“A Perfect Evening Involves Dorky Friends and Ridiculous Hijinks.”

Happiness interview: Liza Palmer.

Liza Palmer is a bestselling writer with a new novel, More Like Her. One element of the novel is our assumption that we understand the realities of other people’s lives–but really, we often don’t. The theme of happiness, and how to create a happy life, is a frequent theme in her novels, and I was curious to hear what she had to say about happiness in her own life.

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

Liza: I actually keep a running list on an old spa pamphlet in my desk drawer of concrete and specific things that make me happy. So often I over-think things that it helps to look at this list and realize, oh that’s right—all is not lost:  Roi des Earl Grey from Mariage Freres exists. Sometimes it’s all we can do to turn our moods around and thinking we have to figure everything out can feel overwhelming.  Sometimes it’s just about calling a friend and taking a drive with a great playlist.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

I thought the happiness I yearned for was firmly planted in what other people had and that the happiness I had was somehow sullied because it wasn’t “cool enough.”  My dorky friends and our ridiculous hijinks was something to be shrugged off and kept secret, while I coveted the perceived shiny-amazingness that the cool kids had. Now?  A perfect evening involves dorky friends and ridiculous hijinks.

 Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Over-thinking it.  I think somewhere along the line I thought that joy and wonder were somehow pedestrian.  That to be smart meant to be better than somehow “falling for that,” as if happiness was an aging uncle telling you to pull his finger.  I find myself buying into the myth that pain purifies and that pleasure is something you should feel guilty about.  Have you ever watched a group of little kids get unleashed from class out to recess?  The pure joy is awe-inspiring.  That’s what life should be like.  It’s okay to have wonder, it doesn’t take away from one’s intelligence.

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

I’m a huge Jack London fan and am especially partial to his Credo.  I went down to the tattoo parlor with the goal of tattooing the whole thing somewhere on my person, but I chickened out and only got the last line on my wrist.  It’s enough to remind me about what’s important and to stay in the present:

Here’s Jack London’s Credo:

I would rather be ashes than dust!

I would rather that my spark should burn out

in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.

I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom

of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.

The function of man is to live, not to exist.

I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.

I shall use my time.

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).

I have a tendency to be uncomfortable with moodiness—as if I’m wasting my time with being sad—which, by the way, I’m saying in the whiniest voice right now as I write this.  I just keep calm and carry on, if you will. All the while hoping that the sadness will just go away.  But, all those Jedi Mind Tricks do is—of course—tamp it down and make it come out in other ways.  Sadness is like a linoleum bubble, you can push it around all you want, but it’s not going anywhere until you deal with it. So, when I’m feeling blue what helps me is to allow it. Be in it.  Experience it and let it move through my body so I can digest it.

Happiness is such a pure place to be that what I’ve finally figured out is that so is sadness.  And to deny one is to deny both.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness?

Happiness breeds happiness.  When someone is inherently happy they allow themselves to be happy for others.  They’re quick and genuine with a compliment, they laugh and say thank you.  They root for people and are genuinely happy with others’ successes.  They smile as people approach them and hug them as they leave.  It’s just beautiful 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?

My relationship with happiness has paralleled my relationship with my own authenticity. I had to know who I was before I could understand the idea of being happy. For as long I defined myself as what I wasn’t all of my choices were fear based.  And fear and hope can’t co-exist.

This year has been the sweetest for me.  Hands down.  Of all things it started because of a cleanse.  It sounds so ridiculous, but there it is.  My sister came to me at the beginning of the year and suggested we all (me, my sister, my mom and a family friend) do the cleanse from Clean by Alejandro Junger.  I’ve had body image issues since my teenage years and have battled with self-esteem and the usual demons that inhabit us when we think we’re worthless.  I’d done work in therapy and my debut novel (Conversations with the Fat Girl) centered on those struggles, but even with all this I still had demons.

I started the cleanse and my body luxuriated in the food I was eating.  I’d never felt so good and free and healthy and strong and…myself. I was back.  I felt young again and unencumbered and it wasn’t about starving myself and punishing myself and taking away—it was about listening to my body and feeding myself and shock of all shocks…being kind to myself.  I’ve kept up with the philosophies of the book, but only 85% of the time.  Learning moderation is also something that has set me free.  I’ve been a slave to perfection—and the expectation of 100%— for too long.

I was happy about my body for the first time in a long time. So happy, that I actually connected body and mind together. I had been so detached that finally being on a team with my body instead of against it was like going from black and white to color.

I’m experiencing a level of happiness I’d only dreamed about in the past.  A happiness based on being whole again.

  • Kate

    “Sadness is like a lineoleum bubble.”  I may have to have THIS tattooed on my wrist!

  • Dbanfield817

    I would rather my joy be unexpected than relied apon. 

  • @elizabethcraft

    Wow, small world.  I spent an afternoon with Liza Palmer at an independent booksellers conference when her book (Conversations…) came out.  Sarah and I had a book out at the same time.  And now, years later, she’s a best seller an part of Happiness Project history.  I love it! And, btw, I loved her book!

    • gretchenrubin

      What a crazy small world!

  • Truthfully!

    I just finished reading the Happiness Project.   And at first I tried to think of the activities that make me truly happy,  like writing or self-improvement through courses, etc.   But the real truth is what makes me happiest is sex and shopping.  Sex isn’t a possibility so that leaves shopping.

  • thea

    This was a GREAT interview!  Now I am going to go read everything she has ever written.  I am a big fan a of analogies for understanding concepts and I really liked the connections she made.

  • Shannon Skinner

    This is an interesting post! This interview touches on the core aspects of happiness. You might be interested in some interviews on http://www.extraordinarywomentv.com

  • LivewithFlair

    I just love the line about happiness correlating to authenticity!  I love it!  I think that’s so true.  I would love to hear more about how to find an authentic “you.” 

    I also love the list on the spa pamphlet.  I just found a simple thing that makes me happy:  the smell of tea tree oil.  Random,  I know.  🙂 

  • Helen

    Great post – thank you, Gretchen!  Can relate to so much of what Liza says.  Love the quotes:  “It’s okay to have wonder, it doesn’t take away from one’s intelligence.”  “When someone is inherently happy they allow themselves to be happy for others. ” and my favorite “A perfect evening involves dorky friends and ridiculous hijinks.”  Great thoughts for my own use and to share with my family!

    • I agree, I also love the whole paragraph that starts “Happiness breeds happiness…” that is perfectly me!


  • This is hands-down my favorite happiness interview. What a wonderful woman. I am now going to look for her books. Thanks for sharing!