“Even the Things That Frustrate Me Are the Product of Choices I’ve Made to Have the Life I Want.”

Happiness interview: Melanie Rehak.

Every happiness project is different. Melanie Rehak's happiness project? She devoted a year to food: working in the kitchen staff of a small restaurant, working on some of its supplying farms, and coaxing her picky-eater toddler to try new foods. Her book just hit the shelves: Eating for Beginners: An Education in the Pleasures of Food from Chefs, Farmers, and One Picky Kid.

None of Melanie's undertakings would appeal to me, and yet I loved her book. I could enjoy her passion and her engagement, even if I wouldn't want to milk a goat or butcher a duck.

Melanie also has a great blog, Eating for Beginners--"on food, farming, and raising a family." Not being a foodie, but a lover of reading, my favorite feature of the blog is "Friday Food Writers" when Melanie highlights great writing about food.

The theme of happiness underlies much of what Melanie writes about, but I wanted to hear her discuss it more directly.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Going for a walk in the city with no iPod, no cell phone, nothing but my thoughts. I always find something to get inspired by, or see some amazing scene I would have missed if I’d stayed in or been distracted by technology, or sort out something that’s been bothering me. I love getting a hit of energy off other people on the street, too. Many years ago when I was doing a lot of temp jobs, I used to use my lunch hour to go for a walk. Everyone in the office where I worked the longest thought it was weird but also kind of cool. I found this out when someone finally blurted out, as I left the building, “Are you going for one of your WALKS?” which I decided to take as a compliment....

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That it’s incredibly lucky to be born with the capacity to appreciate it. I’m not always happy, but I do really know how to wallow in it when it comes! When I was younger, I assumed everyone was this way.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I worry ahead, about things that haven’t happened yet and thus might not. I also do what my husband calls “going global,” which is that I let one worry lead to another and another and another, and before I know it there’s nothing but negativity surrounding me. A friend once gave me a really good piece of advice about this, which is that if you’re worried something might happen, that actually means it hasn’t happened yet and therefore you have nothing to be upset about. I try to remind myself of that whenever I feel angst-ridden.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
When I was child, whenever we got caught in the rain, my father used to say “You’re not made of sugar, you won’t melt.” And though there are a lot of different ways to interpret that, I tend to rely on it when I need a boost. He survived a lot of things in his life (war, immigration) and was such a joyful person. It always helps me to think of him reminding me that I’m tougher than I might think (in rain and otherwise).

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’sbooks).
I re-read novels—usually Edith Wharton or Nancy Mitford, preferably in bed if possible--or I cook a really nice meal.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I don’t know that I actively work on it, but I’m very aware of both the things I need in my life to make me happy and the things I have that make me fortunate. I really, really like things to be as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible, so I try to avoid drama and people who bring it along with them. I value honesty a lot, too, so I try always to be honest with people even if it’s unpleasant because in the end I feel better about myself and the way I’m living if I do. I can’t stand it when people avoid delivering bad news, or are just in denial in general. On a larger level, I try to remember how lucky I am to have the life and family and career that I have, and that usually even the things that frustrate me (a bad writing day, not enough babysitting for my son as I might like sometimes) are the product of choices I’ve made to have the life I want. When I actually take the time to think about it, I have a great life and it seems selfish to be unhappy.

* Cool new feature: when you post something in your Happiness Project Toolbox, you can check a box so your entry also appears on Facebook. Yay! For example, if you post a quotation on your Inspiration Board, it will appear on Facebook, if you choose. (If you want to see how that will look, check here.)

If you haven't looked at the Happiness Project Toolbox, check it out -- eight free tools to help you create and track your own happiness project.

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