Question: Who are some of the happiest people you’ve observed, and what makes them happy?
Gretchen Rubin: Well, happiness is hard because it’s very subjective. I know the people that seem happiest to me, but whether they are actually – what they’re really like inside is really hard to say. Now, for example, my father is somebody who seems very, very happy. But because of all this work that I’ve done on happiness, when I see people like that, I don’t assume now that they are just naturally that way because I realize that there are a lot of practice to that, there’s a lot of effort that goes into being that kind of person. And it’s very interesting, I posted on my blog about being one of these people that is one of these happy people and how there’s a dark element in human nature where we somehow seem to want to sometimes attack that and bring those people down, or make them confront the way that their optimism isn’t true or that their positive reviews aren’t warranted, and I don’t know why that is. But now that I see how much benefit and energy we get from happy people, I really think that you really need to try to protect it and encourage it and not try to drag those people down.
It was interesting; several people posted on my blog saying that they were those people and they didn’t understand why people seemed to want to cling onto them and draw from them and their energy, but on the same time also seem to almost want to destroy it. So, I think when you find those happy people in your life, you should really try to support them and to help them be happier rather than somehow trying to contradict them, or mock them, or tease them relentlessly, which just seems to be the reaction that a lot of people have.
Question: What can the rest of us learn from these positive-outlook people?
Gretchen Rubin: Well one of the things that I learned from my father is that my father just has a huge amount of enthusiasm for even the smallest things. And there was this one very telling episode where I was home in Kansas City and my mother said to my father, he walked in home from work and she said, “We’re going to have pizza for dinner tonight.” And he said, “Wonderful, wonderful. Do you want me to go pick it up?” And I thought, that’s the spirit. You know, it’s like whenever somebody says, instead of just saying, “Sure, okay.” Say, “Wonderful!” And then say how can I help. What can I do? Like, embrace it. And having this enthusiastic response really adds to people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like being very discerning. Being very critical. It makes us seem sophisticated, and knowledgeable. And it’s true that people do assume that people who are critical are smarter than people who are uncritical. But it actually takes more social courage to be enthusiastic. It’s harder to embrace something and to praise something than it is to criticize something, or mock something. And it’s certainly more fun to be that way, and it’s much more fun to be around people like that. You can catch people’s enthusiasm. And you can also catch their lack of enthusiasm.
Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen