“You Don’t Have to Live Your Life the Way Other People Expect You To.”

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my research, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.

Chris Guillebeau has a terrific blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, “unconventional strategies for life, work, and travel.” For example, one of the unconventional goals he has set for himself: to try to visit every country in the world. So far he has visited more than a hundred. I myself do not have the wanderlust gene, and I get a vicarious pleasure from reading about other people’s strenuous travels (a pleasure untroubled by any desire to do so myself!).

He’s also interested in “the convergence between highly personal goals and service to others” – a very happiness-project-y concern. Like me, Chris is a member of the fantastic LifeRemix network (lots of great blogs gathered there).

Chris and I have many interests in common – yet we’re also quite different from each other — so I was very curious to read his answers to these questions about happiness.

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

Chris: Afternoon coffee breaks. It’s not the most unconventional ritual, but it works for me. I try not to attempt much in the way of productive activity between 2-4pm most days. I’ve found that if I spend that time reading and relaxing, my post-afternoon work (and happiness level in general) will be much better.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That I am allowed to be happy. I used to be a fairly unhappy, resentful person. Part of that came out of a difficult childhood, so it wasn’t necessarily all my fault, but I also believe that after a certain point you have to be responsible for yourself. When I started taking responsibility for my own life and not following the same path I saw other people taking, I became much, much happier. The shift was huge.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Trying to be responsible for everything and everyone. This is an impossible quest, of course, and whenever I try and fail, I become unhappy.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I tried reminding myself to be Gretchen, but that was confusing. 🙂

I really like the motto: “You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.” It’s something I’ve latched on to and used as the mantra for my crusade on convention.

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?
As I alluded to earlier, I used to be a very unhappy person. I became happier by a) carefully examining a number of areas of my life that were not creating happiness for me, and b) taking a series of small-to-big actions to change that. Over time it worked very well. I feel like I’m in the 92nd percentile of happiness these days. I think I’d like to go to about the 98th, so I’m working on that.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Yes. For me it begins with an active process of goal-setting where I spend a full week every December thinking about what I want to accomplish over the next year. I review what went well in the present year and what didn’t. Based on that analysis, I’ll set 3-5 goals each in 8-10 different categories for the next year. I then spend much of the next year focused on the things I identified as being important to me.

Note: If this process sounds excessively rigid or formal, it’s really not. I’m more right-brained than left, and this kind of goal-setting is meant to be a creative, free-flowing exercise that I am also free to alter during the year.

I also spend a lot of time traveling, which generally makes me happy depending on the context and what else is happening. I usually go to at least 20 countries a year, including a number of off-the-grid places like Pakistan and Syria. That part might not work for everyone, but for some reason it suits me nicely– so I’ve learned not to question it too much.

* I met Amy Krouse Rosenthal at a BBQ this summer, and it was only later that I realized that A) she wrote one of my favorite picture books, Little Pea, and B) her The Beckoning of Lovely video is very happiness-project-y. It’s really worth checking out.

* As I posted yesterday, I’m trying to figure out the level of interest for a book tour. If I did a book event in your town, and you’d come, it would be very helpful if you’d either post a comment below or drop me an email at grubin[at]gretchenrubin[dot com]. (Sorry about the weird format – trying to thwart spammers). Just write “tour” in the subject line, and be sure to include the name of your city! Thanks very much to all the people who already answered; the information is enormously helpful.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Great interview. He sounds like a fun guy. I have the wanderlust gene and he is officially my inspiration.


  • Thanks for sharing. I am constantly finding people around me are pressuring me to live according to their standards, and I can use this encouragement to withstand that pressure, and go for my own goals.

  • Mary

    Am I going insane, or is anyone else getting audio input whenever they open this blog? Whether I access through google reader, or directly through the site, I am getting some obnoxious audio feed. I didn’t read comments from the last few days; has this been addressed already?

    It is NOT making me happy!

  • Great interview I love Chris’ mantra. I just gave this a thumbs up on stumble upon so hopefully other people will get to see some more techniques for daily happiness.

    Have a goodun’

  • I discovered Chris a while ago but it’s great to see his happiness tips assembled here.

    I think I have a lot in common with both of you. Like Chris I’m a travel fiend who can’t get enough of it and like you Gretchen, I’m working on happiness and writing about it. It’s great to find people with overlapping areas of interest and know that I’m not alone in my quest. Thank you.

    • dalanda


  • @Gretchen,

    Thanks so much for the huge honor of being featured on HP. I’m grateful, and happy too.

    • Jodie

      Chris, I am very interested in the categories and goals you mention – would you be willing to share how you developed your categories and illustrate them and the goals?

  • Dalon

    this was a great entry – thanks so much!!!!!

    tour: I live in Anchorage, AK and I would LOVE for you to come here!! I would definitely bring a friend or two and tell everyone I know about it.
    we have Border’s, Barnes and Noble, but also a local place called Title Wave (wavebooks.com) and they are the BOMB!! come visit AK!!!!

  • Nice interview. I admire that guy for being able to stand up for himself and do the things that he wants to do in life. I think it does make one happier if you don’t live your life the way other people (parents, friends, etc.) expect you to.

  • Paulette

    I’d come ot the tour in DC/MD area. I’m also a member of the DC happiness project.

  • Gretchen,
    Thanks for the two-fer–love your blog and always find it inspriational and love hearing more about Chris, who I also read regulary.
    I loved the PS on The Beckoning of Lovely. That was a treat to watch and makes you realize the power of seemingly simple things in our lives and the power they possess.

    I live in Seattle and I’d come see you on a book tour!

    Take Care,

  • emd04

    Great post…as usual. This is something I needed to hear again!
    I love the idea of taking a week to reflect on the year and set goals. Note to self: do this.

  • Name

    Champaign, IL: I’d come!

  • Great interview. I agree- happiness is not about living a life that other people expect you to be.

  • Sheryl

    Denver for a book tour stop, please. Try The Tattered Cover!

  • adoptedjane

    Very nice Interview Gretchen and Wow I would love to one day get to where Chris is and not worry what other people think. IF somehow I could get to that place I know I would be a much happier person

    Gretchen are you coming to OZ for your book tour 😉 Jane

  • Wow! To visit every country in the world is an amazing goal indeed! Maybe I should have such goal too! Hmmmm…

  • Papaya 90

    Ok, than…Be Gretchen, be Gretchen, be Gretchen, be Gretchen….after few rounds maybe i will feel better….

    confusing times