50-for-50 interview: Gretchen Rubin, happiness-generator

Gretchen Rubin had me at “happiness.” I’d been following her blog, the Happiness Project, from its earliest days on TypePad, when somehow, I tricked her into meeting me for coffee a few SXSW’s ago; two nerdy hours of intense chatter later, I left with at least 20 additional items on my “to-read” and “to-do” lists, and a new mentor. It is Gretchen, with her intriguing mix of lawyerly matter-of-factness and unbridled optimism, who frequently gives me the courage to keep on keeping on. She is living proof that exploring your own world and sharing the results in writing thoughtfully can be a major contribution to the rest of the world. In other news, she made it safe for the rest of us to bring our abiding love of children’s books out of the closet and into the light!

When did you decide to become a writer?

I wanted to be a writer for a very long time, and did write the odd novel here and there, but I finally admitted it to myself, and tried to make a real go of it, about thirteen years ago.

Who was your favorite teacher?

I had so many great teachers. My favorite was probably Ed Quigley, one of my high-school English teachers.

What do you love to write about?

I write about human nature. In particular, right now, I’m writing about happiness, which is an inexhaustibly fascinating subject.

What has writing taught you?

They say the best way to learn something is to write about it, and everything I’ve learned about how to think about human nature, I’ve worked out in my books.

How has writing made you stronger?

The thing about writing is that…certain people seem to have a compulsion to write. Juvenal wrote, “An inveterate and incurable itch for writing and grows old in their sick hearts.” I’m one of those people. Now that writing is at the center of my life, I’m stronger in every way. And happier.

If you could go back in time and tell 10-year-old you anything, what would it be?

“Be Gretchen.” This is now my first personal commandment, and something I think about constantly. But for a long time, I spent a lot more time worrying about who I thought I should be than who I actually was.

What are your five favorite books, blogs or things to read?

Oh, I can’t pick! My head will explode! So I will dodge your question with huge generalizations. I love reading biographies; anything that touches on human nature (science, philosophy, etc.); novels–both adult and children’s literature, because I’m a children’s/young adult literature freak; writing that uses unconventional structure; and moral essays. Yes, I love reading moral essays! [Ed.’s note: Gretchen may not want to pick her favorite children here, but she recently wrote a terrific post about the 7 books that changed the way she sees the world you might want to check out.]

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times and international bestseller, The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. A graduate of Yale and Yale Law School, she was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she really wanted to be a writer. You can join the happiness movement and conversation on Facebook and on Twitter, and keep up with things by signing up for her free monthly newsletter and/or the “Moment of Happiness,” a free daily email with a happiness quotation. 

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