“Don’t Wait. Start Stuff. Live Now. Be Present. Live with Meaning and Real Intent.”

Happiness interview: Richie Norton.

I heard about Richie Norton’s new book, The Power of Starting Something Stupid when a friend told me about it — and what a great title, right? It reminds me of my resolution to Enjoy the fun of failure. As his book reveals, Richie has done a a lot of thinking about creativity, innovation, and risk–all of which can be important to a happy life–so I was interested to hear what he had to say.

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

Richie: I have to list three, because each is equally as, um, happifying— surfing, laughing with my beautiful wife, and wrestling on the trampoline with my boys. (In no particular order.)

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

I’ve always had a fairly optimistic disposition, but something I’ve learned over the years is that while optimism is certainly important and praiseworthy, it is often superficial and lacking in real substance and sustainability. An optimist feels hopeful about the future, yes, but that feeling is fleeting. Often the most well intentioned optimist in the world can find their optimism irreparably overcome by external factors. Happiness, on the other hand, is a sturdy anchor. Sincere happiness, aka happiness that is rooted in the right things, has the ability to sustain us no matter what circumstance may arrive.

This core belief about happiness was driven even deeper into conviction when our son passed away just over three years ago. It was baptism by fire. These were the circumstances, our son was dead, and there wasn’t anything we could do to change that. But still, even then, even in those darkest of hours, I knew we could go on. I knew we still had the tools to live a rich, fulfilling and happy life, because I knew then what I know now—happiness is something we choose. And when we sincerely choose happiness as a governing principle of our lives, we quickly learn that circumstance has no inherent power. Any power that our life circumstance holds, is power that we give it. To borrow a line from one of my personal heroes, Viktor Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning), “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is true. My wife and I are living, breathing (blissfully happy) proof.

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

My wife would say I spend too much time on social media. I love to explain to her that I’m doing market research, or building an audience, or trying to authentically connect with my followers, but ultimately she’s right. No matter where or how hard we look, there’s no greater happiness than being fully engaged in the present moment with the people right in front of us.

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

Live to Start. Start to Live. This is one of our (many) family mottos/mantras. We call it “Gavin’s Law,” because it was born from the ashes of our son Gavin’s death (as well as the death of my brother in law, also Gavin, a couple of years prior to losing our son). Essentially these words remind us that life is short, soooo . . . Don’t wait. Start Stuff. Live now. Be present. Live with meaning and real intent.

It’s the legacy we’re striving to leave for our son. Its our attempt to turn tragedy to triumph.

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 go surfing, or play guitar, or I get myself busy with work that matters. Normally, if I’m feeling blue, it’s because I’m feeling stuck or stagnant. Overcoming the weight of resistance is generally the biggest hurdle. Once I can get myself in motion, its remarkable how quickly my mood can shift!

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 find that people who are ungrateful are generally unhappy as well. On the other side of this coin, I find that people who are filled with gratitude, are generally not only happy, but exceptionally so.

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 moved to Brazil when I was 19 years old. For the two years that followed, I did nothing but reach out and serve others. I stayed completely focused on this work. In order to avoid distraction, I wrote home only once a week (“Hi mom! I’m not dead!) and called home only four times throughout the entire 2 year period. It was the happiest I’d ever been up until that point in my life. Now, I try to take the same lesson and integrate it into my day to day. As I seek to serve, lift and inspire others, no one wins in the happiness game more than I do.

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

The people in it.

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

It’s funny because I think it’s human nature to assume, “I’ll be happy if____” or “I’ll be happy when _____,” but in my experience this has never been the case. I may receive a surge of happiness once a goal is met, a project is completed, or a dream is made real, but sincere, lasting happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a way of living. In the words of the late and great Dr Richard Carlson, “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”

Bonus: Richie’s publisher has provided five give-away copies of The Power of Starting Something Stupid. Interested? Enter your info here by March 8, 5:00 pm EST. Five names chosen at random.

  • Wise and admirable words! I’m not even 18 yet, but having the opportunity to read and listen to what people to say with so much more experience is something I’m deeply grateful for.

