Comedian Paula Poundstone claims she has found the secret to happiness.
“I have really bad news for everyone,” Poundstone said on Morning Shift. “I think that the answer is what you were always told, which is exercise, regular sleep, some healthy eating.”
She added, “I hate all these ideas by the way.”
Poundstone, a frequent panelist on NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!, said it took her seven years to finish her new book, The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness. In it, she conducts experiments — like renting a Lamborghini and going backpacking with her daughter — to analyze how happy they make her feel.
“The question is in terms of happiness, what’s the shelf life of it?” she said.
Poundstone told Morning Shift host Jenn White what she learned. Below are highlights from their conversation.
On human interaction
Paula Poundstone: We are pack animals. And we don’t connect via screen devices. Screen devices are to human connection what Doritos are to nutrition. You could eat a whole bag of Doritos and not be hungry for anything else, but you have not given your body the fuel that it needs.
And in the same way, those kind of connections are not real connections. Those little things where you chat with a service person during the day … our brick-and-mortar stores go away and we just have a drone drop stuff off? It’s not a good idea. I think if you look back at The Jetsons, I don’t think George Jetson was that happy.
On renting a Lamborghini
Poundstone: The truth is, if there was nobody else in the world that needed taken care of or that needed a leg up, then driving a Lamborghini would be lots and lots of fun. But that is not the world that we live in. And everytime I hit the gas, I’m like, “Well that’s a month’s rent right there.” There’s just nothing about it that is a good idea. If you didn’t have any of those concerns, would it be fun? Sure. Probably. I’m not even a good driver, by the way, so I had to worry constantly that I was going to wreck the car.
On electronics addiction
Poundstone: I would’ve stopped writing a book and done something else if I had understood at the time what was happening, which is my son became a very-severe electronics addict. … I think the idea that there was such a thing as electronics addiction took me by surprise as it would anyone else. It’s not like I gave my son drugs or alcohol — I never would have done that — and, by the way, if he reached for those things, everyone around him would’ve said, “Hey, don’t do that.” … But this, not only are they encouraged to do it, but as a parent I couldn’t keep him away from it partly because the schools adopted it.
I think even for adults, no one thinks anymore. No one wonders or reflects. If you have a few minutes — I do it, too — you have your flat thing out. Everybody stares at it. I always say to people, “If Robert Frost had lived today, he would’ve written ‘Whose woods are these? I think I’ll Google it.’”
On finding the secret to happiness
Poundstone: I have really bad news for everyone. I think that the answer couldn’t be less romantic. I think that the answer is what you were always told, which is exercise, regular sleep, some healthy eating — I hate all these ideas by the way — but I do think a lot of it is a very physical. A lot of it is just plain science.
Having said that, I do recommend the occasional late-night viewing of an I Love Lucy with your kids. I do highly recommend volunteering and talking to one another.
I still volunteer at a nursing home. Partly, honestly, because I started it for the book, and it just didn’t seem right to leave because I got what I needed. And so I stayed. I volunteer two mornings a week for a couple hours at a place. I can’t tell you that I jump up every morning saying to myself, “Hey! Let’s get to work!” But I do find — just like exercising — after I do it, I’m like, “I’m really glad I did that.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Press the ‘play’ button above to hear the entire segment.