I’m so happy for my friend, the incomparable Molly Jong-Fast. Her new novel, The Social Climber’s Handbook, just came out. It’s a delicious, dark, biting story about some characters here in New York City — one of whom has a big, crazy secret. The novel is very funny, and at the same time, also extremely acute in its observations about people. I raced through it.
I’ve known Molly for a long time, but nevertheless, I was eager to corner her to get her answers to some questions about happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Molly: Reading books to my kids, meditating. Watching TV is so relaxing for me. I just love it. I also love reading a great book. I sometimes need to turn my brain off and this how I do it. Which is not to say that I am so smart, just to say that I am totally and utterly obsessive and that sometimes I need an out to all that obsession.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I didn’t know that being happy isn’t necessarily about just getting the things one wants. That has been a hard and long lesson for me. I tend to totally and utterly and completely miss the journey. I tend to be obsessed with results and that is not the path to happiness. It is however the path to chaos and discord (which are also good but only in very small doses).
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Watching too much TV
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I try to be true to myself. I try to think what would Oprah do? WWOD? She seems like someone who does the right thing as much as possible.
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).
When I’m very depressed I head to TV or napping. Napping is a terrible time-killer, but sometimes when I’m really down it saves me. I also love going to movies. Movies during the day are the ultimate pick-me-up but again a total time killer. I try to spend all my free time with my little ones: I feel like that time belongs to them.
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?
Most of my friends over-schedule themselves. I think that is a way to be really unhappy. I do it too but I try not to over-schedule my kids and to give them lots of time to just be themselves and play.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
For sure. The more time I spend with my kids the happier I am. I also feel better when I exercise, sleep enough and meditate.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I am always surprised with the joy I feel after a day’s hard work.
* I enjoyed writing this piece for the Harvard Business Review site, about my resolution to “Enjoy the fun of failure.”
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