“People Who Knit Are Usually in a Good Mood. People Who Stare into Their iPhones AND Demand Your Attention Aren’t as Much Fun.”

Happiness interview: Mark Frauenfelder.

I’m a longtime fan BoingBoing, that hugely popular, wonderful website that’s “mischievous fun for higher primates,” so a few years ago, when I got a link and a nice email from founder Mark Frauenfelder, it was a huge thrill.

Mark has a fascinating book that just came out, Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. As you can tell from the title alone, this book has a lot to do with happiness, work, DIY, and…handiness, learning to make and do things with your own hands instead of running out to get cheap, mass-produced items that provide no larger meaning or connection. If you’re a Seth Godin fan, it’s interesting to take a look at Seth’s thoughtful, short commentary.

Given that Mark did a “year of” project aimed at boosting his happiness, I was very eager to hear more about what he had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Mark: I have three self-watering garden containers on the deck of my house. I like to get on my hands and knees and closely inspect the vegetable plants I’m growing. Every day I see changes. It’s like taking a trip to another world, one that moves more slowly and rewards observation. I’m usually not a very observant person, so getting into this mental state is like taking a trip. The five minutes I spend there provide a refreshing break from sitting in front of my computer.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When I was 18 I thought that I had to go out and find things to make me happy. Now I am happiest when I don’t venture past my property line. There is a world of adventure in my house and yard — books, my family, drawing and painting, making yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha, beekeeping, raising chickens, making things. I still enjoy going out and seeing the rest of the world, but I also am at the point where I am never bored by staying home. Life gets more interesting as I grow older.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I spend too much time skimming around online, and it leaves me glassy eyed and feeling unsettled. I have a hard time knowing when I’ve had too much.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
I’ve gotten better at saying “no” to people’s requests for my participation. My default answer used to be yes, and it often led to unhappiness. Now my first answer is either “no,” or “I’ll think about it.” If the latter, I talk it over with my wife or a friend, which helps me make a decision.

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).
The best happiness boost for me is hiking along the fire trails in the hills of Los Angeles. There’s nothing better than that. When people want to meet with me for one reason or another, I often tell them I will do it if we can hike together. This is so much more fun than meeting a person in a restaurant or a Starbucks. I think I have a bit of ADD, so walking and talking at the same time is really soothing and keeps me focused.

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 like hanging around people who knit. They are usually in a good mood. People who are staring into their iPhones *and* demanding your attention at the same time are not as much fun to be around.

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 think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Part of it is just learning what makes me happier and doing more of it, and learning what makes me unhappier and doing less of it. When I was in college I drank enough beer to float an aircraft carrier, but after I got out of college my drinking quickly tapered off because I started realizing the state of being buzzed wasn’t pleasurable and hangovers were miserable. Now I have about two or three drinks a year, which is more than enough. Another part of caring less about what other people think and instead focusing on living a life that meets my own standards of kindness and caring.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Yes. I read your book, for one thing, and I thought it had great advice! [Thanks, Mark! That’s so nice to hear.] “Be yourself” is very important. “Pursue passion,” is also a good goal. I have always been interested in drawing but in the last four months I have really been working at teaching myself drawing and it’s one of my favorite things to do. And “Buy Some Happiness” — we hired a person to help us organize our house. Clutter causes stress and getting rid of clutter is liberating!

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I usually don’t expect that dinner parties will make me happy, but they usually do! People are often less boring than I imagine they are going to be (sometimes they are worse, of course).

*Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

  • Gwyneth

    I love this title because I’m a knitter and making things by hand does make me happier! Also, people who stare at iPhones or just goof around with their tech while insisting I pay attention to them bug me. Fab!

  • Sue

    I loved the title too – I’ve just started knitting more during my commute (I take public transit) and love both how much I get done and what a great conversation gateway it is. I laughed a little, though, since I often keep my pattern on my iphone and refer to it as I knit!

  • I love that he finds happiness in his every day life. I used to make that same mistake, now, like Mark I can be amazed by the tiniest creatures. I recently discovered a cluster of little bugs underneath a leaf. There must have been over 50 of them. If I hadn’t taken my time to really look within my environment I would have missed this amazing spectacle.

    I also like that Mark does more of what makes him happy and less of what doesn’t. I believe we aren’t in a fixed state of happiness, we can always improve our happiness by becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings.

  • Sandy

    This may be my favorite interview of all times. I love that he finds adventure in his own home and yard! I usually find the most happiness in the very same place, even though I like to venture out as well.

  • This has to be my favorite interview so far!! I’ll have to disagree with this statement though “This is so much more fun than meeting a person in a restaurant or a Starbucks.” There is a lot of fun to be had while enjoying a cup of coffee!!

  • Pam

    As a lifelong knitter I thoroughly agree with Mark’s comment. Knitting has a meditative quality and combined with the social aspect, it’s doubly gratifying.

