Happiness interview: Richie Norton.
I heard about Richie Norton’s new book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid when a friend told me about it — and what a great title, right? It reminds me of my resolution to Enjoy the fun of failure. As his book reveals, Richie has done a a lot of thinking about creativity, innovation, and risk–all of which can be important to a happy life–so I was interested to hear what he had to say.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Richie: I have to list three, because each is equally as, um, happifying— surfing, laughing with my beautiful wife, and wrestling on the trampoline with my boys. (In no particular order.)
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I’ve always had a fairly optimistic disposition, but something I’ve learned over the years is that while optimism is certainly important and praiseworthy, it is often superficial and lacking in real substance and sustainability. An optimist feels hopeful about the future, yes, but that feeling is fleeting. Often the most well intentioned optimist in the world can find their optimism irreparably overcome by external factors. Happiness, on the other hand, is a sturdy anchor. Sincere happiness, aka happiness that is rooted in the right things, has the ability to sustain us no matter what circumstance may arrive.
This core belief about happiness was driven even deeper into conviction when our son passed away just over three years ago. It was baptism by fire. These were the circumstances, our son was dead, and there wasn’t anything we could do to change that. But still, even then, even in those darkest of hours, I knew we could go on. I knew we still had the tools to live a rich, fulfilling and happy life, because I knew then what I know now—happiness is something we choose. And when we sincerely choose happiness as a governing principle of our lives, we quickly learn that circumstance has no inherent power. Any power that our life circumstance holds, is power that we give it. To borrow a line from one of my personal heroes, Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning), “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This is true. My wife and I are living, breathing (blissfully happy) proof.
Is there anything you ﬁnd yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your
My wife would say I spend too much time on social media. I love to explain to her that I’m doing market research, or building an audience, or trying to authentically connect with my followers, but ultimately she’s right. No matter where or how hard we look, there’s no greater happiness than being fully engaged in the present moment with the people right in front of us.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind
myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Live to Start. Start to Live. This is one of our (many) family mottos/mantras. We call it “Gavin’s Law,” because it was born from the ashes of our son Gavin’s death (as well as the death of my brother in law, also Gavin, a couple of years prior to losing our son). Essentially these words remind us that life is short, soooo . . . Don’t wait. Start Stuff. Live now. Be present. Live with meaning and real intent.
It’s the legacy we’re striving to leave for our son. Its our attempt to turn tragedy to triumph.
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 go surfing, or play guitar, or I get myself busy with work that matters. Normally, if I’m feeling blue, it’s because I’m feeling stuck or stagnant. Overcoming the weight of resistance is generally the biggest hurdle. Once I can get myself in motion, its remarkable how quickly my mood can shift!
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 find that people who are ungrateful are generally unhappy as well. On the other side of this coin, I find that people who are filled with gratitude, are generally not only happy, but exceptionally so.
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 moved to Brazil when I was 19 years old. For the two years that followed, I did nothing but reach out and serve others. I stayed completely focused on this work. In order to avoid distraction, I wrote home only once a week (“Hi mom! I’m not dead!) and called home only four times throughout the entire 2 year period. It was the happiest I’d ever been up until that point in my life. Now, I try to take the same lesson and integrate it into my day to day. As I seek to serve, lift and inspire others, no one wins in the happiness game more than I do.
Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
The people in it.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy,
didn’t – or vice versa?
It’s funny because I think it’s human nature to assume, “I’ll be happy if____” or “I’ll be happy when _____,” but in my experience this has never been the case. I may receive a surge of happiness once a goal is met, a project is completed, or a dream is made real, but sincere, lasting happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a way of living. In the words of the late and great Dr Richard Carlson, “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”