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

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“I Feel Thankful for Trials That Have Helped Me See Perspective.”

Happiness interview: Stephanie Nielson.

Years ago, when I started out out as a blogger, I heard about a popular blog by Stephanie Nielson called the The NieNie Dialogues. Then in 2008, the sad news swept through blogland that Stephanie been in a terrible plane crash. Her body had been 80% burned, and she was in a coma for three month and underwent several major surgeries.

Her memoir of this experience, Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy is just hitting bookstores. It’s a fascinating book on several levels, but I was particularly interested to read it because Stephanie was very happy before the accident, and she explains how she struggled to find her way back to happiness, after the accident. This is obviously one of the most pressing questions about happiness: How do we grapple with a major catastrophe?

Reading Stephanie’s book reminded me of a line that I think (can’t swear) comes from ancient Greek literature. If I remember correctly, one of the Greek plays includes a line about “there are some forms of wisdom that one does not pray for.” Perhaps Stephanie’s experience has given her this kind of wisdom, and perspective on happiness.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Stephanie: I remind myself that there is no such thing as balance in my life. If I want to truly be happy, I put my family first and then figure out how to do everything else.

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 have learned to keep busy. Keeping busy and serving others. I find satisfaction in helping others and realizing when I am blue that someone somewhere (probably just down the street, for all I know) has it worse than me, and I need to snap out of it and find my happiness. I have so much happiness all around me. I am spoiled.

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 thought I knew what happiness was, and it was happiness. But since my accident I have a greater meaning of what true happiness is. What truly matters in life, why we are here doing what we are doing, and why it is worth it. I feel thankful for trials that have helped me see perspective. It’s not easy, but the lessons learned are always worth it.

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
I love my windows. The windows in my house make everything seem happy and bright.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t—or vice versa?
Ironing my sheets. Sure it takes time, and sometimes I really don’t want to do it, but when I do it makes me so happy after a long hard day. I love when I take the time to cook a nice meal for my family. I try and make it happen every evening. I don’t think people understand the bonds and happy moments that come when the family can sit down together every night chatting about the day. Good, good memories there—even when my legs are tired and I don’t want to. I never regret it.