Happiness interview: Tsh Oxenreider.
I don’t remember how I ended up on Simple Mom — “life hacks for home managers.” Probably the phrase “life hacks” lured me there; I can never resist a good life hack. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the virtue of “simplicity” lately, so I’m reading everything I can on the subject. (It turns out that simplicity is not a simple idea.)
After I’d read for a while, I became very curious to hear what the site’s founder, Tsh Oxenreider, had to say on the subject of happiness. Much of what she writes about on her site relates to happiness, and the subject of her new book, Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living, touches on happiness too.
Of course I had to ask about her name, “Tsh.” It’s pronounced “Tish,” and it’s missing the vowel because she had parents in an experimental mood in the 1970s. I was very happy to discover that Tsh is as much a sleep zealot as I am. Get enough sleep! Such a simple thing, so important.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Tsh: Having friends over for dinner. When I’m anticipating it, I’m tempted to stress. In the moment, though, I’m loving it, and wondering why we don’t do it more often.
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That it’s worth pursuing, even if it doesn’t look the way you think it’s “supposed” to look. And that it’s much easier to enjoy your own rather than wishing away someone else’s.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Staying up too late.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
One of my favorite life quotes is this one from writer Elisabeth Elliot: “When you don’t know what to do, do the thing in front of you.” Very helpful wisdom for someone like me, who’s tempted to perfectionism and people pleasing. Those things tend to freeze me. But if I just do something, anything, my mood and my energy level plows forward.
If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity?
I walk away from screens of any form (even the little one on my cell phone), find some sunshine, and drink some water. Music is helpful sometimes, as is going on a little walk. But the one definite is no screen time. Doing this all outside is a major plus.
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 main thing I see people doing that detracts from their happiness (including my own) is trying to be someone they weren’t made to be. It really is just so much easier to be who you are. It’s an insult to God’s creativity, really, to try and be someone else. And it’s no fun.
The main thing I see people doing that adds to their happiness is getting enough sleep, water, exercise, and real food. And only spending money they actually have, not living on credit.
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?
In June 2007 I was diagnosed with depression, and in hindsight I can see that it was probably post-partum from my daughter’s birth in February 2005. I worked with a therapist for several months, and one of the best pieces of advice he gave me was to find a creative outlet, to get out of my inner focus. My husband suggested blogging, because I’ve always liked to write and because it’s a cheap hobby. I bought the domain name simplemom.net soon after. Writing lifted my mood tremendously. It continues to make me extraordinarily happy.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Absolutely. It’s a choice for me, it doesn’t just happen. When I see my symptoms of depression flare up, I make sure I get more sleep, exercise, sunshine, and vitamin D — things usually improve soon after I make a more conscious decision to do these things. I also force myself to interact with people more — grab coffee with girlfriends, have people over for dinner, and the like. I’m an extroverted introvert, which means I enjoy people once I make the effort, but I’m still mostly recharged by being by myself. As a blogger and stay-at-home mom to small children, it’s very easy for me to go all week without seeing three-dimensional people taller than three feet. When I force myself out of my chair and into the coffee shop across the table from a girlfriend, things immediately get better. I’m happier.
I’m also a Christian, so I get refueled when I read the Bible, especially Philippians and Proverbs, and also when I spend time in contemplative, listening prayer. By this, I mean prayer when I mostly sit and listen to God, not rattle off a list of “things I need” to Him.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Shockingly, the high from a pumpkin spice latte is relatively short, at least in relation to its cost. Mostly, though, I’m continually surprised at how things don’t make me happy. I don’t enjoy shopping, so I rarely know what’s “out there.” However, when I do flip through a magazine or browse an online store, my mind can easily wander to images of how my life or my home would be better with that one thing. Honestly, though? 24 hours later, and I’ve moved on. I don’t even remember it. This is why I almost always wait 24 hours before making any purchase.
Last week I went to the mall for the first time in over a year — I needed a place to kill some time with my two-year-old, and it needed to be air-conditioned. So we just wandered the mall on a Tuesday morning… And suddenly, I saw all these great things. Such cute kids’ clothes. Adorable toys. Shiny kitchen gadgets. I felt my blood pressure rise. And so I knew it was time to leave.
Happiness has never been in relation to collecting stuff. At least in my short history.
* If you’ve never seen the one-minute movie, The Years Are Short, you might enjoy it.