    “Happiness is a way of living” – Definitely, but I wouldn’t want to confuse anyone who then proceeds to forget about the goal or target, you still need purpose, and in doing so I think you can find even greater happiness. That’s my thought anyway, but who knows! I’m only an amateur on life. Great interview! 🙂

  • Wow! I love all of your interviews, Gretchen, but I hadn’t known about Richie’s work before and am so glad to have found it. I so agree with so much of what he says here, and I look forward to learning more about him and his story(ies). Thank you both!

  • Kim

    This interview really resonated with me and I am feeling inspired! I have a bad habit of procrastinating and making excuses for myself. So often I don’t start because I don’t feel it will turn out perfectly. But I am losing out on so many experiences and closing off so many opportunities this way! Live to start. Start to live. I love this and am going to repeat it over and over to myself. Thanks for this post, Gretchen!

  • Amy Hackworth

    This is so fun to see Richie on your blog, Gretchen. His wife and my husband are in the same profession and are social media friends. It’s been fun to see the buzz around his book, and this interview gives me a taste of why people are talking about it. What great perspectives and helpful lessons!

    • gretchenrubin

      Excellent! Small world!

  • Sanda

    Thanks for the interview! I may have started something stupid today and this has made me feel a little less worried about it. 🙂

  • Kelsey Miller

    The giveaway link leads to a page that says “Sorry, but this form is no longer accepting submissions.” I really enjoyed this interview and would love to enter for a free book!

    • gretchenrubin

      Sorry about that. Try again. It’s working now!

  • MJruns

    Great interview, and his words carry weight given the things that have happened to him and his family. Not like he wouldn’t have reasons to be unhappy, which makes his choice more impressive/inspiring and perhaps more meaningful to others.

    FYI, the book giveaway link isn’t working, it says submissions are closed..

  • Mel

    I’d love to enter my name for the giveaway, but the link isn’t working. Am I still able to enter, or is it closed? Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      Try again, it’s working now! Sorry about the glitch.

  • Lucía

    This is the happiness interview that has resonated the most with me recently. In particular, it has helped me to understand my seemingly incongruous “happiness” in the face of the loss of my partner of six years only two weeks ago. Although I miss him, I don’t feel an overwhelming grief or sadness as others are feeling. I intuited what Ritchie expressed above, that others are giving his death a “power” over their lives that I am not, although I never would have been able to express my feeling so succintly. Thanks for the reassurance that you don’t have to be reduced to an emotional wreck to “prove” you really loved someone. Now I’m gonna go start stuff!

  • BKF

    This man is truly inspiring. Next time I’m tempted to complain, I’ll remember this. Thanks, Gretchen!

  • Susanne

    Very timely! Wow, I love synchronicity! Only this week have I identified — and sworn to change — a lifelong habit of “waiting until”. It goes like this: there is something I want to do, but instead of just leaping in and doing it, I say: oh, I’ll [do whatever] when [whenever situation or circumstance] is in place. It can be anything from starting a new novel [next week when I have a clearer idea of the plot] to working on some art project [next week when I have more time] to wearing those red shoes I bought last year [when I’m going somewhere special]. That last one, btw? The red shoes? The freaking things are **running shoes**. I need “somewhere special” to wear red running shoes?? Give me a break! I’m going grocery shopping this afternoon, in jeans and hoodie, and yes, I’ll have red running shoes on my feet. Go, me! Fab interview, Gretchen.

  • Alfred

    I really enjoyed reading this interview Gretchen. Every comment, in this interview, is so true. No conditional Happiness, or Purpose other than purpose to be in the present time, can give us abundant Happiness.

  • A real sense of gratitude in Richie’s words…… Intrigued to learn more about the book.

  • Heather Bestel

    Such wise words! At 18 my happiness was attached to so much stuff outside of my control. Over the years I’ve founds ways to simplify my life in this area and now agree with what Richie says about living with meaning because life is short. I even have the same Viktor Frankl quote above my desk. Love this interview Gretchen, thank you.

  • I’m a bit late in contributing to this conversation, but still want to add what my late wife Teresa said on her death bed some fifteen years ago. She was born handicapped and had lived a life marked with pain, rejection and defeat yet refused to acknowledge any of it. Her final words to her daughter and me were, “Don’t grieve for my going. Though I have lived through much tragedy these many years, I have refused to live a tragic life.” And with her indeed it was so. Refuse to live a tragic life. Because of her I have been able to live an overcoming life. Thanks for this interview, Gretchen. And thanks to you, Richie, for your words of encouragement.