I’m so excited for my friend Susan Cain. Her terrific new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, just came out two days ago, and already it has been the subject of a huge amount of buzz, discussion, and debate. Susan shines a powerful spotlight on a fascinating aspect of human character: the power of introverts. The book is an absolutely compelling read—full of research and insight interesting to introverts and extroverts alike.
I knew Susan had done a lot of thinking about the relationship of introversion, extroversion, and happiness, and also about her own happiness, so I was very interested to hear what she had to say.
What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. But as a grown-up, I trained myself to love my work by doing all my writing in a sunny café window while sipping on a latte and snacking on chocolate. Over time, I came to associate writing with the pleasures of that window seat. These days, I don’t need the coffee or chocolate, or even the café—though they still help! But I love the feeling of entering into my inner world. It’s like going through a magic portal every time I sit at my laptop.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway stage, for others a lamplit desk. For me (as for many introverts!) it’s definitely the latter.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
The book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by the great psychologist Mihaly Csizszentmihalyi. He talks about how one of the highest states of being is when you’re totally engaged in an activity—from exercise to painting to a conversation with your four-year-old—and you’re operating in the sublime channel between boredom and anxiety. I think about that all the time, and try to live in a state of flow as often as possible.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I try to appreciate small, Life is Beautiful moments, and savor them. As I write this, I hear the rain on my rooftop and the wind in the trees. It’s a gorgeous, peaceful sound, and I feel lucky just to listen to it. I also try not to let a day go by without feeling grateful for my family and my writing life—the two things I’ve always wanted most in the world.
What is your most surprising way of feeling happy?
Recently I’ve been thinking about a state I call the “happiness of melancholy.” Why do supposedly sad things, like minor key music or the evanescence of cherry blossoms, make us happy? I think they help us appreciate the fragile beauty of life and love.
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.