Happiness interview: Hugh MacLeod.
Hugh is a cartoonist with a wildly popular blog, gapingvoid. He is the master of capturing a large idea in a single drawing, and a great deal of his work focuses on happiness: how to find happiness in work; how to have the courage to be yourself, do what you love, and take risks; how to build a life around your own values, interests, and temperament.
He has a new book, Freedom Is Blogging in Your Underwear, where he explores how blogging, and the intellectual and creative freedom it gives him, changed his life.
Having a blog isn’t the right route to happiness for everyone, of course. But zoikes, it’s a thrilling tool. And his book is really about how to think big for yourself and the possibilities that the internet offers.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Hugh: Besides being with my loved ones, the most important and happiest part of my daily routine is finding that quiet, solitary one- or two-hour window in the day that belongs to nobody else but myself. That is where the magic happens. It’s almost like prayer, only more fun and proactive.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That happiness without a good work ethic is pretty impossible. I guess I always knew that intuitively, but back then I still equated happiness with “Leisure” and “Party” way too much. That being said, being young and stupid was an awful lot of fun, for a time.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Trying to do too much at one time. It took me years to learn to lighten up and delegate, even half properly. Luckily, I now have a great team, including Jason Korman, my fantastic business partner and business manager.
When I lived in New York, I was surrounded by people (and I was just as guilty of this) who were running around like crazy–jobs, parties, lovers, art galleries, gym, shopping, museums, restaurants, bars, personal drama, the whole nine yards. Not only was it exhausting, very few of us actually managed to get that much interesting done in the end. We were too busy trying to keep up with our peers; it was definitely quantity over quality. Again, a good but expensive lesson.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself that “Outer order contributes to inner calm.”)
“Unhappiness is overrated.” Even from a young age, it always surprised me how far people will go in order to justify their own unhappiness. “I’m totally screwing up my life and the life of others around me for no good reason, and it’s all for THE BEST!!!” Yeah. Right.
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’m rarely blue these days, however… when it does happen, I remind myself that I’ve actually put the hours in, that my work is good and that what blessings I have are already MORE than enough for any lifetime. Constantly wanting more and more ALL THE TIME is just vanity, is just the devil paying tricks on you.
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 think people easily forget that that genuine happiness begins with genuine kindness and compassion for others, begins with genuine grace and graciousness. It’s a surprisingly difficult and painful lesson for us all.
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 was miserable for a long time career-wise, till I figured out exactly what I was good at and how to effectively put it into practice. In retrospect I’m not sure how smart that was, but mea culpa, live and learn. Luckily, I always saw my unhappier phases as temporary, I always thought I’d win in the end.
Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
Ana, my girlfriend’s cooking, Yum! Living in a genuinely loving home, however dorky and low-key, is SO preferable to the alternative, I have no words.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa.
I once thought that a flashy, big-city, alpaha-male job in an advertising agency would make me happy. Not only was I wrong, it didn’t even pay THAT well, considering how much blood, sweat, toil and tears it exacted. It was a VERY expensive and painful education.
Though I heartily recommend a quiet, low-key, productive daily routine (at least if you want to lead a creative, artistic life, that is), I’m still glad I had a few fun, wild’n’crazy years beforehand. The trick is to not let the latter carry on too long after its sell-by date.