Interview: Julie Klam
Years ago, I got to know Julie Klam because we're both fans of children's literature, and because I'm a big fan of her writing. Also, when we were thinking about whether to get a dog, I was particularly interested in her books about her experiences with her dogs. (Spoiler alert: we did get a dog, six years ago.)
She's the New York Times bestselling author of You Had Me at Woof (Amazon, Bookshop), Love at First Bark (Amazon, Bookshop), The Stars in Our Eyes (Amazon, Bookshop), Friendkeeping (Amazon, Bookshop), and Please Excuse My Daughter (Amazon)—and she's written for publications from O: The Oprah Magazine to the New York Times Magazine.
Now she has a new book out: The Almost Legendary Morris Sisters: A True Story of Family Fiction (Amazon, Bookshop). The book is a funny and moving story of the Morris sisters, Julie Klam's distant relations with mysterious pasts.
I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, health, and habits.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Julie: I’ve been in therapy with the same person since 1985. I’ve used it in different ways over the years (when I was single, getting married, having a baby, getting divorced) but I sort of feel like now it’s a maintenance thing. I dump my garbage there once a week and my therapist recycles it for people who are in need of neurosis.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I think when I was 18, I thought happiness would be found in a list of things that I didn't have. It was all—if I lose weight, get a boyfriend, get better grades, I will be happy. And now I’m really good at finding happiness in what I have (or maybe I finally don’t have to worry about my grades).
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
I think that family myths are so prevalent. Like after I was struck by the amount of family stories in my own family that were not quite true, I talked to other people and it was an almost universal truth. We all grew up with stories and no way—or reason—to fact-check them, and so much of what we believed about ourselves were wrapped in these myths.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I think this the most boring answer but it was when I figured out that I felt horrible when I didn’t exercise, and I decided the way to do it was do it every day, not make it a question in the morning, just get up and go exercise. (I told you it’s boring, but it might be less boring if you picture me exercising in a hot dog costume.)
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
I took the quiz and I was a Rebel, but I think I have a little Upholder in me, too. I don’t like breaking the rules, but I also don’t do well being told what to do.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
My therapist told me, “You can’t be where you’re not.” I was a lot younger then but it helped to realize that there are things you can’t force. Everyone can be telling you to get out of a marriage or change jobs, but you can’t do it until it’s right for you.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
The book that changed my life was the first book I couldn't put down. It was Marjorie Morningstar (Amazon, Bookshop), and I wanted to read it all the time. Before that I wasn’t sure I was a reader, and after that I felt like I had a secret power, to get into a book, any time, any place.
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