“Feel What You Feel, Even If It’s Not What You’d Like To Be Feeling.”

Happiness interview: Stephanie Dolgoff.

I e-knew Stephanie Dolgoff a bit from the internet, because I’d read her blog, Formerly Hot — “a humorous blog about body image, beauty, aging, and pop culture.” We crossed paths at a recent blogger conference, but never met. Last week, finally, I got the chance to meet Stephanie face-to-face just as her new book, My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young, is hitting the shelves. (Here she is on the Today show.)

Given her subject, Stephanie touches frequently on the subject of happiness, so I wanted to hear what she had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Stephanie: GOING ON FACEBOOK. I KNOW IT’S A HUGE TIMESUCK, BUT CONNECTING WITH MY FRIENDS–AND I HAVE ACTUAL OLD FRIENDS WHO ARE VERY DEAR TO ME THAT I TALK WITH TONS ON FACEBOOK–ALWAYS MAKES ME FEEL “GOTTEN.” FEELING UNDERSTOOD IN WHAT CAN FEEL LIKE SUCH A SCREWY WORLD IS INVALUABLE TO ME. [I wrote a post about Why Facebook can make you happier.]

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
THAT THERE ARE NO RIGHT ANSWERS. FOR YEARS, I WAS CONVINCED THAT THERE WERE RIGHT ANSWERS, AND THAT OTHER PEOPLE WHO SEEMED TO BE LIVING HAPPIER LIVES KNEW SECRETS THAT I DIDN’T KNOW. NOW THAT I’M OLDER, I KNOW THAT THERE ARE NO “RIGHT” ANSWERS–ONLY WHAT WORKS FOR YOU, WHICH BY DEFINITION MAKES THEM RIGHT. IT’S ONE OF THE GREAT GIFTS OF BEING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF YOUNG.

OOOH, ALSO: FEELING WHAT YOU FEEL, EVEN IF IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO BE FEELING. WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I’D FEEL SOMETHING NEGATIVE, AND I’D SAY “YOU SHOULDN’T FEEL THAT WAY” AND TRY TO SMILE THROUGH IT. NOW I FEEL IT, IT PASSES AND I MOVE ON. YOU CAN’T HELP WHAT YOU FEEL, AND IN FACT FOLLOWING NEGATIVE FEELINGS OFTEN LEADS YOU TO CHANGE THINGS IN YOUR LIFE THAT CAN ULTIMATELY MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPIER. WORKS FOR ME.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I RUMINATE AT TIMES. NOT AS MUCH AS I USED TO–I NOW CAN SNAP MYSELF OUT OF IT PRETTY EASILY–BUT THERE ARE TIMES THAT I’LL GO OVER AND OVER SOMETHING WHEN THERE’S JUST NO POINT.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I REMIND MYSELF TO LIVE CLOSER TO MY OWN TRUTH. THERE ARE SO MANY TRUTHS–TWO PEOPLE LOOKING AT THE SAME SITUATION CAN HAVE VERY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES. I TRY TO STAY AS CLOSE TO MY OWN TRUTH AS I CAN. WHEN SOMETHING DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT TO ME, I TRY TO LISTEN TO THAT.

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 HAD AN EATING DISORDER WHEN I WAS YOUNGER SO I HAVE TO STAY AWAY FROM COMFORT FOODS. FACEBOOK WORKS FOR THIS, OR BELIEVE IT OR NOT, SOAP OPERAS. I LOVE ONE LIFE TO LIVE. IT’S SUCH A GOOF, BUT ANY PROBLEM I MAY HAVE DOESN’T COME CLOSE TO HAVING AN EVIL TWIN COME BACK FROM THE DEAD TO STEAL MY HUSBAND.

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?
I SEE SOME PEOPLE BEING TOO INVESTED IN AN OUTCOME–BECOMING A WRITER, FOR INSTANCE–RATHER THAN THE PROCESS (ACTUALLY ENJOYING WRITING). THAT’S NOT HAPPYMAKING.

