How to become a happy writer

happy writer

Word count: 670 words

Reading time: About 2.5 minutes

Dorothy Parker hated writing. But she “loved having written.” How do you feel about the process? Do you want to become a happy writer?

When I walked home from a client meeting yesterday, I strolled in the dark along the shimmering streets of Broadway. Coloured lights flashed the bright white, red and green semaphore of the season and, in front of Starbucks, a brass trio played a surprisingly delicate selection of Christmas carols. I felt as though I was in a movie!

This made me happy, but Christmas also makes some people sad.  Mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression and hospitals face higher than usual incidents of suicide during the season.

And writers? Well, judging by the high-profile evidence (Edgar Allen Poe, Roald Dahl, Virginia Woolf, (pictured above) Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and Hunter S Thompson), writing and depression are as inextricably linked as Bonnie and Clyde. For this reason, in my last column before Christmas 2012, I want to present you with a more optimistic view of the writing life. To do that, I urge you to check out this TED talk by Shawn Achor (pictured above).

Achor is the author of the international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage, and is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. A graduate of Harvard, and a former teaching fellow for the school’s positive psychology course he is also the founder of Good Think Inc.

Here’s what I like about his video:

It’s funny. The story about his sister Amy, the unicorn, had me in snorting tea out my nose. His doctor brother-in-law, Bo-Bo (sp?) was pretty amusing, too.

He speaks well. Here is a polished presenter who understands timing, concision and the power of stories. If you ever need to give a speech watch his performance and learn.

It’s brief. At just over 12 minutes, he conveys his points with humour and aplomb. I plan on reading his book early in the new year but at 256 pages, I expect it will take me about a week. The video is faster.

His central idea is counter-intuitive. I have a deep streak of the contrarian running through me so I feel a special affection for ideas that are the opposite to what our society expects. For example, conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we’ll be more successful, and if we’re more successful, then we’ll be happy. But Achor argues that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. Some 75% of our work success, he tells us, (and I replace the word “work” with “writing”) is not attributed to IQ. Instead, it relies on optimism levels, social support and our ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.

He gives practical advice: Anchor not only tells us we need to get happier, he reveals how. Here’s his list:

  1. Keep a list of three things you’re grateful for every day
  2. Maintain a journal about one positive experience you’ve had over the last 24 hours
  3. Exercise
  4. Meditate
  5. Perform a random act of kindness every day

I realize these suggestions may sound slightly flakey but I’ve done them and I can tell you they make a difference.

Even if you don’t believe, watch the video purely for its entertainment value.

Meanwhile, have a very happy holiday knowing that I encourage you to take regular breaks from your writing – and that Christmas is a good time to start. (You simply need to commit to yourself exactly when you’ll begin writing again!) As next Tuesday is Christmas, I will be offline, from both blog and newsletter, from Dec. 25 to Dec. 31. My next newsletter will go out Jan. 1, 2013. Happy New Year!

Please also let me know your thoughts on writing and happiness. Do you write more productively when you’re happier? And how do you make yourself happier? Please share your thoughts with my readers and me in the comments section (once you’ve clicked on the link, just scroll down until you reach the word “comments”.)

P.S. If you’re looking for a last-minute Christmas gift idea for any writing friends, consider giving them a copy of my book. You’ll receive the electronic files immediately and you can copy them onto a disc and then wrap it up knowing that the hard copy of the book won’t be far behind.

Posted December 18th, 2012 in Power Writing

  • Clarke Echols

    A lot of the ills we see in our society stem from a lack of gratitude and a self-centered unwillingness to be involved in a positive manner in the lives of other people.

    I recall years ago a fellow engineer where I was employed mentioned he was going to get a cab to take him to the mechanic so he could pick up his car he’d left for repairs. I asked him where it was, then told him I could take a different route home and it was only a couple of blocks out of the way, so I could easily drop him off. He seemed so unable to understand why someone would be so helpful — just as on another occasion he couldn’t understand why other employees were so willing to go out on United Way service projects on company time as we were encouraged to do on occasion.

    I’ve taken in homeless, disabled individuals — one a friend, the other a stranger. I don’t want to sound boastful, but both of them told me I had literally saved their lives because each expected or intended to be dead within 30-60 days. One had even traveled 900 miles so he’d be near here when he died. He’s still alive, at last report, after 7 years.

    One big way to counter depression is to be of service to others. Great blessings come to those who serve the down-trodden, unfortunate, and less-abled.

    Recently when I was at Sam’s club, the greeter arranging carts for customers as they entered stopped me and thanked me for calling her by name. She lamented that she stands there much of the day, and most don’t even say hello — much less asking how she’s doing, and I’m the only one who greets her by name — and this is in a city of 60,000 people! [Good grief! She has a name tag! Can’t they *read*?]

    The key to happiness lies in getting over yourself, getting out of yourself, and being helpful to others — especially when you’re not being paid to do it. There’s a lesson to be learned in Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge.


    • Daphne Gray-Grant

      Well put, Clarke. I especially like your comment: “The key to happiness lies in getting over yourself, getting out of yourself, and being helpful to others — especially when you’re not being paid to do it.”

  • Bob

    I guess I am fortunate in that I always enjoy writing, without having to deliberately set out to do those things that Achor suggests. They come naturally. I enjoyed writing just as much when I did it for a living.

    It makes good sense that happiness helps, and science seems to confirm that it helps physiologically as well as mentally (but I guess they are the same thing).

    • Daphne Gray-Grant

      So many people DON’T enjoy writing though (and I used to be one of them!) You’re very lucky not to have had to “work” at enjoying it!

  • Carla Sonheim

    Dear Daphne:

    Thank you so much for your recommendation. I enjoyed Shawn Achor’s talk immensely, as it is so in line with what try to live and teach in my small circle (I’m a drawing teacher and author of three books, all of them based on the premise that you do much better when you can have fun with the drawing FIRST, and the rest — desire to practice, etc. — will follow).
    Shawn’s talk and research makes my job so much easier!

    Also, I really enjoy receiving your weekly emails. They really keep me motivated. Thank you.

    Carla Sonheim
    Author of “Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun,” “Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals,” and “The Art of Silliness: A Creativity Book for Everyone.”

    • Daphne Gray-Grant

      He’s such a fine speaker, isn’t he? I really agree with his premise that happiness leads to success — and it’s a principle I try to instil in all my students. I can see how it would work for drawing as well.

  • It’s really great if you have a friend who also likes to read and write. My 12-year-old granddaughter turned out to be such a person. It’s not that we think what each other writes is wonderful; it’s a secure relationship that allows us to kid each other about ideas that don’t work. That’s happiness.

    • Daphne Gray-Grant

      I share your thoughts, LuAnne. Great that you have such a connection with your 12-year-old granddaughter. She’s one lucky girl!

  • Diane

    Loved this video! I immediately thought of so many people I’d love to bring to one of his talks. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Daphne Gray-Grant

      So glad you enjoyed it, Diane!

  • Tina Bemis

    I just wrote my first official bio for a talk I am giving that included the words “…and author of the book….” That felt pretty good!

    • Daphne Gray-Grant

      Congrats,Tina. What’s the name of your book?

  • Mahdi

    Thanks Ms. Daphne. I loved your writing and the videos attached here.