I e-knew Stephanie Dolgoff a bit from the internet, because I'd read her blog, Formerly Hot -- "a humorous blog about body image, beauty, aging, and pop culture." We crossed paths at a recent blogger conference, but never met. Last week, finally, I got the chance to meet Stephanie face-to-face just as her new book, My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young, is hitting the shelves. (Here she is on the Today show.)
Given her subject, Stephanie touches frequently on the subject of happiness, so I wanted to hear what she had to say.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Stephanie: GOING ON FACEBOOK. I KNOW IT'S A HUGE TIMESUCK, BUT CONNECTING WITH MY FRIENDS--AND I HAVE ACTUAL OLD FRIENDS WHO ARE VERY DEAR TO ME THAT I TALK WITH TONS ON FACEBOOK--ALWAYS MAKES ME FEEL "GOTTEN." FEELING UNDERSTOOD IN WHAT CAN FEEL LIKE SUCH A SCREWY WORLD IS INVALUABLE TO ME. [I wrote a post about Why Facebook can make you happier.]
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
THAT THERE ARE NO RIGHT ANSWERS. FOR YEARS, I WAS CONVINCED THAT THERE WERE RIGHT ANSWERS, AND THAT OTHER PEOPLE WHO SEEMED TO BE LIVING HAPPIER LIVES KNEW SECRETS THAT I DIDN'T KNOW. NOW THAT I'M OLDER, I KNOW THAT THERE ARE NO "RIGHT" ANSWERS--ONLY WHAT WORKS FOR YOU, WHICH BY DEFINITION MAKES THEM RIGHT. IT'S ONE OF THE GREAT GIFTS OF BEING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF YOUNG.
OOOH, ALSO: FEELING WHAT YOU FEEL, EVEN IF IT'S NOT WHAT YOU'D LIKE TO BE FEELING. WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I'D FEEL SOMETHING NEGATIVE, AND I'D SAY "YOU SHOULDN'T FEEL THAT WAY" AND TRY TO SMILE THROUGH IT. NOW I FEEL IT, IT PASSES AND I MOVE ON. YOU CAN'T HELP WHAT YOU FEEL, AND IN FACT FOLLOWING NEGATIVE FEELINGS OFTEN LEADS YOU TO CHANGE THINGS IN YOUR LIFE THAT CAN ULTIMATELY MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPIER. WORKS FOR ME.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I RUMINATE AT TIMES. NOT AS MUCH AS I USED TO--I NOW CAN SNAP MYSELF OUT OF IT PRETTY EASILY--BUT THERE ARE TIMES THAT I'LL GO OVER AND OVER SOMETHING WHEN THERE'S JUST NO POINT.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I REMIND MYSELF TO LIVE CLOSER TO MY OWN TRUTH. THERE ARE SO MANY TRUTHS--TWO PEOPLE LOOKING AT THE SAME SITUATION CAN HAVE VERY DIFFERENT EXPERIENCES. I TRY TO STAY AS CLOSE TO MY OWN TRUTH AS I CAN. WHEN SOMETHING DOESN'T FEEL RIGHT TO ME, I TRY TO LISTEN TO THAT.
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).
I HAD AN EATING DISORDER WHEN I WAS YOUNGER SO I HAVE TO STAY AWAY FROM COMFORT FOODS. FACEBOOK WORKS FOR THIS, OR BELIEVE IT OR NOT, SOAP OPERAS. I LOVE ONE LIFE TO LIVE. IT'S SUCH A GOOF, BUT ANY PROBLEM I MAY HAVE DOESN'T COME CLOSE TO HAVING AN EVIL TWIN COME BACK FROM THE DEAD TO STEAL MY HUSBAND.
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?
I SEE SOME PEOPLE BEING TOO INVESTED IN AN OUTCOME--BECOMING A WRITER, FOR INSTANCE--RATHER THAN THE PROCESS (ACTUALLY ENJOYING WRITING). THAT'S NOT HAPPYMAKING.
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? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I WAS VERY DEPRESSED AS A TEENAGER INTO MY 20S. EATING ISSUES, LOTS OF STUFF. I THINK A COMBINATION OF LETTING MYSELF FEEL WHAT I FELT SO IT COULD MOVE THOUGH ME, TALKING ABOUT IT WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE ME, THERAPY AND AN AN SSRI HELPED ENORMOUSLY. SO DID GROWING UP. I DON'T FEEL LIKE I HAVE SO MUCH TO PROVE ANYMORE AND CAN JUST ENJOY MY LIFE.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
WELL, THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS I DO--EXERCISE, SEE FRIENDS, TRY TO GET ENOUGH SLEEP--THAT ARE LIKE BRUSHING MY TEETH. I DO THEM BECAUSE I KNOW IF I DON'T I'LL BE UNHAPPY. BUT PROACTIVELY, I TRY TO LISTEN TO MY NEGATIVE EMOTIONS RATHER THAN SHUT THEM DOWN, AND MAKE CHANGES SO THAT I'M NOT STUCK IN SITUATIONS THAT BRING ME DOWN.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I KNOW MYSELF PRETTY WELL, SO NOT REALLY. OCCASIONALLY I'LL MEET PEOPLE AND NOT THINK WE CAN BE FRIENDS, AND THEN IT TURNS OUT THAT THEY'RE DIFFERENT THAN I THOUGHT, AND THEIR FRIENDSHIP MAKES ME ENORMOUSLY HAPPY. BUT THAT'S MORE ABOUT ME MAKING SNAP JUDGMENTS.
* Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox! Eight free tools for your happiness project. Lots of fun.