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 WAS VERY DEPRESSED AS A TEENAGER INTO MY 20S. EATING ISSUES, LOTS OF STUFF. I THINK A COMBINATION OF LETTING MYSELF FEEL WHAT I FELT SO IT COULD MOVE THOUGH ME, TALKING ABOUT IT WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE ME, THERAPY AND AN AN SSRI HELPED ENORMOUSLY. SO DID GROWING UP. I DON’T FEEL LIKE I HAVE SO MUCH TO PROVE ANYMORE AND CAN JUST ENJOY MY LIFE.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
WELL, THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS I DO–EXERCISE, SEE FRIENDS, TRY TO GET ENOUGH SLEEP–THAT ARE LIKE BRUSHING MY TEETH. I DO THEM BECAUSE I KNOW IF I DON’T I’LL BE UNHAPPY. BUT PROACTIVELY, I TRY TO LISTEN TO MY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS RATHER THAN SHUT THEM DOWN, AND MAKE CHANGES SO THAT I’M NOT STUCK IN SITUATIONS THAT BRING ME DOWN.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I KNOW MYSELF PRETTY WELL, SO NOT REALLY. OCCASIONALLY I’LL MEET PEOPLE AND NOT THINK WE CAN BE FRIENDS, AND THEN IT TURNS OUT THAT THEY’RE DIFFERENT THAN I THOUGHT, AND THEIR FRIENDSHIP MAKES ME ENORMOUSLY HAPPY. BUT THAT’S MORE ABOUT ME MAKING SNAP JUDGMENTS.

* Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox! Eight free tools for your happiness project. Lots of fun.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_R4MZXNHDZWZRMCFQ33YMJL7GWM AIM: AngieU2

    All caps? Really!?

  • Chris

    This is a great interview, thank you Gretchen and Stephanie Dolgoff. I liked especially the answer to question 2 that “there are no right answers” – a thought that literally hit me. I turned 30 this month and I was always on the search for the “right answer” and it only begins to dawn on me that, , just like you said, they don’t exist. We don’t get our right answers delivered to us like pizza but have to choose, follow and sometimes revise them with great care.

  • cmclaire

    Great interview!

    Cxx

  • jww1066

    WHY IS SHE SHOUTING???!?!?!?!?!

  • pagirl

    The first question you ask about simple activities is a good question. I like that it opened my mind up this morning to a new way of thinking!

  • Joe

    It’s difficult to read in all capitals, is there a reason for the upper-case?

    • http://www.conversationarts.com Vincent Ng Conversation Arts

      I’m not a 100% sure, but it could be cultural. I used to have an employee who was from Colombia. She wasn’t familiar with North American e-mail etiquette and once sent a message to my District Manager in all Caps. She thought she was shouting, but I later found out that in Latin America that it was common practice. Hopefully this will shine some light.

      • jww1066

        I doubt it. My wife is Venezuelan and her mother is Colombian. I asked her just now what it means when someone writes in all caps and she said “it means they’re shouting”. And none of her family ever writes in all caps…

  • KG

    Nothing about this interview made me think that this woman has anything to add to the conversation. Her platitudes and insights are juvenile: sometimes you befriend someone that you didn’t like at first? There are no right answers?

    • Alyssa

      i think the point she’s making is that people can be prone to snap judgements and we should dig deeper and not rule out people who might not initially seem like people you can relate to. that’s not juvenile to me, that’s actually the mark of a grown up.

      • Cathy

        I agree Alyssa. I was reminded of a class I took recently where one of the other women just struck me as….rude and obnoxious. For some reason, I decided that trying to befriend her would be a good way to “push my boundaries” a bit, and she turned out to be an incredibly neat person. I’m glad I let my snap judgment go.

