Happiness interview: Frank Warren.
For years, I’ve been a huge fan of Frank Warren’s work, PostSecret. It’s a community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously, on one side of a postcard, and on the site, you can read what people have posted. (I also have PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, which are these images collected in book form.) Reading these postcards is absolutely fascinating.
On the companion website, the Happiness Project Toolbox, people can see each other’s resolutions, Secrets of Adulthood, etc. (Unless a person chooses to keep entries private, of course.) It was reading PostSecret that made me realize how engaging it was to have glimpses into other people’s lives and thoughts.
Because I’ve been a fan for such a long time, I was thrilled to get the chance to ask Frank about his ideas on happiness.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Frank: Clopper Lake is a mile from where I live. There is a three mile trail around the lake and when I take my dog, Shadow, for walks there I can count on finding a sense of joy after about two miles. Of course Shadow is enthusiastic from start to finish.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
As an adult I believe happiness is less important than I thought it was when I was younger.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Surprisingly, sometimes pursuing what I believe will make me happy gets in the way of my happiness.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
I heard somewhere that pessimists are always pleasantly surprised. I think my happiness motto would be, “it could have been worse.”
If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children’s books).
Physical contact with my wife, daughter or dog usually calms me down. Or physical exercise to exhaustion.
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?
The effort to conceal secrets can be a burden that leaves less room for happiness.
Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I find that even when my life gets better I still fall back to the same baseline of happiness. I think over the course of my life the sustained times of happiness were the periods when I was not aware of being unhappy.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I do work on being happy but I sometimes find it counter productive. For example, within the last year my wife and I bought an expensive coffee maker and started enjoying coffee every morning. That made us happy for awhile but now I find that the caffeine affects my sleep and when I drink it in the morning currently it is more to stave off the effects of a mild caffeine withdrawal rather then for the pleasure it used to provide.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
For the longest time I did not want to vacation in Hawaii. I imagined it to be a passive vacation location with great beauty but no action. My wife finally talked me into a trip there only to have my father confirm my beliefs a week before we left by telling us he had a boring time on his only Big Island trip. It turned out to be one of our families all-time favorite vacations. Hiking into a extinct volcano, learning to surf, seeing a double rainbow, even when the whole island lost power for the night it was all a terrific adventure.
* Speaking of the Happiness Project Toolbox — check it out! Eight free tools to help you track your own happiness project. And you can see what other people are doing, which is fascinating.