A novel approach to happiness...

I’m in Banff, Canada for the holidays writing a novel, or not writing a novel, to be more accurate – for me, they’re often the same thing. So far today, I’ve made the bed – that took half an hour but it saved having to do it later. I ate my body weight in almonds, and then it was 11am, goodness me, and time for chocolate. I did sit at the desk to do some internet research then, which gave me an opportunity to learn that the weather today will be minus 26 after yesterday’s snow storm, and to watch the Parks Canada video of a bear not far from the Banff Centre where I’m staying (aren’t the bears supposed to be asleep by now?) eating a dead elk – the elk having gone through the ice on the river and drowned last weekend. Then I checked on baby George who’s taken a low profile since the Christening – nothing new with George, but you can always trawl through those Christening stories again because you never know what can be relevant to a novel. I soon stopped work and took up Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project which I’m reading when I’m not writing.


I’ve come to suspect that unlike Rubin, I prefer unhappiness to happiness, perhaps because of my dour Scottish ancestry, or perhaps because of the nature of my writing life which requires behaviours known to reduce happiness such as sitting in a room all day on your own eating almonds and chocolate. It’s a solitary life and research shows we’re happier when we commune with others, Rubin says.

Rubin trained as a lawyer and then herself became a writer which may not be a route to happiness for everyone – finishing a task is another one of the things that makes us happier and I haven’t finished much today other than the bed and the chocolate. But Rubin is systematic in her pursuit of happiness, and you can’t fault that. Instead of vague ideas of what might make a person happier, she identifies spheres of life where she could do things differently and therefore increase her happiness, based on research. Social relationships make us happy, so Rubin works on her marriage, her parenting and her friendships. She adds being organised, although, she admits, no happiness guru suggests being neat will make you happy – it’s one of those things we just know. She finishes tasks that have been on the to-do list, and gaily reorganises her own and friends’ closets. She also spends money and reflects on eternity, both of which have potential to increase happiness, Rubin says. Rubin ends by telling us she’s more happy at the end of her project but I already know she is, because she finished the book.

The novel I’m working on is my fifth, and I have quite a lot of experience not writing novels, which takes nearly as much effort as writing them. I shared some wisdom a few weeks ago about the value of napping to the creative process. But there’s another thing you need to do to be a writer. You need to write. US Zen Buddhist and creative writing teacher Gail Sher offers Four Noble Truths About Writing. I can never remember the other three but the first noble truth is that writers write. Writers write, they move a pen across the page, Mary-Rose, or tap on their keys. They don’t make the bed and munch their way through the Banff refrigerator. They don’t focus on the wakeful grizzly that’s out there, somewhere, and what it might eat next.

When the chocolate was all done today and I was spent with the internet, I had a nap, which gave me a great idea. I could work on my own happiness project for next year. I could design a spreadsheet with a focus for each month that will improve my happiness, that will improve me, just like Rubin. And meantime, while I’m waiting to get my happiness project underway, I could finish the novel. That could be my focus. Although the bed is looking pretty messy after that last nap.

Happy happiness to one and all, dear readers, and thanks for the lovely emails through the year which never fail to increase my happiness. 


Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 14 December 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!