Interview: Anne Kreamer.
I met Anne Kreamer because I was a big fan of her book, Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters. Not dying her hair any more was a sort of happiness-project for Anne, so that really caught my attention.
We soon discovered that we'd both grown up in Kansas City, and for a while, our parents lived just a block away from each other (and knew each other). Small world!
Now Anne has a terrific new book: It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace. It's a very thought-provoking look at the role of emotions in the workplace; anger, fear, anxiety, joy, and empathy influence our productivity and our happiness at work, but we don't often think about them as elements of our work lives. (Well, I suppose I do, nowadays. But I haven't always done so, that's for sure.)
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Anne: I love walking. If I’m walking in a city, the rich diversity of shops, people or street smells wafting out of restaurants stimulates me in ways that connect interesting new creative dots for me and if I’m walking in nature the rich loaminess of the soil, the chittering birds, frogs and insects calm me and connect me to my spiritual side. I find if I’m cranky or anxious, just walking out my door almost always lifts my mood.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
As hokey as it sounds, and I’m sure this is something that you’ve also discovered, I now know that happiness comes from my relationships – just hanging out with my husband or kids or friends is the best.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
A couple of years ago my husband and I had the opportunity to live in Los Angeles for four months and during that time we were so engaged in immersing ourselves in all the fabulousness the west coast offered, we quit watching any television news. I discovered that anytime I get caught up in the 24/7 news cycle I’m far less happy. I read extensively about what’s going on in the world, and listen to thoughtful public radio segments which give me nuance on world events, but television news just agitates me.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I have one mantra with two parts that inspire me. I ask myself what would Maira or Michael do. Maira Kalman, the fabulous artist/designer/author, is a good friend and her embrace of life’s eccentricities is a model for me. And I never see her anything less than chipper. Michael is another friend who is deeply curious and open to experience. Just thinking about Maira or Michael makes me happy!
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).
You and I share the love of children’s books. One of my daughters and I read lots of the same books so we immerse in one of them and talk about it.
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’m increasingly convinced that being on-line or texting or tweeting too much is a big downer. So if I had one bit of advice for nourishing happiness it would be get outside of the house – literally get out and smell the roses.
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’ve been unhappy several different times in my life and all of the times in hindsight were connected by a similar thread – I was doing the wrong thing for myself. I was very unhappy my freshman year in college because I was at a rural women’s college and wanted to be at a coed urban school. I transferred and bingo, much happier. My first job was in banking, a miserable fit, but it paid the rent and once I left to work in children’s television I was vastly happier. I think one of the real keys to happiness is following your inner voice and heart. Once you figure out how to do that things get a lot easier.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I don’t work on happiness per se, but I do work on developing a greater sense of inner peace. I have a morning chi gong and meditation practice that I’ve been developing for years.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Before I quit working in corporate situations I had no idea that I’d find being at home so deeply satisfying. I really am surprised by how true it is that “just the little things” are the ones make me happy. Learning how to cook well, gardening, doing my kids' laundry. All these things fill me with genuine joy. And for so many years I’d thought a big fancy job would be the key. Who knew?
In research for my book I discovered that the things that contribute to happiness at work are very similar to those one finds at home: rich personal relationships, a sense of purpose and a feeling of being valued just as one is. I believe that the more authentic we can be at work, the less we feel the need to put on our “armor” to walk into the job, the happier we will all be.
* I always enjoy reading Zen Habits. So much interesting material there.
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