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.
There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. 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 him, than by any other kind of argument.
I heard about Carrie McCarthy & Danielle LaPorte when I read about their approach to self-knowledge in an article in Domino magazine: they ask a series of questions that leads you to a two-word “Style Statement” that defines your authentic self. It’s an extremely interesting and provocative exercise.
I did it, and my Style Statement was Constructive Insouciant. Carrie is Refined Treasure. Danielle is Sacred Dramatic.
Now they’ve written a terrific workbook for discovering your own Style Statement: Style Statement: Live By Your Own Design (an Amazon bestseller.) You can check them out at Carrie and Danielle. Also, every weekday you can join the active discussion on Carrie and Danielle's Daily Q&A. From deep wisdom (this edition on life lessons) to looking good (beauty tips) the Q&A is all about being true to yourself.
Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Carrie: Hugging my husband
Danielle: Sending thank you cards.
Gretchen: What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?
Carrie: Happiness can be quiet and still.
Danielle: Happiness can be deep and private, or full tilt out there – but either way, it raises the frequency of everything. Happiness is way more productive than I thought it ever was.
Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Danielle: Withdrawing. Not getting enough sleep.
Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you've find very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Carrie: This too shall pass.
Danielle: Everything matters. Nothing’s important. Thanks to Nietzsche for that one.
Gretchen: If you're feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Carrie: Going for a run in nature, calling my twin sister.
Danielle: Really hot baths. Add plenty of essential oils (Lavender or Sandalwood), some oranges or ice cream to eat, and a good magazine.
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?
Carrie: Adds: being grateful. Detracts: controlling life.
Danielle: Complaining is tragic, really. Accentuating the positive is an act of deliberate creation…and that can only lift your spirits.
Gretchen: 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?
Carrie: I have times of real happiness which are all the more precious because I am often pensive. I value those moments of thought because it gives me the opportunity to see and feel the grey of life. It is a balance as I crave solitude and yet too much I start to hibernate. To become happier I spend time in nature, with family and with art.
Danielle: I have had Dark Nights, for sure. Existential crises where I questioned my beliefs and let much of what I thought to be true die. Reaching for enlightenment…or happiness…requires that shedding, that burning. There’s a great Zen saying, “Now that the barn is burnt down, I can see the moon.” That’s how happiness happens for me at key transitions in my life: a purge, a humbling, a mighty smile. There have been passages where I have been the happiest I’ve ever been, and the unhappiest I’ve ever been – at the same time. I am almost always in touch with the deep pool of happiness in my being, but never completely happy. I consider it a divine dissatisfaction.
Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Carrie: Every morning I wake and give thanks. I feel happy. I feel blessed.
Danielle: Well, I try not to “work” at it. I try to play at being happy, which is tricky because I’m an intense chick. I do often need to give myself permission to simply just do what makes me happy. The Dalai Lama says that happiness is the point of life. And, as co-dependent as it is, I often use that as my green light to lighten up.
Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn't – or vice versa?
Carrie: As I have gotten older my expectations on what makes me happy has become more aligned with my reality of what gives me happiness. A cup of Earl Grey tea, ideas, good food, beauty, friends & family, reading, running, learning, travel.
Danielle: Having our son blew my circuits of happiness. I knew I was going to love him, but the reality of his presence is vastly more amazing and cool than I could ever have imagined. In the Olympics of Happiness, he’s like a record-breaking Gold Medalist.
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