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A while back, my husband said something shocking.

“I know you love your work, I just wish it didn’t make you so miserable.”

Say what?  I demanded to know what he meant.

He reminded me that I tended to push myself harder now that I am so engaged with what I’m doing, which means I’m frequently sleep deprived, overworked, and stressed.

“For someone who loves their work as much as you do, you just don’t seem that happy.  That’s all I’m saying.”

And yet if you asked me nearly any day of the week if I am happy, I would smile broadly and give you an emphatic yes.  Nor would I be lying.

Such is the paradox called happiness.

Most of you don’t know this, but I didn’t start this blog talking about careers.  What initially occupied my mind was whether one could design a happier life, because I felt something was missing from mine.  And since my relationships were already in good standing, my writing gradually started to focus on the career part of the equation.

Which is not to say I’ve figured it out.  In fact, I still find happiness to be complicated and occasionally elusive.

So I decided to interview one of my favorite authorities on the topic: Gretchen Rubin, author of the international best-seller The Happiness Project.

I devoured the book and really felt like I’d found a kindred spirit (as is obvious in my rather giddy introduction).  But I still had a ton of questions.  In this interview, Gretchen and I talk about:

  • How to deal with your lingering feelings of career illegitimacy, especially if you want to follow your passion
  • Why you need an atmosphere of growth, even if it scares you silly
  • How to balance short-term stress versus long-term happiness
  • How to stop bullying yourself with personal development goals (as I discussed in this post)
  • 3 trick questions for uncovering what you really what from work and life
  • How success sometimes sets us up for failure (and the surprising way to prevent it)

Right click to download the audio file (MP3)

Right click to download the transcript

I hope you make time to listen to the interview or read the transcript.  It’s one of my favorites (among some amazing interviews).  But if you don’t, then take away this one quote

Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy

Not that I’m trying to tell my husband I told you so (ahem).

But it was wonderfully reassuring to know that I’m not crazy or delusional or teetering on the edge of that proverbial mid-life crisis. While I still have a lot to learn about designing a happy life, it’s also clear I’ve come a long way.

So what about you?  Are you happy?  And how do you know?

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21 Responses to Why Is Happiness So Hard? An Interview with Gretchen Rubin

    • On
    • February 1, 2012 at 12:06 pm
    • Stacey
    • Said...

    Hi Jen!

    I don’t have time to listen to the interview right now but I’ve already downloaded it and will listen to it in the car this afternoon. (I’ve been happily anticipating your interview with Gretchen since you first mentioned it.)

    I wanted to answer the questions you posed at the bottom of the post since I’ve been thinking about them quite a bit lately.

    I know I’m happy when my days are filled with meaningful work and connection.

    I’ve had cold for the last couple of days, and a cold, to me, always means that my life is a little out of balance.

    So I’m bogged down with stuffy head and compelled to get more rest and not get as much done as I want, and that can tax my happiness for sure.

    I’ve noticed that my body has to take relatively drastic measures to get me to slow down. Every time it happens I think, next time I’ll take better care, slow down voluntarily, and take it easy before I get sick.

    And more often these days, that is what happens. But some times I still over do things.

    What I learned from this is to consider slowing down before my body does it for me. Or maybe the message is that it’s okay to still lose my balance, push too far, and get a bit sick.

    The important thing is meet myself with kindness in that place as well.

    And that, to me, feels like happiness.

    • Me too, Stacey! I’m sick and run down, and I really feel like I’m battling myself, not my work. If I can get my life in balance, I feel like I’ll be really primed to take advantage of what Gretchen has to say here. Here’s to helping each other slow down and enjoy this wild ride to the fullest!

    • On
    • February 1, 2012 at 1:28 pm
    • Cordelia
    • Said...

    How cool is it that you got to talk to Gretchen Rubin? The Happiness Project is “the book that started it all” for me in terms of my quest for a better life. I absolutely love her.

    Happiness, to me, is being able to wake up each morning excited for what the day brings and being able to go to sleep at night content with the day you lived. There may be all sorts of ups and downs in the day itself, but as long as I can do those two things, I consider myself blessed. I had a long period where I wasn’t able to do either of those things, so I appreciate the hell out of it now.

    Happiness to me is also, like Gretchen said, being in a state of continual growth. I’m always striving for something, whether it’s long-term goals like quitting my job or short-terms goals like trying to eat better over the next few weeks. I’m a self-improvement junkie now, so I need to always feel like I’m progressing towards something and making things a little better each day. If I don’t, I feel stagnant and frustrated.

    Fantastic interview! Gretchen explains happiness in a way that I adore. “Happiness doesn’t always make you happy”? I understand that completely, and it’s so nice to have someone to point out that that’s normal and o.k.

    • I know!! I’m such a Gretchen groupie. Glad you liked that quote too. It was a relief when I read that. I’m not crazy, and neither are you! (or if we are, we’re in it together…lol)

    • On
    • February 1, 2012 at 2:48 pm
    • Barbara
    • Said...

    Loved this interview Jen! I so enjoyed Gretchen’s book and this interview was very honest and enlightening just like the book. Great job and such a good resource for those still searching.
    Well done!

    • Thanks! I really enjoy doing interviews, I still feel like I’m learning how to do them well, so I appreciate the compliment very much. Of course, great guests make it look easy!

  1. What a great interview, Jen and Gretchen! I enjoyed listening, and have written down several questions for reflection.

    As to your question, Jen: I am happy, because I am present to Life. I’m paying attention to who I am and what I love. I’m being nourished by the work I do and the people I interact with, which is huge for me. And even though there are some things in my life I’d like to change, I know that I’m on a good track.

