Olga Khazan is an award-winning writer for The Atlantic, covering health, gender, and science. Prior to that, she was The Atlantic‘s Global Editor, and she’s has also written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Forbes, and other publications. She is a two-time recipient of the International Reporting Project’s Journalism Fellowship, winner of the 2017 National Headliner Awards for Magazine Online Writing, and host of The Atlantic’s online video series, You Are Here: The Incredible Science Behind Everyday Life.
Her new book is Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Olga about happiness, habits, and creativity.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?
Olga: Yoga! I’ve been practicing for years, and I like to do a handstand every day. I’m so sad that yoga studios are closed due to coronavirus, but there are still some good YouTube videos out there to follow along at home. It’s such a good way to clear your head and stop looking at screens for an hour.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
It’s a process, not a destination.
You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?
If you reappraise your performance anxiety as excitement, you can perform better when it counts most.
Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?
I didn’t really start running until graduate school. I hate to say it, but buying shoes and gear that allowed me to run pain-free really made the difference. I always thought running was just supposed to hurt—it turns out, it’s not!
Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?
Fittingly for my book, I’m a Rebel. 🙂
Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)
Yes, my love of my work and my tendency to overwork.
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.?
Yes. All through college, I was reluctant to pursue my dream of being a journalist because I come from an immigrant family that equated making lots of money with happiness. After I graduated, I read a study that found that making over $75,000 a year doesn’t make you any happier. Reading that study made me think that perhaps I didn’t need to make as much money as humanly possible—I just needed to make over $75,000 and enjoy what I do. So I decided to go to journalism school.
Years later, that study was debunked. Yet I’m still a journalist—a happy one.
Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?
An online counselor once told me to “Look for the gray areas.” That is, things are rarely black and white. Think about what could be going on that’s somewhere between amazing and awful. I consistently fail to do this, but it’s good advice.
Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?
Nickel and Dimed made me want to be a journalist. It made me realize that writers have the ability to see and explain the world in ways I had never thought possible.
In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?
“Off the record” means we can’t use it. “Anonymous” means we can use it, just not with your name attached. 🙂
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