As those of us here on the Live Happy staff know very well, there are loads of books about happiness on the shelves. So what makes Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy, special? We sat with our own editorial director, Deborah K. Heisz, to find out what sets this new book apart and what makes it a compelling read.
LIVE HAPPY: Deborah, what made you decide we needed to create this book?
DEBORAH K. HEISZ: As you said, bookshelves are full of books about happiness, and since I read them all—or try to, anyway—I noticed they fell into three distinct camps. One kind of happiness book is written by positive psychologists and is often targeted to the scientific community. Another kind of book is someone’s personal reflections on happiness, and the third type is written for businesspeople. We realized there was a huge gap that needed to be filled. There was no book that distilled the science on happiness—the results coming from the research of positive psychologists—for the average consumer and provide examples of people putting them into action. Doing that is the mission of this magazine and it was also the driving mission behind the book.
LH: What do you think is the most common misperception people have about happiness?
DH: Most people have the basic recipe for happiness exactly backward. They think that if only they had the right relationship, the right job, the right amount of money in the bank, then they would be happy. Yet happier people are more likely to attain success of all kinds. Happy people are the ones who have good relationships. Happy people get better jobs and make more money than unhappy people do. So you don't have to wait to be happy. My hope is that this book provides you with the tools to create happiness now.
LH: The book’s subtitle says there are 10 practices for choosing joy. What are those practices? And why do you say that joy is something we can choose, since life can throw us all curveballs?
DH: Happiness is a choice and something we can work on and increase all our lives. The wonderful thing is that so many aspects of our lives can bring us happiness. We just have to take the steps. We have to commit to the journey. The 10 practices that science shows us can lead to a happier life are these: a positive attitude, deep connections with other people, a sense our lives have meaning, creativity, gratitude, mindfulness, health, resilience, spirituality and giving back. Realizing that there are 10 things that contribute to joy means we all have an opportunity to become happier.
Maybe you already take good care of your health and have a wonderfully positive attitude, but you realize you could develop your spirituality and resilience more. Or maybe you get stuck thinking about the past too much and you realize that becoming more mindful could hugely increase your well-being. And today there are so many people who have all the trappings of success, but they feel hollow inside—and they need to find a life of meaning that’s congruent with who they are. Identifying the practices we can work on is how we choose joy.
LH: You also included 40 stories about people who used these practices to increase happiness. Why?
DH: It’s one thing to learn the scientific facts about happiness, and another thing altogether to see how those facts play out in real people’s lives. Yes, we can conduct scientific research on happiness, but the insights take on much more power and are more memorable when we see how they truly impact people.
LH: Were there particular stories that stood out for you?
DH: There are so many stories in the book I will never forget. Some of them taught me practices that have made my life better…exercises in positive thinking and gratitude, for example. Some of them totally made my day, like the story of the Flennikens, who adopted a daughter and, 10 years later, a baby boy. Then just a few months later, they learned their son Zach’s two older brothers, ages 2 and 3, needed a home. Not only did the Flennikens take in both boys, months later they opened their hearts and home to his older sister.
Within a year, their family went from three to seven! And, the dad told us, “We feel blessed beyond belief.” Then there were the stories that made me cry, stories of people who have been through the most awful tragedies I could ever imagine who somehow found their way back to happiness. I’m thinking in particular about Celeste Peterson, whose only child, Erin, was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. Her daughter was her greatest joy, her greatest accomplishment as an at-home mom. Yet she found a way to make something good out of what happened by creating a nonprofit and using her motherly love to make a real difference in the lives of at-risk boys, including one her daughter had befriended. Those stories awe me. They show me how strong the human spirit is. They have changed me in a profound way.
LH: Some of the stories are from celebrities. Why did you decide to include their stories in the book?
DH: Just 10 of the 40 stories are from celebrities; the others are from regular people. The really interesting thing is, the celebrity stories aren’t any different from the others. We all have our struggles in life. We all need the same things to be happy—love, a sense our lives have meaning, the resilience to bounce back from setbacks. The journey to happiness seems to be a great equalizer.
LH: What was the most important thing you learned from the book?
DH: Anyone, regardless of what has happened to him or her, can find deep and lasting happiness. The science tells our brains that it’s true. But the stories go straight to our hearts. They are what really convince us that happiness is possible, no matter what.