    Oh, and the first name that came to mind as my spiritual master? Charlotte Bronte! I laughed, but it’s so true. :)

    Proud to have been a part of connecting you both!

    • What a great happiness statement, Caroline. Well done! And yes, thanks for your efforts in making this happen. You’d be making Ms. Bronte proud! (good choice btw)

    • On
    • February 1, 2012 at 11:59 pm
    • Ritu
    • Said...

    I was trying to come up with something insightful after hearing this interview, but Gretchen knocked it out of the park. I thought the book articulated really well many of the things we forget in daily life to stay emotionally centered (“happy”) and could use more reminding of.I read her book a year ago, and listening to the talk today was like hearing all the highlights!

    • She did knock it out of the park, I agree. Happy to share it with you!

    • On
    • February 2, 2012 at 8:38 am
    • Wanbun
    • Said...

    Jen, I love this post and i found it’s quite insightful. Everyone is so fixated in finding happiness, but as the example in the interview goes, doing what you think you should do doesn’t necessary makes you happy. And I wholeheartedly agree that it’s easier to do things that come nature to you. That gives me some thoughts to think about as I work through the materials for NRCA.

    By the way, I downloaded the book, since I am interested in reading Gretchen’s experience.

    Thanks for the interview again!

    • Yep, this is great NRCA fodder. And I think, as you say, it’s counter-intuitive enough, you have to keep these ideas in your head consciously. It’s just too easy to do the thing that won’t make you happy, even when you think you’re going in the other direction. Look forward to our call this week to see where this took you!

    • On
    • February 2, 2012 at 10:46 am
    • Linda
    • Said...

    Hey Jen and Gretchen–

    Lovely interview–I couldn’t agree that work is critical for happiness. Not to bring in a bad metaphor, but retired pack mules are known to stop eating and withdraw when they’re no longer “needed.”

    Sad is not bad–it’s inevitable. In our culture we somehow believe that if we’re not happy, we’re depressed. When did we eliminate the middle man? It’s impossible to achieve all of our goals, or to love all parts of ourselves, so yes, sadness about yourself is a vital part.

    When you discussed the importance of doing what comes naturally, I thought of Seth Godin’s advice about quitting what isn’t working. We all have strengths, and one is the courage to walk away from those endeavors which aren’t working.

    Wonderful advice and interview–Thanks!

    • I love that, Linda. “Sad is not bad, it’s inevitable.” In those early blog posts on happiness, I talked about the yin yang of happiness, that you actually need those moments of sadness to fully appreciate the good times. Thanks for your insightful comment!

  2. Hi Jen – Nice interview! I think happiness is an individualized pursuit, which may or may nor be related to externals. Some people feel the need to have an alignment with their career and emotions, and others can have a job and a home life and be perfectly content with that set-up. And then there are some people who have deep-seated anxiety or depression stemming from a feeling that are “not okay.” This is not the type of feeling that can filled in with external changes, it is a felt-sense level that needs a shift. It is hard emotional work for which there are no quick fixes. And even with emotional work, I think the nature of emotions is to move on a continuum. Getting in touch with the internal constant real nature of the self underneath the emotional tides reinforced the realization that emotions just come and go naturally. o.

  3. Hey, Jen, I haven’t been by for awhile, but I was missing your blog so I stopped by. Even though I’m retired and your focus is now more on job-related topics, I find that much of what you write is still relevant to life in general. I’m familiar with The Happiness Project. Great book. So much of what I write and read on other blogs about happiness keeps coming back to some of the same themes, mostly about getting out of our own way. I think happiness is our natural state. Not “feeling” happy all the time, but a deep abiding joy, our homepage, our default setting. Anyway, great to “see” you. Hope you’re doing well.

    • Hi, Galen! Good to “see” you too! What’s your perspective on retirement and happiness? Is it all it’s made out to be?

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  5. Hi Jen,

    Love the interview with Gretchen, thank you. Happiness is a choice and the choices can mean different things for different people.

    In your first statement that your husband made to you “I know you love your work, I just wish it didn’t make you so miserable.”

    I beleive that this is a mistake we can make and have to learn by. We can love our work, but to really enjoy it and be happy we can not let it consume us.

    When life gets out of balance we can loss what is important. Happiness is a choice with the right attitude and balance.

    I actually found my balance years ago when I heard what Mary Ash said, A balance life is, God first, family, second and work third.

    At that time I was a single mother with 3 little girls. An ex husband that was very much absent. I prayed a lot, had a job where I could work around my girls school schedule. We may not of had a lot back in those days, but we did have what was important, love, laughter and being together.

    What did I learn? That it is a strong spirtual foundation with people in your life that love you and you love them that really count.

    Happiness is the attitude and what you do with it when life throws those curve balls at you. And when we are loved and do love with the right balance we can move on with a smile on our face knowing we did the best we could and there are more happy days ahead. (sometimes you have to throw in some humor) LOL

    Happiness is “I take the time to enjoy everyday as it comes. I glance into the future of tomorrow, but let it be for I am in today. I have learned from the past, so I refuse to return, I am in today.”

    Thanks again Jen for another great post and for sharing.
    Blessing to you,

    • On
    • November 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm
    • Jana Botkin
    • Said...

    Gretchen has an attractive personality – very honest about life and lessons learned. I’d love to hang out with her! Instead, I just ordered her book from the library.

    Thank you for the interview – you did a nice job because you really let her shine.

    p.s. If I was any happier, I’d be twins. 😎

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