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

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“The Pure Act of Working Towards Something and Accomplishing It Makes Me Happier.”

brettblumenthalHappiness interview: Brett Blumenthal.

I met Brett Blumenthal in June, at BookExpo America (BEA), a big conference for the book world. It was great to have the chance to sit down for a conversation, because we’re both fascinated by the questions of human nature, how people change, and what steps can make people happier.

She has written several books, and has a new one that just hit the shelves this week: A Whole New You: Six Steps to Ignite Change for Your Best Life. It’s all about how to make real change in your life.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Brett: The pure act of working towards something and accomplishing it makes me happier. Setting goals and achieving them gives me a sense of direction and purpose. And for those goals that often result in a finished tangible product (a book, a painting, a photo album), I draw a huge sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. There is nothing like having your hard work result in something you can touch, feel and visually appreciate.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

I had no clue what happiness meant when I was 18. When I was 18 I always thought about what I should be doing and built my life, made decisions, and acted based on living up to the expectations of others. I was too young to have the insight to know that true happiness has to come from finding and doing what makes me happy…not from pleasing the rest of the world.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

When I start to do things that aren’t true to who I am or what I believe, my happiness takes a nose dive. The more I can stay true to myself and what is important to me and my values, the more I am in a happy place.

Is there a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? 

There are so many quotes that are great about happiness, but one of my favorites is “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” by Aristotle. It is so simplistic, yet sums up so much. In the end, we are masters of our own destiny, and so, our own happiness. If we are unhappy, only we have the power to change that. When we can stop looking externally to find happiness, whether it be through materialistic things, other people to make us happy or anything else, and instead, look inwards and rely on ourselves, we can finally find happiness.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?

For as long as I can remember, music, both appreciation and performance, has brought great joy to my life. I find it extremely transformational. Music has the power to pick me up out of a bad mood very quickly.

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?

There are two things that I think really hold people back from finding happiness: fear and regret. Although different, they both have to do with not living in the present. Fear focuses too much on the future and causes us to stagnate.  Although it feels real, it often isn’t and stems from what we imagine to be as the worst case scenario. This impedes us from taking risks, managing change and moving forward with our goals and the things we dream. On the other hand, regret lies in the past and limits our ability to enjoy what life has to offer in the here and now. We become consumed with past failures or disappointments and don’t see how we can learn from those experiences so we can create an even better present or future.

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’ve never had a constant level of happiness, and personally, I’m glad I haven’t. Although it may sound like a wonderful existence to be in a perfect state of contentment all of the time, I value my downs as much as my ups. I believe that if we don’t experience sadness, disappointment, hurt, or other negative feelings, we are missing out on what it means to be human. And maybe more importantly, we may never fully appreciate the moments when we truly are elated and experience sheer joy. In a sense, we become numb to happiness.