I’m a gigantic fan of Mindy Kaling. I love her in The Office, as Kelly Kapoor (Mindy not only stars in the show, but also writes and produces); I love her on Twitter (@mindykaling); and I’ve already pre-ordered her book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns). She is brilliantly hilarious, and her work has added a lot to my daily happiness.
So I was thrilled to get the chance to do a happiness interview with her.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Mindy: I do two things that consistently, and instantly, make me happier. One is running. Please understand, I am by no means an athlete. I run a 12 or 13 minute mile, which is about the pace a real runner would do if they were doing physical therapy after a traumatic leg accident or something. It is not an impressive pace, but it’s my instant trigger to a good mood. That’s the great thing about endorphins – you don’t have to be really in shape to get them.
The second is sending my parents a text message. My parents got into texting recently and they love it, and are working adorably hard to master it, but don’t have too many people to text with. When I send them a text with some young-people abbreviations or emoticons, they respond immediately. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel great to be in touch with them through text.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When I was 18 years old, I took a semester off from college and was an intern at Late Night With Conan O’Brien. It was the most glamorous job I ever had, and I idolized the writers there. I remember lying in bed every night telling myself that if I ever got a job as a comedy writer, I would be so happy and all my dreams would have come true. Six years later I got that job, working on The Office. I felt incredibly happy and grateful for a about a week, and then a whole new set of complaints set in. This would’ve shocked and disgusted my 18-year-old self. It’s helpful to remember the younger version of me because it reminds me to feel grateful when I want to be snotty. Also a little scary because obviously, happiness for me does not come from career success alone.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I really need to stop watching horror movies. I love them because I am really drawn to true crime and the world is so different than the comedy world. But man, horror movies just kill me. They keep me up all night, makes me fearful of my loved ones trying to murder me, and make me scared to walk around my own house at night. It’s nuts.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (E.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
My best friend’s Jocelyn’s father once told me that “the best revenge is living well,” which is terrific advice, but very difficult to listen to if you’re a hothead and a vendetta-carrying person like myself. When I get mad or feel slighted, I remember this advice and it helps me “let go” of the bad feeling. I think of it in a very practical way: the time I would spend having a mean thought or acting out against someone could be better spent thinking of a fun workout playlist on my iPod, or finding a cool recipe to use on my slow cooker, thus making my life more fit and more delicious (these are my ideas of “living well” — you have to understand how awesome my slow-cooker is).
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?
My friends and Office writers Brent and Charlie derive an incredible amount of happiness from 5am to 7am, when they are woken up by their children and do early morning rituals with them. This sounds totally crazy to me but their joy cannot be fabricated. Interaction with their children makes the people I work with the most happy.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I don’t consciously work on being happier because, well, honestly, if I heard myself telling someone “Yes, I’ve been actively working on my happiness,” I would think “what a Los Angeles weirdo.” I do think I work on my happiness subconsciously. For instance, as I’ve gotten older, I implement rules in my life that I don’t change at all, no matter what. I get to work at 6am as an actor, and when I wrap as an actor, I stay on at work as a writer, and work sometimes 10pm or later. With that schedule, I miss out on sleep a lot. So, on the weekends, one day I need to sleep 9 hours without any interruptions. I realized that the weekends I found the most relaxing were the ones where I felt I slept late – “as late as a teenager” is how I think of it – for at least one day of the weekend. I know I won’t be able to do this when I have kids, so I want to take advantage of this now. Making sure I get enough rest is a way I work on being 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.