“It Was an Intense Time with Lots of Sadness, But…I Came Into the Real Me.”

Happiness interview: Emily McKhann.

I love meeting people I know from the internet in real life. In the great debate about whether technology brings people closer, or driver them further apart, I'm firmly in the first camp (though I also see the drawbacks of all this technology, too).

I'm a fan of TheMotherhood, so was happy to get the chance to meet Emily McKhann in person. With her longtime friend Cooper, Emily started TheMotherhood -- "all about helping each other make life a little better every day" -- which has has become a major web community for mothers. Helpful, and also very funny.

I knew Emily had done a lot of thinking about happiness, so I was curious to hear her speak directly on the subject of happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Emily: Remembering to slow down, look my kids in the eye, hear what they’re saying and laugh. Along those lines, years ago, we started ‘funny breakfasts.’ It’s pretty silly, but every once in a while we do goofy things at breakfast time like give the cereals made-up names, invent crazy to-dos for the day or whatever else we can think of to get each other laughing. We don’t do it often enough, but when we do, it’s such a great start to the day. The rush of getting out the door disappears and the whole mood shifts and I find myself pausing and just loving my girls' sparkly eyes.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I know now not to let my college friend cut my hair really, really short. And oh so much more. As an 18 year old, I had no idea I would like each decade more than the previous. When I was in my 30s, I lost my best friend, my mother-in-law and my stepfather to cancer and I went through infertility for years and it was an intense time with lots of sadness, but still I look back on those years as the time when I came into the real me. I grew and learned a lot, and well, it’s a good thing to know life is short, to appreciate people’s – my own and others' - strengths and weaknesses, to love, and to feel grateful for what I have.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I get too busy and then I feel like I’m not doing anything well enough. Somehow the term ‘balance’ doesn’t get at the real idea for me. It’s just life and some days there aren’t enough hours. I’d be happier about this if I thought I were actually making progress here.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (I remind myself to “Act the way I wish I felt.”) Or something that particularly inspired you?
I just saw Brené Brown’s TEDx video on living wholeheartedly and loved it. She talks about how, through her research, she's learned that our joy in life depends on having the courage to be imperfect, authentic and vulnerable. It made me happy just watching her (she’s funny too), and I know in my bones she’s right.

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 love when I see people take the time to listen to and be there for each other, in real life and online. When people talk about what’s going on in their lives and then they hear, “Oh hon, I’ve so been there.” or “I’m going through that too” or even just “I hear you.” that can make such a difference. We see it in TheMotherhood all the time, and it’s why I treasure these conversations with my family and friends too.

* On the subject of blogs about motherhood, I just spent a looong time reading Jennifer Margulis's Mothering Outside the Lines.

* Want to launch a group for people doing happiness projects together? Email me at grubin @ gretchenrubin dot com. Just write “starter kit” in the subject line.

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