Boola Bos interview with Stephanie Harrison, author of New Happy

Author Q&A with Stephanie Harrison: Getting Happiness Right in a World That's Got It Wrong

author interview mindset writing

Over here at Boola Bos HQ, a lot of great books on health, wellness, and productivity, cross our transom every day. But when New Happy by Stephanie Harrison arrived, we were particularly excited.

If you’ve been following Boola Bos for awhile you’ll know that we are huge fans of Harrison’s work. Not a single week has gone by without us sharing some nugget of wisdom from Harrison’s wildly popular Instagram account here or on our own Instagram.

So when we learned we’d have the opportunity to chat with Harrison, we were (there is no other word) super-duper excited! And we were not disappointed.

As you’ll see below, Harrison has so much wisdom and shares it so generously. 

So, who’s this book for?

You should read New Happy if:

  • You want to be happier
  • You feel like no matter what you do, you’re never quite as happy or satisfied as you think you could be
  • You have a nagging sense that as a society we have lost our way but you can’t really articulate why
  • You want a practical guide on how you can feel better, and help others to feel better too
  • You suspect the key to happiness is not expensive retreats or juice cleanses or practising whatever the latest wellness trend is but something much simpler and more profound

With a background in positive psychology, Harrison has spent a decade drawing on the fields of sociology, philosophy, psychology, economics, anthropology, religion, education, biology, social work, art, literature, business, design, and politics, as well as her own personal experiences to answer the question “How can we find lasting happiness?”

From this interdisciplinary research, Harrison has codified a new framework which posits that the dominant mode of thinking about the pursuit of happiness is not only all wrong but is actually making us unhappier.

In her wide-ranging research across disciplines and traditions, Harrison found two threads that appeared time and again. And it is within those two threads, she believes, that the not-so-secret key to happiness lies. 

So what can we learn from sources as varied as Mary Shelley, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aristotle, and the Buddha? What can hundreds of studies in neuroscience, biology, sociology, and beyond tell us?

You need to be yourself, and you need to give of yourself.

Said another way, you will be much happier if you:

  1. Discover who you really are
  2. Use that knowledge (and your unique gifts that come with it) to help other people

In New Happy, Harrison delves into the counterintuitive secret to happiness and provides practical strategies on how to be happy.

If you read one book this year, we hope it will be this one. But short of that, we tried to glean as much of Harrison’s insight, expertise, and wisdom as possible in our conversation and, thankfully, she seemed happy to oblige ☺️

Check it out below!

BOOLA BOS: Writers experience a lot of rejection all throughout their career—from agents and editors to awards and funding bodies—it is inevitable. Can you recommend some ways a writer could experience those rejections without letting it affect them so much that they become miserable, unmotivated, overly self-critical or perhaps quit writing altogether?

STEPHANIE HARRISON: One of the most important practices for any creative person’s wellbeing is learning how to separate who they are from what they do (which includes the results or feedback that they get!).

I have a method that I teach called The Break-Up which helps you to do this. It helps you to accept yourself as you are and continue to work towards the creative goals that matter most to you. We have a tendency to evaluate ourselves and then use that evaluation to determine how worthy we are. So if you get rejected, you say to yourself: “I didn’t get a request for a full manuscript from an agent—I’m such a failure.” What I want you to do instead is to separate these two ideas and then affirm your worthiness. Say to yourself, “I didn’t get a request for a full manuscript. I’m worthy and acceptable and good, exactly as I am.”

Not only does this help you with your mental health, but research indicates that it also empowers you to continue working towards your goals in a healthy way. 

BB: We firmly believe in the importance of practicing self-compassion. For someone who is perhaps not used to being compassionate towards themselves, what's a good way to start?

SH: I am so happy you believe in this practice! Self-compassion is truly foreign for so many of us, all because of Old Happy culture which teaches us to treat ourselves cruelly. Here are two of my favorite ways to get started.

First, whenever something goes wrong or you make a mistake in your day, pay attention to the words that you use. Instead of beating yourself up, try to give yourself some grace. Everyone makes mistakes all of the time, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of or cruel to yourself over.