  • alyssa

    don’t be distracted by the caps. what she has to say is really honest and i think true for a lot of people. i think if women talk about appearance and how they feel about it, its construed as superficial or shallow. i think it’s honest and a little brave to acknowledge that feeling the effects of age can be both unnerving, and enlightening. you get more comfortable in your own skin and acknowledging what makes you happy. as gretchen often posts, the little things can have a real impact both positively and negatively.

  • http://www.publicationcoach.com/ Daphne Gray-Grant

    The caps make me CRAZY!

  • Sklose1

    For what it’s worth, I couldn’t read her responses because of the caps. Gretchen, I assume that you cut and pasted them from an email and there’s no reason you should have to retype text in this kind of situation, but … seriously? People still do that?

  • Erin Q.

    Please replace the text with proper case! Please Please! I did a quick run at it below! C&P, whatever.
    Gretchen: what’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
    Stephanie: Going on Facebook. I know it’s a huge timesuck, but connecting with my friends–and I have actual old friends who are very dear to me that I talk with tons on Facebook–always makes me feel “gotten.” Feeling understood in what can feel like such a screwy world is invaluable to me. [I wrote a post about why Facebook can make you happier.]

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
    That there are no right answers. for years, I was convinced that there were right answers, and that other people who seemed to be living happier lives knew secrets that I didn’t know. Now that I’m older, I know that there are no “right” answers–only what works for you, which by definition makes them right. it’s one of the great gifts of being on the other side of young.
    Oooh, also: feeling what you feel, even if it’s not what you’d like to be feeling. when I was young, I’d feel something negative, and I’d say “you shouldn’t feel that way” and try to smile through it. Now I feel it, it passes and I move on. You can’t help what you feel, and in fact following negative feelings often leads you to change things in your life that can ultimately make you feel happier. works for me.
    Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
    I ruminate at times. Not as much as I used to–I now can snap myself out of it pretty easily–but there are times that I’ll go over and over something when there’s just no point.
    Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “be Gretchen.”)
    I remind myself to live closer to my own truth. there are so many truths–two people looking at the same situation can have very different experiences. I try to stay as close to my own truth as I can. When something doesn’t feel right to me, I try to listen to that.
    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 had an eating disorder when I was younger so I have to stay away from comfort foods. Facebook works for this, or believe it or not, soap operas. I love One Life to Live. It’s such a goof, but any problem I may have doesn’t come close to having an evil twin come back from the dead to steal my husband.
    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?
    I see some people being too invested in an outcome–becoming a writer, for instance–rather than the process (actually enjoying writing). that’s not happymaking.
    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 was very depressed as a teenager into my 20s. Eating issues, lots of stuff. I think a combination of letting myself feel what I felt so it could move though me, talking about it with people who love me, therapy and an an SSRI helped enormously. So did growing up. I don’t feel like I have so much to prove anymore and can just enjoy my life.
    Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
    Well, there are certain things I do–exercise, see friends, try to get enough sleep–that are like brushing my teeth. I do them because I know if I don’t I’ll be unhappy. but proactively, I try to listen to my negative emotions rather than shut them down, and make changes so that I’m not stuck in situations that bring me down.
    Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
    I know myself pretty well, so not really. Occasionally I’ll meet people and not think we can be friends, and then it turns out that they’re different than I thought, and their friendship makes me enormously happy. But that’s more about me making snap judgments.

    • Karin

      Thank you for that! Caps = shouting = not happymaking!

      • tealeaf

        Kind of shocking that she would post/reply in all caps. I always read the interviews but only skimmed this one because it was so difficult to read.

        • Mary Power

          I agree, I thought I was the only one having difficulty reading it.
          Thank you to all of you that commented. I feel better now.That makes be
          happy to know there are others that felt the same way.

    • tealeaf

      Oh, thanks Erin Q. Sorry, I posted before I saw your post. Cheers!

  • Mdavis1

    These may be the best responses to your Happiness Interview questions that you’ve gotten so far. I’m considerably older than Stephanie, but a lot of what she said resonated with me. I especially liked her comment about no longer having anything to prove to anyone. It took me decades to learn that, but now that I have I am much more content with myself.

