From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for her, than by any other kind of argument.
Today’s interview is with Erin Doland, who is editor-in-chief of the wildly useful, popular, and amusing blog, Unclutterer. Unclutterer is about “getting and staying organized.” It’s funny; it’s realistic; it’s helpful. I never visit without getting a huge jolt of clutter-busting energy, always welcome.
In the very short space of this interview, Erin managed to hit several MAJOR and important points about happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Erin: Creating something tangible. Whether it’s cooking dinner, knitting a sweater, or writing a post for Unclutterer, I find great joy in making things. When I’m finished, I can stand back and say, “I made that!” Even if what I make tastes awful or looks ridiculous, I always learn through the creation process. The act of fabricating something tangible puts me in a better state of mind than when I started.
Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Erin: Happiness doesn’t have an age limit. When I was 18, I assumed that once I had larger responsibilities and was an “adult” that happiness would be replaced by loathing and intense solemnity. Thankfully, I was wrong.
Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Erin: If there is laundry needing to be washed, dishes on the kitchen counter, or some other mess in my house, I spend a lot of mental energy stressing about it. When my energy is tied up thinking about how I need to do a chore I don’t want to do, I stop planning or executing more enjoyable activities. When my home is in order, however, then I’m free to spend my time and energy on the things that truly matter. The less clutter and disorganization in my life, the easier it is for me to enjoy all of life’s rich possibilities.
Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you find very helpful? Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Erin: The phrase that propels me is Carpe Vitam, which is Latin for Seize Life.
I have a rare genetic skin disorder called Epidermolysis Bullosa Dystrophica. Many people with my disorder can’t be touched or can’t experience daily life without serious injury, and some don’t live past puberty. I have a severe form of the disorder, but it’s mildly expressed. What I mean by this is that if you were to be a casual acquaintance of mine, you may not notice that something is different about me. The reality is, however, that there is something different and it affects every aspect of my life.
[Note by Gretchen: I’ve met Erin, and as she says, I had no idea this was true for her. Another reminder that we should CUT PEOPLE SLACK at all times; we don’t know what they’re dealing with.]
Since I was diagnosed at eight months of age, I have been allowed to live unabashedly. My parents never once told me I couldn’t do something because I was different. They let me get hurt, discover my boundaries, and explore alternatives when one way didn’t work. They didn’t want me to grow up believing that a full life was for other people–they wanted me to know that I could live my life it to its fullest. So, I seize life. Carpe vitam.
Gretchen: 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?
Erin: I have found that people who believe that there is a limited supply of happiness in the world are usually miserable. They believe that for one person to be happy, it has to be at the expense of someone else. As a result, they can never be happy for others. Also, when happiness does befall them, they believe that it comes with a catch or they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. They don’t allow themselves to enjoy their brief moment of happiness.
I see happiness much like a candle. If someone comes and lights her candle off of yours, it doesn’t extinguish your candle’s flame. The two of you can sit and share in the glow together.
Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Erin: Wonderful things can happen unexpectedly, but we also can plant the seeds to foster possibilities. I like creating small moments that spark the opportunity for a smile or bit of laughter. I’ll dance with my husband in the middle of the afternoon to the sounds of a stranger’s blaring car stereo. I’ll send someone a card when an e-mail would have been sufficient. I’ll research wacky roadside attractions and bizarre restaurants before heading out on a road trip. If I need time to myself for rejuvenation, I’ll plan for it on my schedule–it is my responsibility to care for myself.
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