Happiness interview: Carl Richards.
I initially got to know Carl Richards's work because he and I share the same literary agent, which creates a fellow-feeling akin to having gone to the the same high school. I was very interested in his writing (and drawing), because he often addresses the connection between happiness and money, which is one of the most complicated and emotionally charged subjects within happiness.
One thing I particularly admire about Carl is his ability to sum up large issues in simple, powerful sketches. Seeing a problem that feels very complicated distilled into a napkin-sized drawing helps me understand the essentials.
His book, The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money, has just hit the shelves. It's about the "behavior gap"-the distance between what we should do and what we actually do.
I was very interested to hear his thoughts about happiness.
Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Carl: Getting outside! I live in the mountains of Utah and have found that every single time I get myself out on my mountain bike or skis it makes me happy. Of course, it's often even better when done with family or friends, but even alone…it works. What's wild is that despite knowing this is true, it's often hard to get myself out. There are always other things that seem urgent, but most of the time there is nothing more important.
What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?
I used to think that the way to find happiness was to search for it. I'm starting to believe that the key to happiness is to get myself to a place where I stop looking for it. It seems that being happy is really a function of being present. Here. Now. Like you say, on that bus with your daughter.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Because I spend a huge amount of my time thinking about it (it's my job!), I often find myself feeling regret for past mistakes or worrying about the future. Neither of those two activities makes me happy. It's pretty clear why. Worrying about the future or feeling regret about the past takes me out of the present and then I miss the joy that comes from living now.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you've found very helpful?(e.g., I remind myself to "There is only love.")
Two things come to mind:
 I breathe! It's amazing to me how much peace you can find in focusing on your breath. I guess there is a reason so many of the ancient spiritual traditions focus on it. When I find myself getting anxious or upset, I just take a minute and breathe. If my mind wanders back to the problem, I gently pull it back to my breath.
 I work through a little Q&A with myself:
Is this an issue or "problem" I'm having with something that really matters?
Is it something I can control?
I have found it helps (particularly with financial decisions) to focus on those things that matter and that you have at least some control over.
5. If you're feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
I get outside and exercise. Hard. In fact my wife has learned that when I'm being particularly, shall we say, "unhappy" that the best thing for me is to get out! It only takes an hour and things seem much better afterwards.
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?
I often see people worrying about things that don't matter anymore or things they have very little control over. Working as a financial planner, I often see a lot of people unhappy with their finances. Money seems to have the ability to make people happy or miserable depending on their approach. When I wrote The Behavior Gap, I hoped that I could help people figure out how to have a better relationship with money, to take the misery out of it, by helping them get really clear about the things that matter when it comes to money and the things that don't. Because the things that really matter will vary from person to person, it wasn't my goal to provide answers for people, but instead help people find the right questions to ask.
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?
There have definitely been times when I have been very unhappy, depressed even. Most times it's when I allow myself to get overwhelmed or distracted by the things that don't matter. One of my favorite sketches in the book is Things to Focus On. It's the perfect reminder that there are things we can control and things that matter, and where they overlap, that's where we should focus our efforts. Things-you-should-focus-on
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Without question. The last few years have been challenging ones for my family, both personally and professionally. So we make an effort to focus on things that bring us real happiness. Not too surprisingly the things that cost the least or nothing at all often resulted in the happiest moments. One way I try to stay happy is by doing my best to react less on emotion and to make decisions based on our family's plan. I'm rarely unhappy when I can stick to that goal.
* I love checking out Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan's blog, Apartment Therapy-"saving the world, one room at a time."
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