Weekend Edition – The Power of Happy Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

What if “happy” comes first?

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness.

What about just “life, liberty, and happiness?”

There is a cultural misconception that happiness is a conditional state that depends on external factors.

  • I’ll be happy when I get the right job.
  • I’ll be happy when I meet my true love.
  • I’ll be happy when I can fit into a size six.
  • I’ll be happy when I’m published.

We mistakenly assume that we must jump through all kinds of hoops in order to “earn” happiness, and we routinely trade in-the-moment happiness for a maybe-sometime-in-the-future happiness that may or may not ever materialize.

We turn “being happy” into an If-Then statement to which there is no resolution, because each time we meet the conditions we’ve set, we immediately set new conditions. We move the goal line another ten yards out (to use an uncharacteristic sports metaphor).

I invite you to watch this excellent (and brief – only twelve minutes long) TedX talk by Shawn Achor, author of several books including The Happiness Factor. He shares some really intriguing revelations about how happiness affects our productivity and success … rather than productivity and success affecting (or creating) our happiness. I invite you to give him a listen, let it sink in, and think about how your assumptions about happiness might actually be handicapping your ability to be happy.

I’m also curious: how do you define happiness in relation to your writing?

What I’m Writing:

As this post goes live on Saturday morning, I will be prepping for an all-day writing session to work on a the piece I’ll be submitting for class critique next Tuesday. I’m unreasonably anxious about this.

I’ve had pieces “workshopped” before. I’m not really nervous about being on the proverbial hot seat. I welcome the opportunity to hear some honest feedback about my writing. I think what I’m finding most unsettling is that I haven’t (yet) got a strong story idea. As I mentioned in last week’s weekend edition, I have a number of story ideas milling around in my head, but none of them have stepped up to demand my full attention. The countdown is nearing zero, and I’m still waffling about which story I want to tell.

To help me get over this paralyzing indecision, I am going to treat this exercise as an experiment. I’m going to try to “play.” We did just such an exercise at the end of last week’s class and it was great fun. After spending some time analyzing all the ways that dialogue can “go awry,” we were tasked with writing a scene that included as many dialogue faux pas as possible. The results were not only hysterical, they were very informative. By forcing ourselves to do it wrong, we saw more clearly how to do it right. Pretty neat trick.

While I’m off figuring out what the hell I’m going to write, I thought I’d share a few pictures of the beautiful and oh-so-bookish Salem Athenaeum. I hope they put you in a writing kind of mood.


What I’m Reading:

book halloween treeThis week, perhaps inspired by our in-class focus on the short story form, I set aside my novels in favor of more bite-sized reading indulgences.

First, I listened to Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree evocatively read by Bronson Pinchot. Other than the books required by my high school language arts curriculum, I have not read much of Bradbury’s work. This story, however, will certainly be one that I listen to again. It also has me curious to read more of Bradbury’s short works.

The Halloween Tree is a sort of tour through the ages with a focus on the origins of and different incarnations of our modern-day Halloween celebrations. Traveling through time and across continents, Bradbury weaves together the folklore of many different cultures. The language is beautiful. My favorite line described headstones in a graveyard as being “frosted by old moonlight.” Bradbury is also a master of creating tension and I often found myself almost holding my breath at different points in the story (and especially at the end).

I have recommended this story to my ten year-old daughter and hope that she will give it a listen before the 31st. Much more than a history lesson, The Halloween Tree is a story about embracing the darkness even as we flee towards the light. It’s just perfect for this time of year as the seasons draw us into the long, shadowed rest of winter.

kelly linkThe second piece I read was Flying Lessons by Kelly Link.  I searched this one out because our class instructor, KL Pereira, said in an online interview that it is one of her favorites . I was delighted to discover that the full story is available for free on Link’s website.

I haven’t read any other of Link’s work (yet), but I enjoyed this piece and will definitely give it a few re-reads in order to study it’s craft and structure. The story plays out in a series of short scenes, each with its own title. I would guess that the genre would be magical realism/fantasy (my favorite). Though the story takes place in a seemingly ordinary, fairly contemporary setting, there are strange things afoot and fantastical characters lurking just behind carefully constructed masks.

The opening is wonderful and was one of the “great beginnings” examples Pereira used in class:

1. Going to hell. Instructions and advice.

Listen, because I’m only going to do this once. You’ll have to get there by way of London. Take the overnight train from Waverly. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.

When you arrive at Kings Cross, go down into the Underground. Get on the Northern line. Sit in the last car. Speak to no one. Don’t fall asleep.

The Northern line stops at Angel, at London Bridge, at Elephant and Castle, Tooting Broadway. The last marked station is Morden: stay in your seat. Other passengers will remain with you in the car. Speak to no one.

These are some of the unlisted stations you will pass: Howling Green. Duke’s Pit. Sparrowkill. Stay in your seat. Don’t fall asleep.

How can you resist reading on?

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin happy monster

Wishing you happiness today – in your writing, your reading, and your living. Enjoy! 

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

24 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – The Power of Happy Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

  1. Happy Saturday! Good luck with the writing piece that you’ll be bringing to class. I’m sure you’ll be wonderful. 🙂 I’m new to WordPress, and I just wanted to tell you that I enjoyed this post. I would love to be at the Salem Athenaeum right now, too! Continue to be awesome. Peace to you.

    • Hello, QR, and welcome – to WordPress and to Live to Write – Write to Live.
      Thanks for the vote of confidence and for taking a moment to leave such a nice comment.
      Hope to see you again soon.

  2. This is a fantastic post. Happiness is a state of being that comes about when you maintain, good self esteem, a great attitude toward things and the right perspective of things. It’s a choice that we all have. We can make that choice each and every day

    • So true, so true. Easy to grasp intellectually … not always easy in practice, but a worthy goal. Thanks for being here. Always nice to “see” you.