  • http://www.mind-meditations.com Rachel @ Mind-Meditations.com

    She has an interesting perspective on the use of Facebook as it relates to happiness. Facebook can be fun and entertaining and a great way to quickly catch up with people from the past, but I don’t feel as though I’m truly connecting with people through it. Relationships on Facebook can feel shallow and contrived at times. I mean, how many Facebook “friends” are really “friends”? Does anyone else share this perspective?

    • Mary

      I completely agree with you, Rachel. In fact, I heartily believe (in my case, at least) that facebook can contribute to lowering people’s happiness level. I personally feel drained of energy after being on facebook. I don’t feel those connections that other people feel, it all feels too fake and too show-offy for me. I used to like facebook a few years back, but ever since reaching another point in my life where I feel quite satisfied with myself and don’t feel a need to publicize my life to the whole world, I try not to use it too much. The one well deserved credit that facebook deserves is how easy it is to contact someone (e-mail? what’s that? just find them on facebook and send a message!) or how easy it is to share photos with someone else. But besides that, I don’t necessarily feel happier when I go on there and read a bunch of ridiculous status updates that are clearly just begging for attention. Maybe I’m just too cynical…

      • http://www.mind-meditations.com Rachel @ Mind-Meditations.com

        Thanks for your insight, Mary. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only person who feels this way about Facebook.

  • Jcbrady

    “Feel What You Feel, Even If It’s Not What You’d Like To Be Feeling.”

    Great Title! I love that line and what immediately follows…

    “Don’t should on yourself!” Words to live by.

  • Sunshinecook

    This was a great interview with some excellent points… but the all-caps gave me a headache by the time I got to the end of the page.

    At the same time, the enthusiastic “SHOUTING” voice they implied kind of made me smile imagining the big personality behind all those capital letters. :-)

  • http://smoothanimator.blogspot.com/ Jenni S

    This really spoke to me…

    ‘I see some people being too invested in an outcome–becoming a writer, for instance–rather than the process (actually enjoying writing). that’s not happymaking. ‘

    Very good point. I keep forgetting to enjoy the process of painting by being too focused on the goal of being ‘perfect’.

  • LivewithFlair

    I love the comment about outcomes as a writer. That’s been my journey for the past decade. The process is joy, not the book contract. What a relief that my happiness isn’t dependent on an outcome. My goodness that’s life-changing. http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com Molly Monet

    Thanks for the lower case Erin.

    In my quest for happiness and a positive state of mind, I find that negative emotions. I like what Stephanie says about letting them show you a path to change.

    I also agree with her about Facebook. In fact I wrote about that just yesterday.
    http://www.postcardsfromapeacefuldivorce.com/660/lessons-that-i-have-learned-from-friends-and-family/

  • Steph

    I found her honesty refreshing. I’m about her age, so I could relate to some of the points. I personally don’t like the “formerly hot” label though. :) It’s sort of irrelevant, really. I remember reading the coolest interview with an artist I admire (who was then in her nineties) who said “I am not loved for my appearance.” As I get older I feel that I am much, much, much more attractive as a person than I ever was as a lovely twenty year-old.

    The other thing that your post did was inspire me to read your post about FB. I was actually surprised that so many people find happiness by being on FB. I deactivated my FB account because the intrusiveness was a definite happiness killer for me. I didn’t want to post details about my personal life online for people I used to know in high school (operative being “used to know”) to troll! The last straw was when the girlfriend of a friend wanted to “friend” me in order to spy on me, because she didn’t trust her boyfriend. I mean, we’re forty, people! And thus, forevermore, I shall be someone who focuses on people I like, one at a time – by phone, email, visit or letter.

    Great interview, as always!

  • Delaney

    I agree. I couldn’t focus on the content because of the caps (shouting).

