“The Pure Act of Working Towards Something and Accomplishing It Makes Me Happier.”

Happiness interview: Brett Blumenthal.

I met Brett Blumenthal in June, at BookExpo America (BEA), a big conference for the book world. It was great to have the chance to sit down for a conversation, because we’re both fascinated by the questions of human nature, how people change, and what steps can make people happier.

She has written several books, and has a new one that just hit the shelves this week: A Whole New You: Six Steps to Ignite Change for Your Best Life. It’s all about how to make real change in your life.

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

Brett: The pure act of working towards something and accomplishing it makes me happier. Setting goals and achieving them gives me a sense of direction and purpose. And for those goals that often result in a finished tangible product (a book, a painting, a photo album), I draw a huge sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. There is nothing like having your hard work result in something you can touch, feel and visually appreciate.

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

I had no clue what happiness meant when I was 18. When I was 18 I always thought about what I should be doing and built my life, made decisions, and acted based on living up to the expectations of others. I was too young to have the insight to know that true happiness has to come from finding and doing what makes me happy…not from pleasing the rest of the world.

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

When I start to do things that aren’t true to who I am or what I believe, my happiness takes a nose dive. The more I can stay true to myself and what is important to me and my values, the more I am in a happy place.

Is there a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? 

There are so many quotes that are great about happiness, but one of my favorites is “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” by Aristotle. It is so simplistic, yet sums up so much. In the end, we are masters of our own destiny, and so, our own happiness. If we are unhappy, only we have the power to change that. When we can stop looking externally to find happiness, whether it be through materialistic things, other people to make us happy or anything else, and instead, look inwards and rely on ourselves, we can finally find happiness.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?

For as long as I can remember, music, both appreciation and performance, has brought great joy to my life. I find it extremely transformational. Music has the power to pick me up out of a bad mood very quickly.

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?

There are two things that I think really hold people back from finding happiness: fear and regret. Although different, they both have to do with not living in the present. Fear focuses too much on the future and causes us to stagnate.  Although it feels real, it often isn’t and stems from what we imagine to be as the worst case scenario. This impedes us from taking risks, managing change and moving forward with our goals and the things we dream. On the other hand, regret lies in the past and limits our ability to enjoy what life has to offer in the here and now. We become consumed with past failures or disappointments and don’t see how we can learn from those experiences so we can create an even better present or future.

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’ve never had a constant level of happiness, and personally, I’m glad I haven’t. Although it may sound like a wonderful existence to be in a perfect state of contentment all of the time, I value my downs as much as my ups. I believe that if we don’t experience sadness, disappointment, hurt, or other negative feelings, we are missing out on what it means to be human. And maybe more importantly, we may never fully appreciate the moments when we truly are elated and experience sheer joy. In a sense, we become numb to happiness.



  • peninith1

    Fear–yep, it will eat up the whole sky if you let it. Takes lots of work to stay in the dishpan, or keep your eyes on the trees as you walk and not on the horrid scenario unfolding in your head. My biggest challenge, always.

    • Pete

      Thanks for that post…sometimes it can be very overwhelming

      • peninith1

        Yes, it can. But I have found that staying in the present moment is the most helpful thing I can do for myself. My mantra is ‘you don’t know’ (WHAT is going to happen). The most tormenting thing about anxiety for the future seems to be FALSE certainty that the bad thing is going to happen. If I can stay HERE and NOW and remind myself that i do not know what will be, I can get calmer. Also a prayer of gratitude for all the unknown good things yet to happen in my life helps.

        • brettblumenthal

          So true! We humans are great at over dramatizing the worst. Unfortunately, we can often create a self-fulfilling prophecy with our negativity. The more positive and optimistic we can be, the more likely we will create positive outcomes!

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    • JellyBean

      “stay in the dishpan”… 🙂
      I like that.
      Although sometimes you need to imagine the future and HANG ON TO THAT if things in the dishpan are bleak at the time.
      For me personally it has been a relief to get back to work after the holiday break and that scares me a little. Christmas is a bad time for me but still, I should be able to have projects and goals in my personal life to get me through it. Anyway, it’s a new year and as Brett says if you’ve been in the dark valley you will appreciate the view from the mountains so much more.

  • http://gomiles.wordpress.com/

    Great post. I was reading the book Siddhartha (by Herman Hesse) the other day and agree that people often listen to teachings about happiness or look for ways to make their lives better but don’t really make those things part of their lives, don’t really experience them. We are often content to act like leaves whirling around with the breeze, instead of finding a haven for happiness within ourselves. Like Brett says, it is when you are not being yourself, that you are unhappy the most. For a lot of us, that’s most of the time!

  • Hit a home run with your philosophy here! I seriously admire your philosophy, maybe because similar ideas also resonate within me, but maybe because you’re just awesome, I don’t know! 😉

    Similarly I think that to be happy you must take responsibility, and leave the alibis and excuses behind, it’s something that needs to be taught at a young age in schools in my opinion, I can’t even imagine the changes..

    HAPPY New Year, may you have a diligent year full of successes and accomplishment, as well as happiness! 🙂

    • brettblumenthal

      Nick! Thanks so much…I totally agree with you re: taking responsibility for your own happiness and actions. SO important! Happy New Year to you too!

  • I believe that Brett is right especially when she talks about accepting
    the sad moments of life without wanting to be in a state of contentment all the
    time. This is a realistic perspective.

  • Very interesting interview! And I so agree. I am always at my happiest when I am working towards something. As soon as it’S over, I fall into a deep dark hole 🙁

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  • Regine

    I can’t believe that you latest post is also about what work is all about. I just completed my post on my “Growing Up Project Blog” about it, and has such a huge realization!


    I think most of us are driven by desire and that is very different in my opinion to who we truly are. Would love your thoughts on it!!

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  • Music hits my happy nerve too! Since having a little one around now, I am singing & dancing all the time. I never realized how much happier I am with music radiating in my life. This interview has me reflecting… are there other things that make me deeply happy that I need to remember for when bumps in the road appear.

    • brettblumenthal