The Happiness Project: Interview with Best-Selling Author Gretchen Rubin

Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

When I saw that best-selling author Gretchen Rubin was interviewed along with me for the Problogger Blogwise book, I thought I’d take a chance and see if she’d like to do an interview.

One of my hopes for this blog is that it is a resource of knowledge for writers at all stages of their journey.

In order to do that, I try to connect with as many authors, bloggers, and communicators of all types who are willing to share their secrets.

So here’s my interview with Gretchen:

JEFF: In a brief summary, what’s The Happiness Project about?

GRETCHEN: The book is an account of the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.

On my blog, also called The Happiness Project, I write about my daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness.

On social media

J: In this world of blogging-to-get-published, what worked for you? What came first: the blog or the book?

G: The book. I wanted to test-drive the idea that “novelty and challenge bring happiness,” which I kept reading in the scientific literature. To test it, for the book, I started a blog.

The blog appeared in the world long before the book did, however, so many people assume that the book grew out of the blog.

J: As a New York Times bestselling author, how have you used social media to connect with readers and boost the success of your book? What tips do you have for new writers?

G: As a writer, I feel so fortunate to have all these tools to use to engage with readers who are interested in my subject. I use my blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest — in different ways and at different levels of intensity, of course!

Writers have to figure out how to use it in the way that suits their own natures, subjects, and audiences. So you really have to spend some time thinking about it. If you can find a person who already knows how to use a particular tool, that’s very helpful.

On happiness & life

J: So what’s the secret to being happy? I’m sure you get this question a lot, but if you could pick just one thing, what would it be?

G: There are a few different ways to answer that question, depending on what framework you use. One answer, and ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree, is: strong relationships with other people. We’re happier when we feel close to other people.

Another answer: self-knowledge. We’re happier when we build a life that reflects our own nature, interests, and values.

J: Let’s hear more about you, Gretchen: Where are you from? How did you start writing? Is writing a means to an end for you or an end in itself?

G: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I started my career in law, and I was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when I realized that I really wanted to be a writer. I’m one of those people who feels a true compulsion to write. I read, take notes, and write all the time. I feel so lucky that this is my job.

On writing & publishing

J: How did your book end up on the New York Times Best Seller list? Was that something you were intentional about?

G: I certainly wanted to give my book the best shot it could possibly get. The Happiness Project was my fifth book, so I was very aware of how a book can hit or miss.

I think one of the biggest challenges facing writers is just making the public aware that a book exists. A potential reader might be interested in reading a book, but never hear that it’s out there.

Through my blog and other social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, I was able to let many people know about The Happiness Project.

Word of mouth has been the key to the book’s success. But I was able to get the ball rolling, to get a number of people aware of the book, because I was able to let them know that it had hit the shelves. From that base, word of mouth was able to work.

J: What’s one unexpected lesson you learned from writing?

G: Maybe this isn’t an unexpected lesson, but it is a key truth about writing that I remind myself of often: the key to writing is to have something to say.

If I’m struggling to write, or if I don’t know where to start, I go back and ask, “What am I trying to say?” When I have something that I was to express, writing is a joy. Hard, maddening sometimes, but a joy.

J: What are you currently working on?

G: I’m in the final stages of my next book, Happier at Home, which will hit the bookstores on September 4. I spent a school year (September through May) working to make my home more homey.

For more about Gretchen, check out her excellent blog and her book, The Happiness Project.

What makes you happy? Share in the comments.

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