Gretchen Rubin

Happiness interview with Marci Alboher.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my research, 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.

Today’s interview is with Marci Alboher. Marci has brilliant insight into how to navigate the world of careers to achieve both the most success, and also the most happiness. I know Marci, and she is truly someone who practices everything she preaches. A mutual friend of ours told me, “If Marci suggests that you do anything for your career, DO IT. She’s never wrong.” And in fact, she has given me many pieces of useful advice, all of which I've followed slavishly, to my great benefit.

She writes about work in her excellent New York Times blog, Shifting Careers, all about the changing nature of work. Her book, One Person, Multiple Careers, is a fascinating look at “slash” careers and how people manage to move from one career to another -- something that is happening more and more frequently.

Marci has done a lot of thinking about happiness, especially about the relationship between work and happiness.

Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Marci: Talking a long walk in the early morning hours.

Gretchen: What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?
Marci: That people really do have a natural happiness setpoint, and that I am one of the lucky ones in that I generally wake up each day able to see the light, even in life's darker moments.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Marci: Eating or drinking things that don't agree with me -- like coffee and red wine.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Marci: I don't really remember quotes and call upon them when I need them, but the quote I chose for my high school yearbook -- from the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young anti-war song, "Wooden Ships," still works for me:
“If you smile at me, I will understand, because that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language."

Gretchen: If you're feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Marci: I wake up very early, go outside, and take a long walk. This works wherever I happen to be, but it's especially effective when I'm near the water. When I'm at home in New York, I walk near the Hudson River every morning, and when I'm near a beach, nothing beats a barefoot walk on the sand. Music also has the ability to transform my mood, so listening to something upbeat during my walk can instantly clear my head and take me somewhere else.

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?
Marci: As you've written about so many times, I believe that negative memories tend to have a tendency to linger -- so it's important to do the work of celebrating and memorializing the positive moments. When I see people recognizing achievements and milestones they want to remember, it reminds me to do the same. Taking and sharing photographs seems to be one of the easiest way to do this. I don't have especially vivid memories of my early childhood years -- but I do remember any event where there are photos documenting it or where there is an often-told story around it.

Here's where technology can help us. My brother lives in Florida and he has a son that I don't see nearly as often as I'd like to. Each day, my brother takes a photo of my nephew, usually doing something silly like covering his arms in little pieces of cheese. I open the photos on my iphone wherever I am and they instantly lift my mood.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Marci: I do. I read a lot about positive psychology. I track what makes me feel good and what doesn't and try to do more of the former and less of the latter. I have done a lot of therapy to better understand myself. And of course, I read your blog every day (really). [Ah, thanks, Marci!]
One thing I have increasingly started to notice is that I'm very much affected by the people around me. So I have become fairly vigilant about avoiding spending time with people who are relentlessly negative.

Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn't – or vice versa?
Marci: One thing that repeatedly surprises me is that achieving a professional goal or completing a project gives me a happiness boost, but the emotional uptick tends to be short-lived. On the other hand, the daily details and rhythms of life -- like being in a strong relationship, getting regular exercise, being near my dog, keeping the fridge stocked with good ingredients so that I can cook healthy/tasty meals, doing a favor for someone -- really provide me with a deep sense of happiness. It's just like what you say, Gretchen, about how the things you do every day matter more than the things you do once in a while.

Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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