t mind….
1. My first sip of a latte in the morning – it’s a simple, slightly guilty pleasure that I allow myself most mornings.
2. Time with my son – he’s coming up on 2 and while he’s learning how to throw tantrums and get into trouble his simple and innocent view of the world inspire me, give me hope and make me feel very content. It’s amazing how the worries of life seem to melt away when we’re together.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Darren: I would say that I now believe that happiness is more than just a feeling that I have. Sure there are times when it is ‘feeling’ related – but for me I’m beginning to discover that happiness is also about the way I live my life. I find it hard to articulate (ask me again when I’m 50 and I might have the answer) but for me it’s also about an attitude or a choice that I have the opportunity to make daily.
When I was 18 I think I allowed my circumstances to dictate my happiness. These days I bring happiness to my circumstances.
Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of
Darren: Going to see my football team (Carlton, an Aussie rules football team) play! But seriously….
I find that one of the main things that gets in the way of happiness for me is the times that I become self centered. In our culture (at least in the West) we seem to have this obsession with ‘self’ or ‘me’. We’re told to ‘get ahead’ and ‘look after yourself’ in many different ways yet my personal experience of Happiness has shown me that it’s generally when I lift my eyes off my own little world and do something selfless that I find real contentment and joy.
Conversely, the times that I obsess on my own worries and/or achievements, focus solely upon furthering my own career and view the world through Darren colored glasses that I find life crowds in and I become stressed, cranky and anything but happy.
As a result – an activity that I attempt to do regularly is find space in my life for others. This starts with family, but extends to friends, those in my wider networks and then strangers through charity and giving to others.
I also find setting time aside to clear my mind, meditate and pray is helpful in this process also.
Gretchen: 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?
Darren: I mentioned above that when I was 18 my happiness seemed to be more related to my circumstances than anything else. I went through a time around this time when my life was…. well all I can describe it as is ‘dark’. This was largely a result of circumstances that I felt overwhelmed with including death, broken relationships, betrayal and failure.
I won’t go into the full circumstances but some of them came about as a result of my own actions and some happened to me and were largely out of my control. The result was a complete mess and a time when I didn’t feel that I had a lot to live for.
I’m not sure exactly what brought me out of this period but there were probably a number of factors (please forgive my half thought through answer, it’s something I find hard to put words to):
• Rediscovery of Faith – over time I found a new way to connect with a faith that I’d been brought up with but had largely abandoned
• The Care of an Friend – an older friend really invested time into me at this time and gently showed me a different way to look at my life
• Maturity – I got older and naturally began to see the world in a different way
• Purpose – Though it all I discovered that life wasn’t about reacting to the circumstances that come out way but that we have the ability to set our own path and go after it. Sure things happen ‘to us’ but even in these times there’s choices to be made about how we’ll navigate them.
Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Darren: I never sit down and consciously think to myself – ‘how can I be happy/happier?’ Having said that – I guess some of the choices I make are based upon a desire to feel happy (running to my local cafe each morning would be one of these).
I think what I’ve been trying to say above is that I’m less focussed upon feeling happy these days and more focused upon leading a life with purpose and that brings life to those around me. In doing so I feel more content and ‘right’. Perhaps this is happiness!
I’ve been having a lot of fun reading through the archives of Notes from the Trenches. It’s a terrific, hilarious blog by a mother of seven children. I was particularly intrigued with her Forty Before Forty list. These kinds of lists are a sub-genre of happiness projects, so I always regard them fondly.
I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. I hope to have a handy opt-in box up soon, but in the meantime, if you’d like to sign up to get the newsletter, just shoot me an email at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.