Penelope Trunk is one of the most interesting and provocative writers about career happiness—and happiness in general. (I think it’s almost impossible to untangle these two issues, but Penelope might disagree with me on that.) She wrote a terrific book, Brazen Careerist; she writes a very popular blog also called Brazen Careerist; and she’s the CEO of BrazenCareerist.com, an online community and consulting firm. The thing about Penelope is that, yes, she is brazen. She’s unusually honest about her views and her experiences (for example, she wrote a lot about going into marriage counseling), and unlike many highly opinionated people, she packs her writing with solid information and backs up her perspective.
…Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness or detracts a lot from their happiness?
I see a lot of bullshit around me. So I am sort of cynical about the discussion of happiness. I am not sure that I think the discussion of "Am I happy?" is productive. I think life is extremely difficult, for everyone, and that in order to get through life we have tricks for ourselves to continue the journey, and happiness is sort of a trick. I don’t think there is a lot of happiness in life. There is a lot of hopefulness and interest in how things unfold, and there are spurts of happiness. Sometimes I think that happiness is maybe not the most important part of a well-lived life. But I’m not sure.
Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy? And why?
Always the same. I have earned $300,000/year in NYC, and I have earned $45,000 a year. And there was no change. I have been married and divorced, and there was no change. I have had lots of friends and very few friends, and no change. I am generally upbeat and optimistic, and I am an optimizer. And nearly none of those things ever changes.
Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Yes. By reading the research and watching how it applies to my life. Right now I am consumed with the idea that one of the biggest impacts you can have on happiness levels is going from no sex to having regular sex with a regular partner. Working on that one. Forget daily gratitudes. Those don’t impact happiness nearly as much.