“I Have Zero Tolerance for Self-Inflicted Drama.”

Happiness interview: Tina Roth Eisenberg.

A few weeks ago, I heard a fascinating talk given by Tina Roth Eisenberg, who runs a well-known design blog/studio called SwissMiss. Her site is a mesmerizing collection of beautiful design which is highly addictive — once I start looking, I can’t stop. She spoke a lot about the power of good design, and also about the creativity and energy sparked by being around other creative people. Also, in all her spare time, she also helped create a terrific, simple, browser-based to-do app called TeuxDeux.

Of course I had to ask her some questions about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Tina: Coming to my studio, a collaborative workspace in DUMBO [a neighborhood in Brooklyn], with a beautiful view of the East River and Manhattan and filled with magnificent people. My studio is my happy place.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I had no idea how happy the Internet would make me. Did it exist already? And I had no idea how happy my family (husband + 2 kids) would make me.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I keep going to bed later than I should and then I am not happy in the morning when I have to get up at the crack of dawn. (My youngest, 9-month-old Tilo Red, thinks that getting up at 5am is a great idea.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Spend out.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
I have this Goethe quote I find myself going back to:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

[I love that passage too, and in fact, quoted it in The Happiness Project.***]

I try to remind myself that I am the decisive element. I try hard not to be a complainer but a problem solver. If I don’t like something in my life, or think something is missing, I try to create it, actively go after it.

And then, of course, there’s my all-time favorite Happy Visualization by Marc Johns.

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.)
– Hang out with my kids.
– Read through my archives of the Made me smile category of my blog.
– Eat mashed potatoes (made with lots of butter).

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 love surrounding myself with people that are doers. I mentioned that my studio is my happy place. It’s filled with doers. Everyone here has cool ideas and goes after them. I am surrounded with people that make things happen. And we are all happier for it.

I try very hard not to have people in my life that talk bad about other people and attract drama. I have zero tolerance for self-inflicted drama.

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 have always been a pretty happy person, an optimist at heart. But ever since I started my own company my happiness level has gone way up. And since I started saying no to clients (9 months ago) and am only working on my own products and services, my happiness level has even more increased. Being my own boss is definitely a happiness catalyst.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I think it’s a daily task:
Focus on the good and the things you can change/improve in your life.
Appreciate what you have and surround yourself with good people.
Live in the moment.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Oh yes. And out of this I learned that the secret to a truly happy life is to not have expectations.

*** Update: A reader asked me for the source for the Goethe quotation above. I’ve often read it attributed to Goethe, but when I looked for the actual original source, I discovered that it may actually have been written by Haim Ginott. I wasn’t able to find an authoritative source either way, but the fact that I wasn’t able to find it in Goethe suggests to me that perhaps it’s not his work. If anyone knows, please post.

* Speaking of online tools to build happiness, if you haven’t looked at the Happiness Project Toolbox, check it out. Eight free tools to help you start and track your own happiness project.

  • What an inspirational post! Full of empowerment. Thank you for this.

  • “…I learned that the secret to a truly happy life is to not have expectations. ”

    So very true. So much discontent is caused by expecting too much and thinking/wishing things were different.

  • The Contrarian

    I run multiple businesses, and TeuxDeux is my favorite app! More than any other tool – this ultra-simple cloud based “to do list” helps me stay organized and get stuff done! I’m waiting for Tina’s next invention!

    Gretchen – thanks for sharing the interview!

  • both of you are inspirational. Tina was a constant source of inspiration and information while I was running my design business and Gretchen has been instrumental in helping me re-find myself after I decided to sell the business (and then sold it). I feel totally ‘content’ more than ever.. and partly that is due to people like you Gretchen, who explore a matter that is dear to your heart and also ‘ours’ and in doing so ‘turn the light on’ when we are stumbling in the dark..
    warm wishes,

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my work has added to your happiness. Talking to
      Tina made me want to re-design my blog, create something with my hands, take
      more photos, and join her workspace! (And eat mashed potatoes, too.)

  • tarasophia

    Such a delightful interview, and very timely for me as someone just recommended Teux Deux to me and I started using it today – and had a very productive, snappy day because of it. Goes to Tina’s point about the power of design.
    I’m inspired by the idea that her studio is her happy place…makes me think about what I’d really like my writing space to be like..
    Thanks Gretchen & Tina –

  • I love that quote from Goethe. Thanks for the inspiration, Tina!

  • Thank you both so much for a great interview! I just watched the teux deux video and I’m going to sign up. What a great idea! Now, can we get an app for Android?

    Thanks again!

  • Is there a book from Goethe with that quote in it? I’d love to read more from him – what a great quote.

  • Well I guess it is true that at the end of the day individual is the center of the universe ;). It does seem that “(trying) hard not to be a complainer but a problem solver” does help alot.

  • Ms Mary Martin

    My computer is down at work – except for the internet…..and I found this and am SO glad. Loved the article, I lvoe her site and espically loved reading all the things that made her smile. You both made me smile today.
    Thanks SO MUCH

  • DevilsApricot

    someone has perhaps already posted this, but it’s regarding the Goethe/Ginott question:

  • Having a happy place…I’m finding out recently how impactful your environment can be. Of course, you want to surround yourself with people you want to be like, that you enjoy, and that brighten your day. But the physical space must match the purpose for that space. As a chiropractor, I don’t give good treatments when I’m anywhere but where I practice. Learning to meditate, I don’t have a good sit if I’m anywhere but where I sit in my bedroom. I can’t read in peace unless I’m in a comfortable chair with a lowly lit light and a pen.

    Thank you for this.

  • I actually started my own business 9.5 years ago, and it’s made me much happier. My business is helping others start their own businesses (www.sunshineny.com – where startups grow up), and I’ve noticed in that time that work is one of the biggest areas where people are unhappy and feel like they have no control. Even if you work much harder (which most people do) on your own business, the fact that you are in control tends to make people waaaaaaaay happier – at least that’s what I’ve noticed.

  • Peptide

    Great quote – source Haim Ginott “Teacher & Child” p. 13