Gretchen Rubin

“I Have Zero Tolerance for Self-Inflicted Drama.”

Happiness interview: Tina Roth Eisenberg.

A few weeks ago, I heard a fascinating talk given by Tina Roth Eisenberg, who runs a well-known design blog/studio called SwissMiss. Her site is a mesmerizing collection of beautiful design which is highly addictive -- once I start looking, I can't stop. She spoke a lot about the power of good design, and also about the creativity and energy sparked by being around other creative people. Also, in all her spare time, she also helped create a terrific, simple, browser-based to-do app called TeuxDeux.

Of course I had to ask her some questions about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Tina: Coming to my studio, a collaborative workspace in DUMBO [a neighborhood in Brooklyn], with a beautiful view of the East River and Manhattan and filled with magnificent people. My studio is my happy place.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I had no idea how happy the Internet would make me. Did it exist already? And I had no idea how happy my family (husband + 2 kids) would make me.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I keep going to bed later than I should and then I am not happy in the morning when I have to get up at the crack of dawn. (My youngest, 9-month-old Tilo Red, thinks that getting up at 5am is a great idea.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Spend out.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
I have this Goethe quote I find myself going back to:

"I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

[I love that passage too, and in fact, quoted it in The Happiness Project.***]

I try to remind myself that I am the decisive element. I try hard not to be a complainer but a problem solver. If I don't like something in my life, or think something is missing, I try to create it, actively go after it.

And then, of course, there's my all-time favorite Happy Visualization by Marc Johns.

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.)
- Hang out with my kids.
- Read through my archives of the Made me smile category of my blog.
- Eat mashed potatoes (made with lots of butter).

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 surrounding myself with people that are doers. I mentioned that my studio is my happy place. It's filled with doers. Everyone here has cool ideas and goes after them. I am surrounded with people that make things happen. And we are all happier for it.

I try very hard not to have people in my life that talk bad about other people and attract drama. I have zero tolerance for self-inflicted drama.

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 think I have always been a pretty happy person, an optimist at heart. But ever since I started my own company my happiness level has gone way up. And since I started saying no to clients (9 months ago) and am only working on my own products and services, my happiness level has even more increased. Being my own boss is definitely a happiness catalyst.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I think it's a daily task:
Focus on the good and the things you can change/improve in your life.
Appreciate what you have and surround yourself with good people.
Live in the moment.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Oh yes. And out of this I learned that the secret to a truly happy life is to not have expectations.

*** Update: A reader asked me for the source for the Goethe quotation above. I've often read it attributed to Goethe, but when I looked for the actual original source, I discovered that it may actually have been written by Haim Ginott. I wasn't able to find an authoritative source either way, but the fact that I wasn't able to find it in Goethe suggests to me that perhaps it's not his work. If anyone knows, please post.

* Speaking of online tools to build happiness, if you haven't looked at the Happiness Project Toolbox, check it out. Eight free tools to help you start and track your own happiness project.

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