  • Seems to be a trend that drinking makes people less happy than not drinking…
    Seems to be a no-brainer.

    LOVE the idea of doing your life yourself instead of buying cheap, short-term solutions. The happiness that comes when you work hard and can reap the benefits of your accomplishments over and over.

  • Theresa

    I loved the title of today’s blog! I’m a knitter and it’s an extremely satisfying hobby. I just finished the first baby blanket I’ve ever made. It took me over a year but talk about a happiness rush! Also, my knitting is a conversation starter. I knit during my lunch hour and coworkers are constantly talking to me about my knitting.

    I love this blog and check it every day. It’s one of my breaks at work. I also bought The Happiness Project after stumbling onto this blog and found it very uplifting. Thanks Gretchen for being such a positive person!

  • Being a blogger myself can cause me to sit indoors a lot or to meet up in places that are for coffee because it seems so standard. But I like the idea of walking and talking not only because it’s healthier (my girlfriend and I did that last week and it was a lot of fun) but it’s also known to get the intelligence juices going.

    Sitting causes people to be stale, walking and thinking is a great way to get ideas out.

    I love these posts, and I just finished reading the book Happiness Project, it’s such a wonderful book.

  • simplyslc

    I love this interview, and even better, I followed the link for Mark’s book, and I am so excited to have found a worthy father’s day gift for my husband! I know he will love it. Thank you!

  • Knitting keeps me sane AND happy. I have a huge (and growing) stash and if I’m ever housebound for months at a time, I will be set. I love to travel and be out and about, but home is where my heart and interests are. I completely get what Mark is about.

  • I can readily identify with Mark’s statement about spending too much time online and knowing when is too much. I am the same way. I can also agree that people who stare into their iPhones aren’t as much fun.

  • I can readily identify with Mark’s statement about spending too much time online and knowing when is too much. I am the same way. I can also agree that people who stare into their iPhones aren’t as much fun.

  • LivewithFlair

    I totally agree with the “doing things with your hands.” In fact, today I was completely uninspired, out of flair, and cranky. But I remembered something about WHY doing things with my hands makes me so happy: it accesses what I loved to do as a child. My flair moment today is remembering (and doing) this one thing I absolutely loved as a child. http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com/

  • Reading and pondering this interview has added to my ‘HAPPY’ — Thanks for that!

    And I LOVE that idea of ‘buying some happiness’ — like hiring someone to organize the clutter. LOL It has so inspired me that I’m off to hire me to do that very thing!

    Thanks Mark and Gretchen!!! I so appreciate you.

    –Mary K

    ¸..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
    ¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
    ((¸¸.·´ ..·´ -:¦:-
    -:¦:- ((¸¸.·´* Light


  • “People who are staring into their iPhones *and* demanding your attention at the same time are not as much fun to be around” – this is well put. I had a lot of dinners ruined because people had to jump on their phones in the middle of the conversation (and stay on them forever while you try to fake that you are cool about it). It makes you appreciate a person who can spare their undivided attention and uninterrupted eye contact .

  • A lot of happiness wisdom here! I especially appreciate the comments related to (1) being observant (his focus on his vegetable plants) as a way to slow down and (2) not having to ‘go out’ to find happiness. Being present and choosing to be happy regardless of where you are, are both key…..I think! Thank you.

  • donnamae9

    I had a candy wrapper say to me after reading this on Thursday “Go out for adventure, go home for love” and think this is just wonderfully true. I like to really getting into something new and LOVE cooking for my family but always wondered if negative being a “homebody”. But this is what makes me happy and really enjoyed this interview.
    I also agreed that life does get more interesting as I get older!

  • Liz

    This cracks me up because I just wrote about this last week as one of the many reason Ma Ingalls was happier than many moms today! http://dreamgardencoaching.com/why-ma-ingalls-was-happier-than-you-part-3/

    I know knitting always puts me in a good mood!

    • it looks like people will be happier if he or she known himself well

  • Super info, I love it.

    >>I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. Part of it is just learning what makes me happier and doing more of it, and learning what makes me unhappier and doing less of it. << is particuarly helpful in its simplicity.

    My father who is a doctor tells patients if it hurts when you do that, don't do it anymore. 🙂

    We addressed the same issue in our blog "How to be Happier" regarding families a few weeks ago.

    "What things during the daily routine with your children cause you – or them – discomfort or conflict? Identify them (on the fridge?) and don't do them anymore – or change how you approach these times. Examples may be showering, getting dressed, homework, or practicing a musical instrument."

    For the full article, see http://ruhap.com/content/blog/how-to-raise-happy-children-eat-dinner-as-a-family-and-2-others/

    Thanks, and be Happy!

