“I Have More Faith That I’m Not So Different From Everyone Else.”

Happiness interview: Pamela Druckerman.

I first heard about journalist and author Pamela Druckerman when her book Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting came out–it really struck a chord with many parents.

Now she has a new book, Bébé Day By Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting, which hits the shelves next week. I find lists irresistible–and lists of 100, even more irresistible.

I was very interested to hear what she had to say about happiness.

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

Pamela: Reading a good book. Whenever I do this, I’m amazed that I don’t do it more often.

Also, knowing – and naming – the little things that make me happy, makes me very happy. When I think of something I like, I try to jot it down somewhere. Then inevitably, I lose track of it. The other day I came across a slip of paper on which I’d written simply, “the word ‘shimmy.’” A list I wrote last year included “stretching,” “tea with soy milk,” and “dresses that come with free belts.”

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

I know how to be happy around other people. I can share a feeling – a moment – and trust that others are feeling it too. I have more faith that I’m not so different from everyone else.

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

Internetting. I also watch quite a lot of American TV, using the excuse that I’m keeping up with American culture (I live in Paris). I probably am keeping up with the American zeitgeist. But at the end of back-to-back episodes of Modern Family, I don’t feel energized. I feel exhausted.

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

“Done is better than perfect.” I had that over my desk for a long time. It’s a key principle for a perfectionist who’s trying to finish a book.

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

I like it when the house is neat. Or rather, I’m extremely unhappy when it’s messy. I reach a breaking point – a sort of point of maximum clutter. When that happens, I usually rope everyone into a mad half-hour of cleaning up. Then I can relax, and be calm again. Of course, by then, everyone hates me.

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 find that forcing myself to be un-busy and just hang out in an open-ended way with my kids, usually on the weekends, has an enormous payoff for everyone.  You can see, at bedtime, how much more content and less anxious they are. They seem sort of filled up with what they needed. Also, the more I trust them and let them do things on their own, the better everything flows at home.

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 probably gotten happier as I’ve gotten older. I’ve gotten better at choosing friends (or rather, at weeding out the narcissists). I used to think that I needed to surround myself with people who are fascinating. Nowadays I much prefer people who are funny and nice.

  • Kelley

    I look forward to these weekly happiness interviews – thanks for doing them. I loved many of the things Pamela said, especially the mantra that “done is better than perfect”. ( I may hang this over my desk for inspiration as I plug away at my writing projects) I’m going to pick up her book later today ( when I’m done writing!) Thanks 🙂

  • Annie of Cityofannie.com

    I read both Pamela’s (first) and your (first) book in the past year so this is an excitingly uncanny combination for me, especially since I live in Paris and… am happy. Ha! Thanks for interviewing Pamela, Gretchen. 🙂

  • Molly

    “Done is better than perfect” is, well, perfect! I have to remember this one! Great interview.

  • Her “done is better than perfect” reminds me of the “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”–one of my great paradoxes is that I’ll leave an project untouched rather than do it halfway. I’d rather look at a pile than shove it in a box unorganized and un-alphabetized. It drives my husband crazy. (Of course it drives me crazy that he is always happy to settle for the good.) There must be some middle ground area I hope? I refuse to live in mediocrity, but I’m going to drive everyone crazy obsessing over perfection.

  • parisbreakfast

    me too! “done is better than perfect”. Thanks for an enlightening interview with Pamela. Her book changed how I perceived and interacted with the French. I have a much better time there treating everyone with repect that is reciprocated because of Bringing Up Bebe..

  • discoveredjoys

    “Done is better than perfect” resonated with me – so then I applied the same idea to my procrastination… “Started is better than perfectly planned”.

  • peninith1

    When I was in a college drama group, the mantra of our stage designer was ‘If it’s finished, it’s lovely.’ I have never forgotten that parallel to ‘done is better than perfect.’ Wrap up and move along — and sure, try for closer to perfection the next time if that is a goal that matters to you.

  • bill

    I found the last two sentences most struck a cord with me,which is:”I used to think that I needed to surround myself with people who are fascinating. Nowadays I much prefer people who are funny and nice.”

  • Melanie

    I’m with Kelley — I love these happiness interviews. And Pamela’s was particularly good (and funny!) And to the previous poster who said their new mantra is “started is better than perfectly planned”? Thank you for that — that’s a keeper too.

  • That was pretty awesome. Thanks for sharing. And, I LOVE the word Shimmy too! It always makes me smile!

  • outtahere78

    Done is better than perfect. I need to incorporate that into my life.

  • Emilie

    I loved Bringing up Bebe! THank you, Gretchen, for connecting Druckerman’s ideas with your own.

  • Andria

    How fun to run across your interview with Pamela today, since I just finished Bringing Up Bebe this morning! I really enjoyed the book; a friend recommended it to me because when she read it, so many of the French parenting ideas sounded like things I had told her that I had done with my own children! I am going to recommend that my sister read it to, since she loves all things French and has her own twin boys. The mantra “Done is better than perfect” resonates greatly with me; I am trying very hard to work within that truth this year!

  • moreskinnydays

    I especially like the last answer, “weeding out the narcissists.” They can be fascinating like a work of art or entertaining like a train wreck but one day they just exhaust you so much you realize it’s neither enjoyable nor worth it.