My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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“Working on My Novel, Remembering that Life Is Long — and Yet Not Overscheduling.”

Christinabakerkline

Happiness interview: Christina Baker Kline.

I got to know novelist Christina Baker Kline through a writing group I joined — which is now connected with the very helpful writing site, She Writes. Christina’s wonderful novel, Bird in Hand, just came out in paperback — joining The Way Life Should Be.

Christina also has a very interesting blog, Writing/Life, “notes on craft and the creative process.”

I wanted to ask her about her views on happiness because her work wrestles with this question. In fact, when I got my copy, I saw that the back cover includes this line: “And as each of them tries to find a way forward, all four will be forced to examine the choice they have made and the lives they have built, and ultimately ask themselves: What is happiness?”

Now I get to ask Christina to answer a version of that question!

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Christina: Being in the habit of working every day on my novel-in-progress makes me happier. For the past month I’ve been busy teaching and editing other people’s manuscripts, and though I find those activities rewarding (and remunerative), on another level I feel anxious and unfulfilled because I haven’t had time for my own creative work. My summer class just ended, and I knew it was important not to take on new editing clients for a while. I’m ready to work on my book!

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were younger?
What I know now is that life is long — you don’t have to do everything at the same time. When I turned 30 I entered a ridiculously productive period — I published five books in five years and had two children. Then I gave birth to my third son, and it all went to hell in a hand-basket (or, more accurately, a diaper pail). It was a number of years — eight, to be exact — before I published another novel. But during that period I learned a lot about life and love and other important things, and my writing — and my life in general — are better for it.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Overscheduling. Taking on too much. (See #1!)

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
I love this quote, often attributed to Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Remembering this makes me more patient with my kids, more understanding of my students’ dilemmas, and more tolerant when I’m rushing to a meeting and the guy in line ahead of me at the MetroCard ticket machine can’t figure out how it works.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I am always surprised by the psychology of space — how the spaces we inhabit affect the way we live our lives. My husband and I talked for years about building a patio in our postage-stamp backyard, but we couldn’t agree on a plan. (The yard is tilted; drainage is an issue … I won’t bore you with the details.) Last spring, after an intervention by a wise and patient landscape gardener, we finally broke ground, and now we live out there. It’s like another room, only greener and with a breeze. (We were inspired to plant a few flowers, too, to improve the view.) Sitting on the patio with my husband in the early evening with a glass of wine makes me very happy.

* A few nights ago I saw the excellent movie Whip It, about roller derby, so I was in just the right mood to read this hilarious post by Pamela Ribon, Show me who you really are: how roller derby can save your life. It’s really true: everyone’s happiness project will look different, but they’re all fascinating!

* There’s been a lot of interest in the one-page discussion guide for book groups. Because so many people mentioned that they’re reading The Happiness Project with their church group, or in a spirituality book group, and the like, I wrote another one-page discussion guide that focuses on the spiritual aspect. If you’d like either discussion guide (or both!), email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com.