“Happiness Shouldn’t Be Associated with Guilt.”

Happiness interview: Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess.

Last week, amid a lot of buzz, Jenny Lawson’s new book,   Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) hit the shelves.  I couldn’t wait to read it, because I’m a big fan of her wildly popular blog, and the book made me laugh out loud. (If you’ve read it, I will just say “whimsy” was my favorite scene–you know the part I mean.)

Jenny’s book is very funny, but it’s also very serious, and the theme of happiness runs through it.

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

Jenny: Drinking?  That’s probably not a good answer though so let’s change it to “watching Anchorman so many times I can say the lines before the actors do.”

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

When I was 18 my severe anxiety disorder was still undiagnosed, so I guess what I didn’t know then was that one day I would be happy.  I wish I could have gone back and told that me that it would get better.

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

Drinking?  Also, I have a hard time convincing myself I’m worthy of being happy.  There’s something about being happy that seems somewhat lazy to me.  Like I must be ignoring something terrible if I’m actually happy.  It’s something I’m working on.  Happiness shouldn’t be associated with guilt.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself, “No calculation.”)

There is one that Neil Gaiman shared with me when I was having a terrible time working on my audio book.  I was so afraid of messing up that I couldn’t appreciate something that should be so fun so he told me “Pretend you’re good at it.”  I wrote it on my arm and it worked.  I used that mantra every damn day.

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).

Actually if I need a good happiness boost I watch horror movies.  It sounds weird, but there’s something about watching people get murdered at summer camp by hatchets that makes me think, “Well, things could be worse.”

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 always encourage people to follow whatever seems silly because that’s going to bring happiness.  Jumping in a fountain that wasn’t meant to be jumped in is always fun.  Unless it’s a drinking fountain.  Then you’re probably going to get arrested.

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 have clinical depression so it’s not unusual for me to spend a few weeks a year in bed unable to be happy.  I can usually rely on my family to understand and to remind me that depression lies and that it will get better.  Also, I have a great therapist who has really helped me to cope with depression in a healthier way.  For me it’s all about giving myself time to be sad so that I know I’ll be able to give myself time to be happy again soon.

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?

My daughter’s bedroom.  It’s bright and filled with paper butterflies and every time I’m in there we’re always playing or making up new games or plays.  My daughter is the brightest spot in my life.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?

It’s always the silly little things…bringing home a 5 foot chicken to ring the doorbell, taking an alligator on a plane, saying the word “lady-garden” on CNN…those things bring me the most happiness.  The bigger things like winning awards and such never bring as much joy.  I figure though that I’m lucky to know what works for me so that I concentrate on the things that really matter to me.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • This is a really sweet, open and hilarious interview. I love it. I will be ordering Jenny Lawson’s book as soon as I hit “post” on this comment. As a person who also lives with extra anxiety, I really relate to that conversation with those who love me (and myself) about how this extreme moment will pass, turn into a different kind of moment eventually, and then I’ll also have more peaceful ones, too. Thanks for sharing this interview. I’m happier after reading it.

  • KCDebi

    Yea! I’ve been hoping you’d do this interview with her someday. 

  • Debra

    Love, love, love this!

  • bungalowdad

    Great interview. When I saw both of your faces together in my Facebook news feed, I had to click on the link. I was not disappointed. Thanks for doing this interview, and I wish you both continued success. You deserve it. 

  • Thank you so much for sharing this interview and the book. I’ve just bought it for my iPad, started reading it and I can’t stop laughing. (I feel the need to point out I’m still reading the introduction!)

  • S_ifat

    Bought her book on audible.com just cause you said you njoyed it. Gonna trust you 🙂 thanks!

    • S_ifat

      after an hour of listening to her book while taking my walk in my city of Haifa Israel, I can say I love it! people walking next to me thought I was a little crazy lauging out loud. but. yes, there is a but. she talks soooo fast. too fast. I have listened to a lot of audio books, no one read so far as fast as she does. it’s a shame cause you want to enjoy every sentence but she is already off to the next one.
      know for you next book dear- read slower.
      but I love it.

  • Mia McLaughlin

    The 5 foot chicken story had myself, coworkers and several family members in stitches for days!

  • Melissa Lehman

    THIS made me happy!  Also, sometimes when I need cheering up, I re-visit the big metal chicken post.  I don’t even have to read it; just looking at the picture of the chicken (and reading the caption!) “this” close to the front door cracks me up every time.
    And I would agree: It’s ALL about the little, silly things.

