Is a happy writer an oxymoron?
by Sylvie Kurtz
The Happy Writer
Is a happy writer a myth? There’s an image of a writer that’s been floating around forever. He’s a tortured soul who writes alone in a garret, yet from that darkness flows brilliant prose that stirs the reader’s soul. Only after he’s dead, of course. No one appreciates him while he’s alive. To write well, a lot of people think, you need to have had a bad childhood or gone through some dark night of the soul.
I can tell you that dark night experiences don’t lead to being productive. In my case, it led to not writing for six years.
Research shows that happy people are more productive. And in this world where producing might mean being able to pay bills, the question begs, how does one become a happy writer?
Here are five science-based books that can help you get you to a happier state of being. The goal isn’t to be happy 100% of the time—that’s not realistic. We are humans having a human experience and that means feeling ups and downs. The goal is to reset the normal to a higher level and feel happier overall.
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky goes through research on how those who are happy get happy. She found that 50% of your happiness set point comes from your genetic makeup and 10% from your circumstances. The remaining 40% is within your power to change. She offers strategies and activities that will help raise your happiness set point. Most are easy and take little time. She even has a quiz that will let you know which activity will be most valuable for you.
Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a classic that I read when I first started writing a long time ago. If you’ve ever had the experience of writing in flow, you know it’s an amazing place. Csikszentmihalyi explains what flow is and how to get to that state more often. I don’t think I’m giving away a spoiler if I reveal that when you’re happy, it’s easier to find flow.
Mindset by Carol S. Dweck is a book I wished I’d come across when my kids were still young. Her research on mindset offers a fascinating insight on how our mind works to set us up for success or failure. A fixed mindset keeps you stuck, but a growth mindset makes you open and flexible. By training your mind to bend toward the growth mindset, you can change your internal editor’s talk from negative to supportive. When I don’t have that internal editor sitting on my shoulder, I can write faster and truer.
The next two books are what I call Kaizen books. They offer one small bite that’s easy to digest and apply to your life, allowing change to happen without pain.
Choose the Life You Want by Tal Ben-Shahar offers 101 ways to create your own road to happiness. The chapters are about two pages long, which makes them perfect to read right before going to bed or while waiting in the carpool lane or at the doctor’s office. There’s an explanation of a principle, a call to action and a story that illustrates the principle. That makes it easy to take small steps that can lead to great change in the long run.
Just One Thing by Rick Hanson has 52 principles—one for each week of a year. Each chapter is short, with mindfulness principles to ponder and practice over a whole week. This book also works on the law of small things. “If a practice is a hassle, most people (including me) are not going to do it,” Hanson writes. “It’s the law of little things: because of slowly accumulating changes in neural structure due to mental activity, lots of little things can wear down your well-being—and lots of little things can get you to a better place.”
Create New Neural Roads
With awareness, you can resculpt the neural pathways in your mind, deepening the more positive lanes and letting the negative ruts grow thick with weeds from disuse. That doesn’t mean you can’t access those darker emotions you need to create a rollercoaster experience for your reader. It means that you choose not to stay there after your writing session is over.
You can make a conscious choice to be happier. And a happier writer is more balanced, more productive and more creative. Now that’s a scientifically supported picture I want to live with!
View my Catalog of Books