Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hannah's Guide to Eternal Happiness (Part One)

I worked for Yale admissions all four years and have advised thousands of nervous prefrosh about everything from med school requirements to fire safety regulations (apparently his biggest fear was being burned alive...gotta love those fresh-faced, well-adjusted Yalies....)

But after a while I realized that these kids were not asking me how many sweaters to bring New Haven, how many APs to take, and what acapella rush is like because of their love of sweaters, standardized testing, and public humiliation. It was because they were, like any kid about to enter college, freaked out.

But even if they come to Yale armed with those answers (a shitload, a shitload, and a load of shit) and more, I realized they wouldn't really be any better off. Logistics are what overachievers excel at, and those kids don't need me telling them that New Haven is cold unless they're retarded *oops* I mean recruited athletes. So I started to cut through the bull and tell them the things that I didn't think they'd be able to find in their bluebooks. And the more I talked the more I realized how many of us who are awesome at SATs and internships and auditions and elections are surprisingly lacking in something most butt-sniffing dogs are constantly capable of- Actually Being Truly Happy.

So I've sorted my thoughts into a few chunks, this being the first. 

HANNAH'S (slightly hypocritical)*

1. The Voice
If you are like me, or if you are even slightly more interesting than unbuttered toast, you have some form of The Voice. The Voice sounds a whole lot like you except that The Voice is a dick. The Voice takes great pleasure in saying helpful things like this:

"You are never going to finish ____ you incompetent lazy baboon. Go eat Mars Bars and forget your woefully pathetic _____ abilities in the mindless abyss of reality television. You will never amount to anything."

"Wow. This idea sucks more balls than 1. Paris Hilton and Liberace at a ball sucking competition and 2. A sweatshop full of cute asian girls who are only fed that tapioca-ball bubble tea and 3.a powerball lotto machine combined. To review: this idea, and by extension you, suck."

"Holy shit this is a disaster! Everything is horrible and it's only getting worse! Bail out now."

the one that I'm sure all you Yalies in the audience will be familiar with:

"That's not good enough. Why do you even bother? You could do so much better."

and the wonderfully uplifting:

"Nobody loves you and you have no friends. That annoying habit you secretly fear someone could hate you for is only one of the thousands of reasons that everyone hates you."

The Voice insists that it's The Voice and not you're awesomeness that makes you a successful person. "Without me you'd be a crack addicted loser" The Voice declares. But just for kicks, let's think of The Voice as if it were a voice outside your head instead of inside for a moment.

Imagine if you had someone hanging around you pretty much all the time who shouted about what a failure you were, and told you you were ugly and unworthy, and insisted that all your dreams are laughable delusions because you're such a talentless slob. 

If I were you, I'd punch that person in the face. And I hope you would too.

And let's remind ourselves that on some days we inflict that kind of battering on ourselves hour after painful hour with the expectation that we're being realists. It's game time. Nose to the grindstone. Tough love. 

That's bullshit.

People tell us it's good to be motivated and to give yourself deadlines. We assume this means being hard on yourself. But you and I both know that you're going to reach the finishline much faster if someone is cheering you on even when you fall down instead of taking the opportunity to pour bees on your head and smack you around with 2x4.

Let's be logical- if you're like me, and you err on the side of perfectionism, you do not need The Voice telling you that you're doing a terrible lazy uncreative mediocre job. You'll get it done faster and it'll be more pleasant if you just stay positive and wait to critique yourself until the end.

In fact, doing something creative like writing, and something more critical like editing, uses entirely different parts of the brain. Doing and criticizing is like simultaneously trying to tweek and analyze the exact decibel frequency of the aria you are trying to perform with passionate emotion- it's gunna trip you up.

So... what to do?

First thing's first. Identify it. The Voice is super sneaky and, as I said before, sounds exactly like you. It also knows everything there is to know about you, every icky awful cringe-worthy detail, so it has a pretty big arsenal of insults to draw from. Don't let it get to you. You're too important to waste time getting stamped on by some figment of your own imagination.

Secondly- Reason with it. Eventually you'll be able to hear the voice and tell it to shut the fuck up, but at first The Voice is not going to back down easily, so you'll have to be pugnacious and deal with feeling like a skitzo for a little while. It goes a little something like this:

"You suck."
"Glad to hear that you think that. But I'm busy right now."
"Ya, busy sucking"
"A helpful suggestion, but one which I know will only serve to make me feel crappy, which is ultimately going to hurt my productivity and quality of life, so I bid you good day sir."
"Who do you think you are you pretentious freak? This is why you have no friends."
"No, this is why you have no friends. You're negative and obsessive and if you talked to any of my friends the way you talked to me they would punch you in the face."

Thirdly- After working hard at the last one, you'll eventually have sussed out The Voice's tricks enough to smell The Voice like a distant but swiftly approaching hint of dog poo in the breeze, and just put it aside. It's not helpful. It's not enjoyable. You're not even going to dignify it with a conversation.


So here is my footnote about why my guide is *(slightly hypocritical) ...

This is hard.
This is really hard. It is 100% worthwhile but you will have to work at it constantly, especially if you, like me, have The Voice turned on so loud that sometimes it has edged out your own voice entirely. *I do not claim to have mastered this system.

But I do know that every day I use it, my life is happier, healthier, and more meaningful. I have more productivity, more joy, more fun, more energy to make friends, more confidence in myself, and more certainty in what I want to do with my life than ever before.

Sussing out The Voice is the most powerful gift I've ever given myself, and I hope you find it helpful. 

Check back for another Happiness Guide and How To Get Published installment.

Let me know if you have questions :)

Much Love and Light,


  1. "Just inside you're head," am I?

  2. Why did you write all of this.

  3. hi hannah,

    i got your email. did we know each other at yale?

  4. Rather than calling the Yale freshmen "retarded," maybe you were trying to say "fresh, out of the water."

  5. jack lyons, yes, of course. That is **** I ****June 18, 2011 at 6:52 PM

    Dear Hannah,
    Hey !
    I discovered you SOOOO by accident ; long story, more later perhaps.
    Anyhooooo, I've only had time to read a c'pl of lines of your column.
    what a sense of humor ! I laughed and told the Goddess how amused I was.
    Who is " The Goddess " ? My Much Better 1/2, of course, my wifeypooh and Kootchie Koooh.
    So, I must run now, but in a few days I pray that I shall time to read more of your material ; I suspect that this troubled world is a much better place because of you, Goddess Hannah.
    Jack Lyons,
    actor/ writer / philanthropist / adventurer/
    chess whiz / High Priest of B.S. / major babe and cupcake