This weekend, I read a wonderful book, Julia Child’s My Life in France. It describes her first move to France, when her husband was transferred there, how she fell in love with France and French food, and how she became utterly absorbed in learning about French cooking and in cookbook writing.
I must confess that I have very little interest in the ruling passion of Julia Child’s life. Food has never been very interesting to me. I love certain foods, of course, but I like very plain food best. I don’t get much of a kick from visiting new restaurants, or from eating a wonderfully cooked meal. Some people love exploring farmers’ markets or learning about how foods’ origins or cooking – not me. One of the sad aspects of a happiness project, for me, was to Be Gretchen and to admit to myself that this area of experience, so vibrant for so many people, leaves me cold.
Given my lack of interest in food, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to read the book except that Julia Child’s work has been on my mind – because her masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, has been bouncing around on the New York Times bestseller list near The Happiness Project!
So I picked up this book, and I was utterly captivated. It didn’t matter that I don’t care about cooking or food. Julia Child’s enthusiasm, her love of her subject and the zest with which she tackled even the drudgery involved, her respect for the masters in her field and her curiosity constantly to learn more, swept me along.
Enthusiasm is a terrific quality. The more I think about happiness, the more I value enthusiasm. It can seem cooler and smarter to be ironic, detached, or critical, and it’s certainly much easier and safer to adopt that sort of stance. But enthusiasm is more fun. Enthusiasm is generous, positive, energetic, and social. It’s outward-turning and engaged. It’s unselfconscious, warm-hearted, and kind of goofy. Like Julia Child!
Julia Child’s love for French cooking was so contagious that even today, almost fifty years after she wrote her first cookbook, we still feel her influence. I’m not sure whether I agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm” – but enthusiasm certainly helps. What a passionate life Julia Child led! And what a marvelous flavor she left behind.
* In a book group? If you’d like a copy of the reading-group discussion guide for The Happiness Project, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. (Sorry to write in that odd way; trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “reading group guide” in the subject line. I’ll send it right off.