“So Many People Detract From Their Happiness By Worry About What Might Happen…and What People Think About Them.”

Interview: Alina Tugend.

Alina Tugend writes the biweekly ShortCuts column for the New York Times business section, and she has a great new book that just hit the shelves: Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong.

One of my most helpful happiness-project resolutions is to Enjoy the fun of failure, and I’m very interested in how to deal with failure and mistakes in an effective and happier way. As Alina points out, although we’re told that we learn from mistakes, most of us actually hate making mistakes — but making mistakes can be an important source of creativity and improvement.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Alina: Reading. I love to escape into other worlds. Also watching Law & Order! The real ones, not spin-offs!

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
This too shall pass. If you’re feeling bad about something, it will pass. Knowing that the bad times move on, has made me much more able not to collapse in a funk when things go wrong.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Wishing things could be perfect. They can’t. If you aim for perfection, you’re going to always be disappointed.

And fretting about the future. Worrying about things that may not and often don’t happen.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Live in the moment. It’s such a cliché, but since I’ve really started to believe it and focus on that exact moment – whether it be talking to my sons or walking outside or eating a hamburger, it’s helped me not dwell on regrets about the past or worries about the future.

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 see so many people detract from their happiness by worrying about what might happen. And worrying about what people think about them. We all do this to a certain extent, the but the more we can reduce those two useless activities, the happier we can be.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Yes. By, as I said above, being more mindful about the moment I’m in. Appreciating what I have. Hey, I’m not always successful at that, but I try much harder. Someone once said, “Worrying isn’t preparation.” Once I figured out that worrying about something won’t prevent it from happening, I’ve been quite a bit happier.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
What I’ve learned – really learned, not just give lip service to: Emphasize efforts and deemphasize results. Good grades and awards and all things we drive ourselves crazy about are important, but if that’s all we care about, it’s empty. Taking risks means we’re going to make mistakes – and that’s okay.

* A few weeks ago, I was on a panel with the fabulous Liz Lange. She told me about the new site she’s doing with her sister, Shopafrolic — “We search. We select. You shop!” As a confirmed under-buyer, I’m not a shopper myself, but even I got a huge kick out of the site, because of the relationship between her and her sister. Beware: if you love clothes, you may spend waaaaaay too much time there.

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  • Trish137

    Hi there – love you, your book and your blog – not loving the reference to the shopafrolic sight – $300 belts and $34 dollar lipsticks are a bit unreal for most of the folk who read your sight – PLEASE – I know you are from a different socioeconomic world BUT thus far you have always felt like someone I could hang out with… your suggestion we visit, well it left me a bit sad………

  • shannongc09

    How timely. Today’s issue, in fact.

  • It so sad that “being in the moment” has become “cliché”. It’s really wonderful to hear how being in the moment has created more happiness in your life. Long live mindfulness!

  • The Red Angel

    What a great interview! I loved this. And “this too shall pass” is so true… there are always times when it seems like things can’t get any worse and it feels like you can’t take it anymore. And then, slowly but surely, you begin to realize that time heals everything.



  • Amber

    Hi Gretchen, I’m a huge fan! Your articles are always so inspirational. I’ve added your site to my blog, Walk Happy at http://walkhappy.wordpress.com

    Best wishes!

  • Great Article and i found this post at a right time. I felt very you know let down and not so happy about things happening around me so i was just surfing the net and found your blog. I loved “Wishing things could be perfect” part. Accept what comes in your way is what will give you a happier life.

  • As a fan and virtual friend of Gretchen’s, reading her answers is enlightening, but the true value of this interview is in the questions. So insightful – a great tool for getting to know yourself and your friends better.

  • LivewithFlair

    Have you read the little essay by Lewis Thomas called, “The Wonderful Mistake”? I love this essay because it talks about the marvel of error, down to our very DNA. Failure–even in DNA–means progress! I like to teach this essay to my college students so they can see failure differently. Thank you! http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com

  • Olivia

    Nicely said! Good reminders all around. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jacsmith714

    Loved the article. Some very key points as I prepare to run the Boston Marathon next week. Worrying is not preparation or prevention. Thank you for all of your words.

  • Yes! I’m currently reading a lot of work by the Dalai Lama, who also says that it’s unhealthy to spend all your time worrying about what has happened or what’s yet to happen. If we focus on being fully present in this moment, it’s so much easier to act with compassion and thought. Thank you for the reminder!

  • great article,thanks for sharing!

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  • Oh boy, she reminds me of myself big time. I love to escape to other words as well, I love to read and watch TV shows, and I really, really feel happy when I stop worrying about the future or about what other people think of me.