Gretchen Rubin, whose "The Happiness Project" is both a bestselling book and a popular blog, concedes that the title may be something of a misnomer. "Happiness," she says, has a way of turning into a mythical destination that taunts us with our inability to reach it. Better to make "happier" the goal, and to improve your life through a series of manageable, concrete steps. Like...making your bed?

OK, so there's a bit more to it than that, as Rubin acknowledges in her Big Think interview. There's a "transcendent" aspect to true bliss that ultimately can't be ignored. Still, starting out a personal quest for happiness with ambitious, yet vague resolutions is often a recipe for failure. So is taking the tack once recommended by John Stuart Mill: dismissing all doubts as to whether you are, in fact, happy. The American emphasis on chasing personal happiness, Rubin believes, is overall a healthy and natural thing.

So what makes Rubin herself happy? Well, many of the usual things: family, fulfilling career, and so on. But in the end, it's about refusing to be anything less than yourself)—which, in her case, means owning up to a continuing obsession with "Anne of Green Gables."