Now, how do I know Isabel Gillies? The answer is lost in the sands of time. We have several mutual friends, perhaps that’s how.
She has had a very interesting, varied career. She is an actor who appeared, among other places, on the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and in the movie Metropolitan.
She’s also a highly successful writer. Her bestselling memoir Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story recounts the story of how her first marriage broke up, while A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story is about the challenge of getting on with her life after the divorce; her young-adult novel Starry Night is about the passion of first love.
Now in her latest book, she’s tackled a different kind of subject: Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World. I couldn’t wait to talk to Isabel about happiness, habits, and productivity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Isabel: Making one’s bed in my mind is the most direct road to a happier life. It’s manageable, satisfying and cozy.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
As I edge closer to 50, I find that happiness comes from trying the best you can to stay right in the very moment you are in. Don’t worry about the past or future, just be in the moment. Noticing the light, or a smell, or the sound of the dog breathing will help you just be right where you are.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
I did a lot of research for Cozy, and what tickled me the most was that when I asked people what makes them cozy, everyone smiled.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
YES! I quit smoking. I used a nicotine patch. Right before I turned 25 I thought, “It’s kind of sexy to see a young woman smoking, it’s really not sexy to see an older woman smoking.” I marched to the drug store, got the patch and never smoked again. It was about making up my mind, and committing.
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Upholder (just took the quiz).
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
TEENAGERS! No, it’s not them per se, it’s my inability to stay in the moment, and put everything in its right place. Someone once told me that teenagers are on a roller coaster and as a parent your job is NOT to get on the roller coaster with them—just stand on the side. Sometimes I get on.
Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?
Even though I’m healthy (knock on wood), recently my doctor told me I had gained 12 pounds in 2 years. I have always eaten anything I wanted, whenever I wanted—but I guess when I hit menopause that all got turned on its ear. I walked out of his office and decided I would think more about calories in, calories out, and act on it daily—I got an app! I’m having radical acceptance about it. We change—what is there to do but deal with it?
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
Stephen King’s On Writing. When I decided to become a writer, I read his book and followed his lead. I’m dyslexic and was an actress. I never had any expectation of becoming a writer so I never took a class or workshop. King was my teacher.
In the area you’re writing about, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
I’m writing about being cozy. I think people believe coziness is about fires, hot chocolate and cashmere sweaters. I’m making the case that coziness comes from the truth of who you are. You can be cozy on the subway; I always am. If you know what you like, your beat, your point of view, you can carry that anywhere you find yourself and call upon it to find coziness, even challenging circumstances like a hospital.