  • Peninith1

    I learned to take ‘feel what you are feeling’ one further from a very wise woman who said to me “It’s not about denying what you feel, but about what you DO when you are feeling that way.” In other words, you can acknowledge inside yourself that you are grieving, angry, anxious, but if you have the courage to continue to do what is good and right and hopeful, you will be able to keep moving in a direction that can carry you forward to a better emotional state. This is one way I manage not to fall down into the self destructiveness of endless, self-lacerating rumination.

  • Phaedra

    Something that detracted from my personal happiness was the use of all capital letters. Really? Stop shouting! I couldn’t even make through the second question!

  • Jenni79

    WOW. Why did she write in all caps?????? It’s OBNOXIOUS!!!!!!!!

  • Jen

    Thanks, Erin! I had given up because the caps were hurting my eyes, but I was still curious. :-)

  • Sharonbeck

    Hello Gretchen,

    I’m new to your site and am so grateful for it because I’m convinced I’m the happiest person on the planet. I think we all have the ability to feel happy all of the time. For me it just takes remembering. Remembering that I have the power to choose another way of looking at the situation.

    I am in a group who sends their gratitudes and intentions to each day. I will email you as per your instructions. Thank you for doing this blog site. When I find an author I love, I then read everything they have published, that I can get my hands on.

    The problem with that is I get to a point where I have to leave that author because they have not produced more…or they are working on their next book.
    There’s a contentment, knowing I get to have you on an almost daily basis. And what I’m getting is so rich, that it takes a bit to digest it. It is not quickly eaten by my mind…thank goodness.

    Sharon

  • johanna

    I think this is one of the best interviews, in that I feel I really connect with a lot of what she’s talking about. I think I’m in that 20’s stage when she writes:

    “FEELING WHAT YOU FEEL, EVEN IF IT’S NOT WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO BE FEELING. WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I’D FEEL SOMETHING NEGATIVE, AND I’D SAY “YOU SHOULDN’T FEEL THAT WAY” AND TRY TO SMILE THROUGH IT. NOW I FEEL IT, IT PASSES AND I MOVE ON.”

    As I’ve moved into my 20’s (and almost out of it now!), find myself returning and living at home with my parents after years away–across the country and overseas, I’ve found it very difficult to reintegrate myself and accept where I am in life (and that life is significantly different from my parents’ time). It’s taken most of my 20s to figure out that I don’t have the opportunities that were present in to my parents when they were my age, and I have to stop comparing myself to their achievements because times are just different. With this feeling of less achievement, the feeling of being a ‘generalist’ in my work life (where I feel everyone’s a specialist, has multiple degrees to prove it, and therefore, more valuable), as well as feeling I’m just different from the rest, has lead me into major bouts of depression through low self-esteem and -confidence, with the feeling that how I feel is wrong or not right. I depreciate my feelings and my emotions, questioning if their right, rather than accepting, this is me, and let it flow through me. It’s been the source of many arguments with my family, with them telling me, “why are you like that?” “why do you take things so personally?” leading me to more doubt about myself, and more internal questioning about “maybe something is wrong with me?”

    This posts helps because she verifies my beliefs in that, “these are MY feelings and emotions. this is how I feel, and therefore, this is who I am.” Self-acceptance.

    Thanks!

    (P.S. I don’t know why people find the need to post about her writing in all caps. It’s like they missed the entire article, and purpose of this blog, to pick at and create negativity, over something that I view to be stylistic and personal. I did notice it, but didn’t find it bothersome, partly because it clarified the questions from the answers, and showed more personality in the posts, in that I really felt the answers were coming directly from Stephanie. To view the posts and realize at least 10 of the 35 -and that’s not going through all of them; i stopped at 10– comments are not are about the actual content but are more superficial, must say something about American culture. . .

    • PeterisP

      Content has no value if people don’t read it; and all caps makes it very burdensome to read, so people don’t bother unless it’s critical (e.g., from their boss)