“Write Drunk, Edit Sober; Drink Coffee While Reading the Paper; Watch the Cat.”

Happiness interview: Larry Smith.

When I was at the SXSW Interactive conference a few months ago, I met Larry Smith. He's the editor of SMITH Magazine -- "Everyone has a story. What's yours?" It's the home of the crazy brilliant Six-Word Memoir project -- and a place for passionate, personal storytelling of all kinds.

I was so pleased to meet Larry, because I'm such a fan of the six-word memoir form. Reading them is dangerously addictive. Here's a good one for a person starting a happiness project: "Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. Shall. Can. Will." Yes! I wanted to hear what Larry had to say on the subject of happiness.

What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Having enough time in the morning to sip the first cup of coffee of the day, while sitting in bed, reading what’s probably some section of the Sunday New York Times (and it might be Thursday and I’m still reading last week’s paper), and listening to the radio, ideally with a cat on the bed. Even doing this for just 20 sane minutes can change the complexion of the rest of my day.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
There’s no finish line.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Forgetting that Benjamin Franklin’s famous definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Yes, my motto for writing (which is a big part of my daily existence and own happiness), one that I think applies to life as well: “Write drunk, edit sober.” Not that you should actually be drunk (the inebriated writer is a silly, antiquated idea, among other things), but that you should just get the words down whether you’re writing a letter, a report for work, or the story of your life, in six words or 60,000. Put the words down, don’t obsess over them, just effusively spill them down onto the page. Then step away—for an hour, a day, a week, whatever you need. And then edit. Edit like crazy. Be hard on words and yourself and make it better. And when you think you’re finished, edit it one more time.

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).
For a quick fix, music is the most instant and effective way to change my mood—something a little “up” and trippy like The Flaming Lips; Bob Dylan’s more anthemic stuff works really well, too.

On a deeper level when I’m in a bad way—often when I first wake up in the morning—my wife knows how to bring me out of a dark place in a way that makes me happy for two reasons: 1) She knows my ticks and triggers, and can usually guess what’s wrong and then knows how to move my mood; 2) Even if she’s not always successful, just the fact that there is someone who know is actually doing #1 makes me feel very fortunate, and, in indeed, happy.

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?
The “coulda, woulda, shoulda” crowd detracts from their happiness. Regret is a useless, unhelpful, counter-productive feeling. We all do it, and we all know better. But when I see, hear, and even feel the regretful vibe coming from others it brings me down. And I feel bad for them and those around them. Everybody loses.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
If 13 years ago, someone, like, say, one of my sisters, told me the words “Uncle Larry!” coming from the mouths of my three nephews and one niece would make me so filled with joy, I wouldn’t have understood what she meant. Now I do. And the sight of my cat chasing her tail isn’t bad, either.

* Speaking of packing big ideas into small spaces, I just finished reading the latest book by Therese Borchard, of Beyond Blue fame. In The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit, in just one or two pages, Therese manages to explore large subjects like "Love them anyway," "Put on some training wheels," "Celebrate your mistakes," "Offer it up," and "Find someone with a bigger problem."

* If you'd like to volunteer as a Super-Fan, and help me out from time to time, you can sign up here or email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. Thanks! The Super-Fans have been a huge help; I so appreciate it.

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