Second, whenever you have a win (no matter how small it is!) celebrate yourself. Give yourself the love that you deserve. Think more broadly beyond traditional ‘professional’ wins, too: perhaps you were very patient with your child, or you took a few minutes to stretch before work, or you paused before you reacted impulsively.

These are all wins and worthy of celebration!

BB: Writers need to be vulnerable and put themselves out there if they want to publish but many let a fear of failure stop them from pursuing their goals. Any advice for how to work with or overcome a fear of failure?

SH: There is some fascinating research done on the fear of failure. They’ve discovered that, nestled beneath this broad 'fear of failure', there are five specific sub-fears that affect people:

  • Fear of shame or embarrassment: "If I fail, this will be so embarrassing for me."
  • Fear of devaluing the way you see yourself: "If I fail, I won't be able to think of myself in the same way."
  • Fear of an uncertain future: "If I fail, I could ruin my future plans."
  • Fear that it will change the way that people see you: "If I fail, my friends won't want to hang out with me."
  • Fear of upsetting other people: "If I fail, my parents will be so disappointed in me."

We can use these fears as a framework. Take a look at this list and ask, which one of these sub-fears is currently affecting me most? From there, what would it look like to either:

  • Come up with a plan to mitigate it
  • Learn more about what you’re afraid of (which can make it more manageable)
  • Find a way to face that fear in a way that doesn’t feel too overwhelming (which can help you to overcome it)?

BB: Publishing moves slooowly and patience is a necessary skill for any writer. What are some ways that someone could learn how to become more patient?

SH: Patience is truly one of the most challenging virtues—but it’s so powerful and important, because everything good in life takes time. The best way to stick out these waiting times is to stop focusing so much on the end goal and start focusing on the joy that you can experience today.

I know this is easier said than done, but it will truly help your wellbeing. One of Old Happy’s big lies is that "you’ll be happy when you get there—when you achieve that goal." But that isn’t true at all. Happiness is much more about what you do on the journey, and the joy, growth, and happiness that can be found each and every day.

It’s helpful to turn our eyes away from that end goal and ask ourselves, “What would make today fulfilling, joyful, or interesting?” So, for example, if you’re stuck waiting to hear back on feedback about your work, start a new project that excites you that you can focus on.

By filling your days with these moments, it doesn’t feel like you’re waiting for something to happen to you—it feels like you’re in control of your life, which is a huge contributor to mental health. 

BB: In NEW HAPPY, you correctly state that how people typically behave on social media is both a result of, and a method of perpetuating outmoded ideas of what makes us happy: highlighting our possessions and achievements, striving to prove how exceptional we are, trying to amass as many followers as possible. Writers know they must be on social media if they want to grow their author career but many dislike how it makes them feel: it can stir up feelings of inadequacy, of feeling like they're not as successful as they should be, that they're somehow "behind". What are some ways you have found to grow a strong online presence (at time of pirinting @newhappyco has 897k followers) in a way that feels sustainable and that doesn't negatively impact your emotions?

SH: I used to have an extremely strong distaste for social media. I actually didn’t have a personal account on any platforms before starting The New Happy! What you describe here was the source of my dislike—it felt like all social media did was perpetuate Old Happy culture. When I set out to start sharing my ideas, I wanted to do it in a way that really embodied the New Happy values.

For me, that means focusing on being of service. Social media is the place where I can help other people by sharing what I know and what I have made. By always keeping it service-oriented, it helps me to avoid these pitfalls of feeling inadequate or comparing myself to others. It also has helped me to avoid burning out!

My best advice is to ignore the way that other people use social media and instead, ask yourself what would be authentic for you. If you saw social media as a way to share your unique gifts with the world, how would you use it? 

BB: If someone asked you how they could be happier and you could only give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

SH: Help people—that’s the secret to true happiness.

New Happy is available from TarcherPerigee (Penguin Random House) as of May 14, 2024. You can order it at our page. Purchasing books through supports authors, indie bookstores, and small businesses. Win-win-win!

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