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dollhouses & dreams As promised. Here I am. Back with more about the first Happier Hour. I don't know where to begin. I feel overwhelmed. Immersed. Buzzed. Jazzed. Humbled.


Yes, in my humble (or elitist) opinion, this wine/women/words thing seems to be a recipe for lasting smiles.

Wine. One measly hour before the party started, I realized something. I was dressed (distressed skinny jeans, nautical navy and white T, navy boyfriend blazer with gold buttons, outrageous yellow kicks, Flirt polish on nails and toes. Because you care. Right.) Anyway, something grave occurred to me: I had not bought a single bottle of wine. Not one. And this was meant to be a cocktail and conversation soiree, a gathering for wine and words. The fact that I had not ordered the booze made me smile because it was prime and hilarious evidence of my absentmindedness and general ineptitude, but also because it underscored for me that this was really about conversations/words/ideas. And it was. (Don't worry. Two cases of wine arrived and were promptly consumed!)

Women. More than sixty women arrived for the first Happier Hour. Husband, the only man (other than the two hunky caterers) braved the sea of estrogen. To be honest, I have imagined Happier Hours growing to include men. I am a product of a coed education; I like the idea of male voices in the mix. But over the course of the evening, several women approached me and told me how wonderful it was to be among just women, that it seemed to make everyone feel less self-conscious. A friend noted that by making it for women, there were no couples which facilitated mingling insofar as people weren't glued to their dates. Interesting.

Words. My apartment is not tiny - certainly by Manhattan standards - but that doesn't mean it comfortably held this crowd. It didn't. We were packed in here like happiness-seeking sardines. When the time came for the evening's "program," people perched wherever they could find an inch of space. I think there were at least twenty-five women on the floor. So, it was cozy. Comfortable or no, we all talked and talked. About things silly and serious. And when Gretchen began to speak, we were all captivated. She said so many interesting things about happiness, about the process of writing her book. She was witty and warm and wise.

And after saying a few words, she opened it up for questions. The questions were thoughtful and tricky and triggered a fascinating back-and-forth. Here's a sampling:

Can happiness and ambition coexist? Gretchen referred to a professor she once had who said that these two things cannot coexist because ambition entails being in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. Gretchen acknowledged that feeling simultaneously ambitious and happy can be a real challenge, but suggested that it is possible and involves focusing on process instead of just results. She alluded to something called "the arrival fallacy," that belief that once we arrive somewhere or achieve something, we will be happy. Often, once we arrive at our imagined destination, we are not as happy as we thought we would be.

Would you still be happy if your book flopped? Leave it to superstar New York Times reporter Louise Story to ask this tough one. After emphasizing the importance of enjoying the processes of our lives, not just the successes of them, Gretchen was put on the spot. Would she be smiling today if here wonderful book had made no literary splash? Gretchen said that she had so much fun creating the book and doing her happiness project that she was much happier than before she started these things. But. She did admit that she would be disappointed if no one bought her book.

What do you tell your children about happiness? Maybe it is because I am knee-deep in rookie parenting, but this one grabbed me. Gretchen acknowledged that when most parents are asked what they want for their kids, the parents respond that they want their kids "to be happy." But what does this mean? Gretchen said that she learned that this meant (1) supporting risk; and (2) Getting out of the way. Most parents think that the best thing they can do for their kids is to offer security, but Gretchen notes that children who are allowed to take risks are the most happy. (Gretchen notes how supportive her own parents were when she decided to abandon her illustrious law career to write.)

Gretchen also implored us parents to get out of our kids' way, to let them spend their time doing what they love, rather than hovering over and trying to enrich them at all times. She said something which I cannot shake now two days later. She said that the people she knows who are happiest in their adult lives are pretty much doing what they were doing when they were ten. One friend used to watch endless television as a child and now he is a television writer. Another friend played with dollhouses much past the point of "social appropriateness" and is now an interior decorator.

This Dollhouse Hypothesis (she does not call it this) is compelling to me as a person and professional and parent. As a person, it means that we all already have the raw materials for well-being within us. That we have clues to idiosyncratic happiness in our childhoods. As a professional, it means that we are not all supposed to be following the same path. Each of us has a different proverbial dollhouse and life to play with, tinkering its contents, rearranging its cosmic furniture. As a parent, it means that it is good not to schedule every minute of my girls' days. It means that space is good, that one of the best things I can do is let my girls become the people they will become.

Anyway, I am getting up there in words because that is what happens when I get excited and let my fingers fly. But the takeaway here is that it is good to think and to talk and to ask. It is good to dream. It is good to have scores of interesting women under one's roof sipping wine and words from time to time.

It is good to take the time to imagine one's childhood dollhouse, real or metaphorical. What did it look like? What went on in that little world? When the little people perched on diminutive arm chairs in the boxy little rooms, what did they talk about? When they slept in those itty-bitty beds at night, what did they dream about?


  • Do you feel less self-conscious around members of your own sex?
  • Do you think happiness and ambition are at odds?
  • Would you be happy if you never felt true "success" in life? Is subjective enjoyment of the process of moving towards our goals "enough" or do we need some measure of objective achievement to be happy?
  • Do you believe that parents should support risk-taking by their kids?
  • Are you most happy doing what you were doing at age ten? What were you doing at age ten?
  • Did you have a dollhouse when you were little?
  • Was the fact that I wasn't particularly fond of playing with my dollhouse a conspicuous and early sign of my lack of domesticity? :)

*Leave a comment here between now and 6am tomorrow (3/26/10) for a chance to win an early copy of LIFE AFTER YES. Yesterday's winner of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT was... Jessica!*


Writing about happiness and homes, dreams and dollhouses made me think of two posts I've read recently and love. And the posts are written by sisters! Speaking of sisters, Sister C was able to attend on Tuesday night and she and her college best friend stayed late chatting, sipping, and scarfing leftover cocktail sandwiches with me which contributed nicely to my Happiness Hangover. But enough about me! Check out: 

You Can Never Go Home by Gale of Ten Dollar Thoughts; and

A Lost Art by Anne of Life in Pencil

Full of Shiitake

Happiness Hangover