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Paula Poundstone's 'Totally Unscientific' Search For The Secret Of Happiness

You may know Paula Poundstone from the smash public radio hit other than this program: Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!

But she's also an accomplished author, now of two books — all the more an accomplishment because each took nearly a decade to write. Her latest is The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, and it's full of experiments Poundstone undertook to try to unlock the secrets happy people must surely know.

And of course, she says, her motivations were pure. "Don't tell anyone that I ever said this, but I was hoping that the publisher would pay for the things. Like, I could do all this fun stuff and somebody else would pay for it, because it's research on this book. Boy, I could not have been more wrong about that!"

Interview Highlights

On her different experiments

I did one thing where I got fit for a long time, I mean, several months, taking really grueling tae kwan do classes. I went backpacking for a few nights and days with my oldest daughter. Let's see, I spent a day hugging everyone I met. I rented a Lamborghini for a day. But there's a difference between enjoying something and something making you happy — the question was, when I left off doing whatever the thing was, what kind of umbrella did that leave me with for the inevitable rainstorm of life's difficulties that come sprinkled throughout every day?

On how she decided to do these things

... the truth, and it's such a dry horrible answer — drink water!

Some of them were suggested by other people. Each chapter is written as a science experiment — this one, me and my kids thought was surefire to be The One that was really gonna make us happy. My children and I, I never allowed them to watch television growing up, so we decided that we would try watching movies all day long, which was the most exotic thing we could think of for us. We argued and argued, plus my tailbone began to hurt.

On what made her the happiest

I don't think it comes in huge long stretches. And if it appears to, then you're probably daft. I think that the answer is very unromantic. I think that the answer is a lot of stuff that we kinda sorta knew, but were hoping wasn't true, which is exercise, good sleep habits. You know, I wish I could tell you that there was like a class that you took, and then you're all set. But the truth, and it's such a dry horrible answer — drink water!

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.