EXPERIMENTS IN HAPPINESS
Paula Poundstone took action by putting both her not-so-Olympic body and sharp observational wit to the test in her get-happy book. The key finding in her seven-year, hands-on joy quest? “The truth is,” she notes, “the only thing that really makes people happy is ping-pong.”
She’s joking, of course. At least in part: Her tome’s new paperback edition adds table tennis to her lineup of 14 get-happy experiments—which include getting organized, getting quiet, getting earthy, and getting warm and fuzzy—that the sometimes cheeky comic earnestly undertook. “Ping-pong did make me happy,” she says. And a day-long tournament kept her so, even as she embarked on “a horrible errand having to do with family drama that night. I literally went from playing ping-pong to going to the airport, and I still had a bounce in my step until the morning.”
Sustainable happiness became the gold standard in her experiential pursuit. “It wasn’t a matter if I enjoyed doing something. It was a matter if that thing gave me an uplift or some sort of umbrella for the inevitable on-and-off rains of one’s daily life. That’s the real question,” says the wry panelist of NPR’s hit quiz show Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me. And the answers? “If I had thought about building to a crescendo of happiness, I would’ve saved the Get Fit experiment until the end.” To this day, in fact, she continues taking taekwondo.
Engaging her heart via real-life interactions has kept her light on her feet with umbrella in hand, at times like a Mary Poppins for seniors. Two years after wrapping her Get Over Here and Help experiment, the author still volunteers twice weekly at a nursing home—in part as a tribute to a lively but lonely, and, sadly, now deceased, resident whose fun and funny ways she chronicles in her book. “Everyone deserves to have somebody that you look forward to seeing and that remembers you,” Poundstone says. And as she keeps giving, she still receives. “I feel better every single time I visit. Something always happens that I’m not expecting—a connection.”
At times, the path to bliss takes creative experimentation. Poundstone was her own glee-hunting guinea pig, finding activities to put her on the path to those feel-good feelings.