“Discovering a New Passion Always Makes Me Happy.”

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I’m a big fan of the wildly popular design blog Design*Sponge — “your home for all thing design” — headed up by Grace Bonney. Grace also has a new book out, Design*Sponge at Home — a kind of design “bible” with home tours, DIY projects, and lots of my personal favorite feature: before-and-afters. (Zoikes, I love any before-and-after.)

Because the subject of my next book is Happier at Home, I’ve been thinking a lot about how aspects of home contribute to how…homey it feels. Sometimes, even a small change can make a big difference.

I knew that Grace had given this kind of issue a lot of thought, so I was curious to hear what she had to say on the subject of happiness.

What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Sleep. It is the thing in my life that’s most lacking right now, and when I get a decent amount I am a completely different person. I’m happier, more energetic and better able to tackle just about any problem that comes my way.

Also, spending time with animals. I’ve always been someone who felt more comfortable around pets than people and spending time with my cats always calms me down and makes me feel at ease. Something about the way they blink slowly instantly relaxes me.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That I’m the only person responsible for making it happen. Like a lot of 18-year-olds I had a huge chip on my shoulder and felt like the world was going to hand me things, people and experiences that made me happy. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I realized the only person responsible for all of that was me.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Procrastinating. I am still a terrible “wait until the last minute” person and it always leads to a lack of sleep (see question #1), bad mood and more stress. I’m getting better at making to-do lists that minimize procrastination, but it’s something I still struggle with in a big way.

Is there a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
I’ve never relied on books or quotations, so much as real-life examples of people who live lives I admire. These days I’m incredibly inspired by some of my favorite female musicians and bands that live boldly, bravely and with such passion. That sort of fearlessness is something I hope to have one day and seeing them on stages putting it all out there really inspires me to live more fully.


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).
Can I be blunt? I totally eat my feelings. I’m a classic example of someone who heads straight for the fridge/cabinet/bakery when things are rough. Few things are as reliable (in both a good and bad way) as a giant piece of chocolate (or chocolate cake). It’s not the healthiest activity, but for some reason I’ve always associated comfort food with “taking care of myself.” I only do it in moderation, but it’s been a consistent activity that really makes me feel better quickly. If things are rough I’ll often walk outside, treat myself to a big latte and chocolate croissant and by the end of that little indulgent break I feel a lot better.

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 incredibly inspired by the open-mindedness of my friend and co-worker, Amy. She went through a tough personal time and came out stronger and braver and now is open to just about any life experience and challenge you throw her way. Just this summer she decided to start skateboarding, surfing and rock-climbing. If you throw a new idea her way she’s always wiling to give it a shot. That “let’s try it!” attitude has made her incredibly happy and has totally rubbed off onto me. It’s inspiring just to watch her try everything.

I sadly have a lot of friends that detract from happiness by dwelling on what their life is like NOW. I’m a big fan of being responsible for your own fate, so I hate when people feel as if they have no role or no control over what happens NEXT in their life. I always try to remind them that yes, maybe today is awful, but instead of dwelling on that you should focus on the changes YOU can make tomorrow to make sure things go up from here.

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’ve been a pretty happy person since I got out of college, but I was pretty negative before that. I didn’t really hit my stride and make great friends until after high school and college, and I always felt that that was someone else’s fault. When I finally found something I enjoyed doing and did well, I got a boost of confidence that made me realize that my negativity was my own fault and that I needed to kick it. So I did. I’ve been pretty happy since then. I have periods where I feel uninspired or over-worked and those are tough, but in general I think my mood level is on the “glass is half full” side of things.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?

I’ve had a rough year personally so happiness is foremost on my mind right now. I love my job so much that I think I let that happiness overtake everything and I forgot to take care of myself as a person and not just a blogger or business owner. So after I finish my book tour this winter, I’m going to take some time off to focus on myself and try to get back to a place where I feel more carefree and open and happy again. I don’t often hear women running their own businesses admitting that even after you’re successful there are still plenty of chances to mess up, make mistakes or lose track. I think I did all those things to some degree and now it’s my job to make sure I put the same amount of energy and passion into my “real” life as my work life.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?

All the time. Writing Design*Sponge at Home was a constant process of being surprised. I thought I’d be elated when I finished and the book came out, but more than joy I felt a sense of relief. It was such a long hard process to get the book finished that all I wanted to do was take a nap. I was happy, but I didn’t feel the type of happiness I thought I would.

On the flip side, when I did a small video series with the New York Public Library a few years ago, I expected it to be a fun blip of an activity and nothing more. Filming with that team (one of whom, Amy, ended up coming to work with me full time at D*S) was probably the happiest work experience I’ve ever had. I was more excited to play around with video cameras and filming than I knew I would be. Discovering a new passion for something always makes me happy.

From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.




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