  3. Jamie – your Saturday post is rapidly becoming the cherry on top of my week’s delicious sundae of stimulating blog reads 💥😍

    Where to begin?

    Naturally with a research ‘to do’!

    What did our Founders mean by the pursuit of happiness? Taken in its historical context, I’m guessing their emphasis was the ‘pursuit’, and ‘happiness’ had a different meaning for them. They were seeking freedom from tyranny, oppressive religious constraints, imposition of onerous taxation. Their right to ‘pursuit’ ie choose their own path free of tyrannical leaders/gov’t was fundamentally more basic than our first-world happiness pursuit today.

    Thus I don’t see (in their times) a corollation with todays if/then = happiness, and I don’t think that was the meaning in their context.

    In today’s context, however, I completely agree with all you say, and found Achor’s talk funny, interesting and absolutely on target with his 5 Bullet Points for daily practice.

    Kids are bombarded by today’s well-meaning but misguided parents that achievement and goal accomplishment are the key to happiness. Adults are bombarded with workplace ‘up the ladder’ prods and marketing messages about the next bigger, better, more expensive ‘thing/house’ that will make you happy.

    We need moire messages like:
    1 Happiness (momentary boost) vs contentment (steady appreciation)
    2. Stimulation vs serenity (what’s a healthy balance)
    3. The concept of ‘enough’ (law of diminishing returns) vis-a-vis material acculumulation

    While I agree with Achor’s approach, I always have trouble when ‘big thinkers’ talk about global ways of changing corporate thinking and reaching the masses to shape societal norms. But I do like the concreteness of his 5 steps.

    For me – as one insignificant individual – i read a book called Your Money or Your Life at the height of my career when I had fallen out of love with the daily grind, and my future was continuing to make lots of money but no longer finding meaning in the work. The book changed my thinking and gave me the courage to change my path. I’ve been grateful for that ‘find’ ever since.

    Love the Salem Atheneum – now on wish list to visit!

    The Halloween Tree is in my book list, and I find your blog recommendations first rate.

    What a treasure you are 💥

    • Sammy,

      Hello! Wow. Love your post and very flattered at being called “the cherry on top.” 🙂

      TKS for the research and historical context. And thanks also for calling out the difference between “happiness” and “contentment.” It’s such an important distinction and one that few people seem able to perceive.

      And I’m definitely going to check out “Your Money or Your Life.” I think I’ve heard of that. You’re mention of it tells me perhaps it’s time to give it a read.

      TKS so much. I hope you do get to visit the Salem Athenaeum and I hope you enjoy The Halloween Tree – both are wonderful.

      Have a great week. Thanks so much for being here!

  4. Hi Jamie. I’m so happy it’s Saturday, and you posted your blog. I can feel your special anxiety about work shopping your story. I always start with that insane hope it will be finally be the one, perfection, and steeling myself for disappointment at finding out it’s not, telling myself it will be for my own good, and trying to make myself believe it.

    And your posting filter words was brilliant. I try to write in Third Person limited, but never know how much distance to put between readers and my characters. Now that I have lists of filter words, I can scour my WIP and take them out.

    Thank you,


    • Hello, Silent.
      You describe the roller coaster ride of submitting for workshopping perfectly. We vacillate wildly between extreme confidence and abject fear. One minute, you’re sure you’re going to blow everyone’s socks off, and the next you’re looking for a way out of the commitment.

      I also found that bit on filter words SO helpful. It’s amazing what a big difference all these little details can make. I suppose this is why writing is called a “craft” more often than an “art.”

      Thanks for being here. Hope to see you next week! 🙂

  5. Absolutely adore your writing! Thank you for this incredible piece of writing. It is very insightful and gives such a great outlook, especially for those who do not enjoy their job and how they can change for happiness. Life is truly a pursuit of happiness in the midst of all the chaos in our world today.

  6. First time I have read your blog and I loved it. I would love to be able to spend an entire Saturday (or any day for that matter) in total peace, with beautiful surroundings and simply write. So instead i will grab moments where I can can and indulge in my passion for writing. Good luck with your piece.

    • LOL – Well, wait until next week and you’ll find out how my “entire Saturday in total peace” actually turned out. 😉

      Ever the adventure. We must learn to adapt.

      Grab those moments – they add up to hours.
      Good luck!

  7. Jamie, I’m living vicariously through you as you go through this course/workshop on fiction. Somehow I missed this post from last Saturday. I’ve been wanting to take some courses, but my life is just too busy at this stage. I use my commute time every day to think through the various elements of my own stories, lately I’ve been very stumped on several of them. I would love to read whatever you came up with. I’ve been looking for opportunities to converse about the problems encounter as writers and it seems that the blogosphere is my only chance right now. Happy Saturday!

    • Happy to have you along on the journey, Gene. 🙂
      I know all about being too busy. I’m definitely too busy for this class right now. In fact, I had to have a rather lengthy conversation with my 10 year-old daughter about that topic last night. BUT … even though I am too busy, I’m doing it anyway. For me, being forced to make the time was really the only way I was going to get reengaged with my fiction writing. I knew that about myself, so I took the necessary steps. And, although the sacrifice of “work time” is a tough one, I’m glad I did.

      The craft of writing is endlessly fascinating to me and I’m so excited to have time with my classmates to dig into various elements – POV, structure, context, characterization, etc. LOVE that part of the learning experience.

      I’ll be sharing more about my story development in this Saturday’s post and look forward to hearing more about your challenges and solutions.

      Take care!

  8. Pingback: Friday Fun – Favorite Scary Read | Live to Write – Write to Live

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