Happiness interview: Susan Cain.
I'm so excited for my friend Susan Cain. Her terrific new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, just came out two days ago, and already it has been the subject of a huge amount of buzz, discussion, and debate. Susan shines a powerful spotlight on a fascinating aspect of human character: the power of introverts. The book is an absolutely compelling read-full of research and insight interesting to introverts and extroverts alike.
I knew Susan had done a lot of thinking about the relationship of introversion, extroversion, and happiness, and also about her own happiness, so I was very interested to hear what she had to say.
What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Writing. I've wanted to be a writer since I was four years old. But as a grown-up, I trained myself to love my work by doing all my writing in a sunny café window while sipping on a latte and snacking on chocolate. Over time, I came to associate writing with the pleasures of that window seat. These days, I don't need the coffee or chocolate, or even the café-though they still help! But I love the feeling of entering into my inner world. It's like going through a magic portal every time I sit at my laptop.
What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?
Everyone shines, given the right lighting. For some it's a Broadway stage, for others a lamplit desk. For me (as for many introverts!) it's definitely the latter.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you've found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
The book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by the great psychologist Mihaly Csizszentmihalyi. He talks about how one of the highest states of being is when you're totally engaged in an activity-from exercise to painting to a conversation with your four-year-old-and you're operating in the sublime channel between boredom and anxiety. I think about that all the time, and try to live in a state of flow as often as possible.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I try to appreciate small, Life is Beautiful moments, and savor them. As I write this, I hear the rain on my rooftop and the wind in the trees. It's a gorgeous, peaceful sound, and I feel lucky just to listen to it. I also try not to let a day go by without feeling grateful for my family and my writing life-the two things I've always wanted most in the world.
What is your most surprising way of feeling happy?
Recently I've been thinking about a state I call the "happiness of melancholy." Why do supposedly sad things, like minor key music or the evanescence of cherry blossoms, make us happy? I think they help us appreciate the fragile beauty of life and love.
* A great site to explore is Lifehacker. There's a lot there.
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