    Gregory S. Barsh, Esq.
    Chief Happiness Officer
    ruHap, The Happiness Company
    Follow our blog, How to be Happier, at http://ruhap.com/content/category/blog/

  • Wow, who knew there were all these knitters hiding out there on the web, lol? I tried needlepoint at one time but it wasn’t really for me. I suspect I would not find knitting any more rewarding, but to each their own! Like others here who talk about some of the difficulties of being an online addict or a homebody (I am a bit of both), I try to find ways to disrupt the routine and change it up, even if it is only dragging my iPad to the local library or a nearby park instead of remaining hunched over in my home office. Taking breaks to look up and just smile at strangers makes me feel more connected. One thing I thought was bringing happiness but was actually doing the opposite was online gaming. I’m slowly giving up that addiction.
    PS Seems I am very stream-of-consciousness today, sorry for the rambling.

  • ejranville

    This interview really resonated with me. I find the older I get the more being at home is what I really want to be doing.

    As a knitter, I had to laugh at his knitting comment. I am usually calm when knitting and knit on the bus, at church, in meetings, etc. Doing this helps me focus on what others are saying. Yesterday I noticed a girl knitting on the bus yesterday and the man behind her was just watching–entranced. This made me smile (and wish I had my knitting).

  • Maria

    And it seems to me that the act of knitting in public, or during a meeting, or while talking to a grandson etc. is an act of consummate isolationism and superiority. As if saying: “You can go to hell, but I the supreme oracle can do something for me even while I am talking to (or at) you!” In fact they are merely a generational alternative to those who type their own journals while talking at (or to) you. But they feel so superior about the pure wholesomeness of their isolationism. This sense of superiority prevents them from letting their unhappiness show through…. hence the false happiness of those who knit.

    • Then again, sometimes a knitting needle is just a knitting needle! ; )

      • Amy

        I think MOST of the time, a needle is just a needle. I like your way of thinking!

    • Sue

      Maria, how can you believe that you know what a knitter feels? Are you projecting your own feelings?

    • lolacate

      I think we should teach Maria to knit, 😉


      So sorry you feel this way about something so rewarding for those who knit. You sound very uptight and unhappy. Maybe you need to get off the computer or the iphone for bit and relax. I sure hope not too many people have to run into you in this kind of mood. So sad. And yes I knit. But I can have eye contact and knit at the same time.

  • KCCC

    Great interview! There’s a lot of wisdom in “learn what makes you happy/unhappy, do more/less” – but it takes paying attention to what those things are.

    And I’m a knitter, so loved the title. I do think knitting makes me happier. It’s very a meditative process, and has the bonus of resulting in a handmade product – a win/win. I NEVER mind waiting anywhere when I have my knitting. Plus, I can do it and socialize… or (irony alert!) listen to a podcast on my iPhone!

  • Katie

    “I like hanging around people who knit. They are usually in a good mood. People who are staring into their iPhones *and* demanding your attention at the same time are not as much fun to be around.”

    YES!!!! I couldn’t agree more. One of my biggest pet peeves is trying to maintain a conversation with someone who is texting or playing with apps on their i-phone. People have a very hard time tuning-in nowadays, and it saddens me a great deal. Technology is a wondrous thing, but it can also be a very scary one. In most places, gone are the days when you would smile or (heaven forbid!) wave at a stranger you drive or walk past. And speaking to someone you don’t know on the subway? EEK! I often wish I grew up in a time when the small-town feeling wasn’t so small town.

  • I’m pretty sure I’m happier when I’m knitting, too. Thx for the interview with Mark. Make and Craft are wonderful!

  • I totally resonate with Mark’s experience of being happiest when he doesn’t venture past the property line. We have worked hard to develop the “fiefdom” to include lots of things that make us happy– hens, pizza oven, gardens, all simple inexpensive things that anchor us in an island of happiness and serenity in a sea of insanity. It is good to have that solid base to work from.

  • I like your comment “buy some happiness” as it relates to Professional Organizing. I’m a professional organizer and I see the relief and joy that comes to people when they really bring more order and simplicity to their homes. Ditto for other home improvement services like hiring an interior decorator or a landscaper. If you need help to create the vision of your living space, hire it — it’ll be the best money you ever spent!!

  • Great, thought-provoking interview. I moved to a very small town less than a year ago. It’s not working out, so a move to the city is imminent. In my unhappiness with my current town, I’ve forgotten how much joy is right at my fingertips, in my very own home and backyard. Thanks for the gentle reminder.

  • frances

    When I was a new mother here in Greece, most of my girl-friends and in-laws  did embroidery. It was very convenient to take to the park or the veranda because you could chat and keep an eye on your kids in a way that you can’t do if you have your head in a book or newspaper. It was a way of bonding with my mother and sister in law as we didn’t have much more in common. Also brings back to memory cosy evenings with my mother,knitting and lkistening to the radio in the days before we had T.v. I see younger girls now in similar situations and what do they do? light up a cigarette. At least if you’re knitting you can’t be smoking.