  • Jenna

    Depression lies. True words and a great perspective.

  • LivewithFlair

    Pretend you’re good at it is the best advice I’ve heard in a while.  I’m going to cook dinner tonight and pretend I’m good at it!  

  • Kate

    I really appreciate having the perspective of someone who suffers from depression and anxiety included her.  I myself have issues with both.  Those of us that have one or both of these problems can be part of a happiness project, too!  And maybe we need it even more.  Thanks to you both for this interview.

    • Susan

      Not only can we be part of it, we need it SO BADLY!  Confession:  I put off even visiting this website for months after a friend recommended it because I was afraid it would be “too chipper” (I find chipper pretty unbearable).  My loss!  Boy did I feel silly for waiting!  So glad to have Gretchen (and her followers)  in my life now, though, and so grateful for people like you, Kate, who make me feel especially welcome to share the bounty and even chime in occasionally, which I’ve never been comfortable doing on any other site.

      • Kate

        Glad you feel welcome here, Susan.  If anything, I think those of us who struggle with these issues probably spend more of our time thinking about happiness, what it means to us, how to get it, why it’s eluding us, etc., than others.  So I think Gretchen’s work, and this site, is very very appropriate and helpful!

  • Kate

    I meant “included HERE.”  Sorry!

  • Marlaysmurphy

    Jenny is the BEST!!! Her blog is filled with humor, stark reality, and spots of strange & crude happiness.

  • Dtschneider

    I loved Jenny’s book – I laughed so hard I cried.  What’s really great about it is she reminds me to be myself and not take myself to seriously.

  • Guest

    I’d be interested to see a post on the Happiness Project blog about finding happiness while living with anxiety and/or depression.

  • Mobius981

    Lest we forget, small dogs bring true happiness (and lots of endorphins!!!!) They can be in bed with you when you are sad. 

    • Dogs bring me tons of happiness!  Unconditional love…that’s what it is all about.

  • Always Get a Window Seat

    Pretend you’re good at it:  Even regarding the stuff I’m pretty sure that I’m good at, I constantly wonder if I’m just fooling myself.  Today I’ll pretend that I am good at my its (‘it’ plural) AND pretend that everyone agrees unless they are asoluteley bonkers.

  • HStern

    “Pretend you’re good at it” is how I survive social situations. LOVE Jenny!!!

  • Gooddayregularpeople

    No m atter how someone seems on the outside, we never know the inside. To meet Jenny in person, you’d never guess the level of depression.

    But I believe her.

    People tell me I’m “sunny” but every minute has an undercurrent of depression running past it. I love Jenny and I think the “Pretend you’re good at it” works just like the confidence wig.

    That’s the key.


  • Katharina

    I just read your “Happiness project” interview, and have a follow-up request.  Please create some “Pretend you’re good at it”  merchandise.  Perhaps with Juanita or Hamlet on it?  
    Thanks for helping me feel normal. 

  • “Pretend you’re good at it” should be a bumper sticker.

  • Estradpao

    I love Jenny’s blog and can’t wait to read her book. Great interview!

  • THIS: 
    “Pretend you’re good at it.” It sums up how I function at work and in life when facing a new challenge. Well first I think about it for a few minutes, try to get out of it in my head, and then resign myself to having to pretend I’m good at it and do it anyway. 

  • Amy

    LOVED this interview!  It’s really great (and inspiring) to see someone who is successful in life, is able to find happiness, but also struggles with mental health.  I also have depression and anxiety, so this was very inspiring for me to read.  Thanks for reminding me that depression lies!

  • Susan Alexander

    Great interview.

    My daughter is the brightest spot in my life too, and her bedroom is the happiest room in our home.  

    Funny story about it: Once, I spent an entire afternoon trying to choose wall paper for her,  going through mountains of sample books at Janovic – when in she walked to rescue me, casually pulling a book off the shelf, looking through it for about 30 seconds, and finding just the right one.  (Dark pink background with white outlines of simple ’60s flower-power type flowers.)

    Sometimes we moms have to make things so complicated, you know? 🙂

    Well done, Gretchen and Jenny.


  • DrPaulaDurlofsky

    Great article. I also wanted to mentioned that feeling sad or unhappy at times is normal and sometimes necessary. Feeling sad gives us time for reflection and can be a good motivator for making life changes.
    Of course, chronic feelings of sadness need to be address by a professional. It’s great to seek to be happy and to work on feeling happy on a daily basis, it is also important to let yourself feel sad every once in while too.

    Wonderful web site!
    Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D.