I first discovered Valerie (and her books) after reading this fabulous guest post about writer happiness. She also writes amazing pieces for the Huffington Post, and her book HAPPINESS AS A SECOND LANGUAGE is currently available on Amazon.

If you didn’t grow up speaking Greek, you wouldn’t expect to leave home and instantly be fluent in it, would you? So why is it that we expect to suddenly be “fluent” in Happiness if Happiness wasn’t practiced in our homes? 

Happiness as a Second Language teaches happiness step-by-step, in the same manner as one would learn a new language. Each chapter builds on the concepts and exercises in the previous one, starting with the most basic lessons, progressing through the intermediate stages, and finally graduating to the more advanced concepts. Readers will learn how to introduce themselves as happy; how to count; how to use the days of the week, months of the year, and all the colors in the rainbow to be happy. Readers learn the verbs, nouns and adjectives of Happiness; Happiness in the present, past, future and “future uncertain” tense; how to overcome the influence of those who actively try to negate their happiness, and how to avoid the setbacks that happen when learning anything new.

Here are some questions I asked Valerie in December:

I love the concept for your book HAPPINESS AS A SECOND LANGUAGE. Where did the idea come from and how are readers responding to it?

My husband and I were going through a very difficult time.  We were struggling with fertility issues (including a successful IVF round that didn’t carry to term) and some other big losses and at one point he turned to me and asked how I could possible remain so happy.  Yes, there were days when I was balled up in bed, overcome by grief, but at my core I remained happy.  I had to.  What is the point of having all of that happen and be miserable all the time?  Anyhow, when he asked, my reply was, “I don’t know.  I’m just happy.  And it’s strange, it’s not even my native language.”  That sparked the idea that Happiness might be a foreign language that we need to learn, like Greek or French, and that sparked the idea for the book.  I’d never read a book on happiness (still haven’t), so to write this one, I studied language textbooks extensively.  I wanted to include all of the steps required to learn a whole new language.

That’s a fantastic way to look at it, especially after all you went through. I really enjoyed your recent post, “Writer Happiness”. Aside from what was already mentioned, what other challenges do you think writers have in achieving happiness? 

There is a great line about comparing ourselves to others that says, “You’re looking at someone else’s highlight reel and comparing it to your behind-the-scenes documentary.”  In other words, as writers, we see what everyone else is doing to succeed and beat ourselves up for not doing that, even when we’re successful.  The best thing we can do is set goals for ourselves (reasonable goals) and make a plan to reach those goals and follow it.  What anyone else is doing is irrelevant.  The other big frustration in writing is that sometimes success blesses people who maybe aren’t as talented as we’d expect them to be.  I’m being polite, but you get the point.  We all have to let that go.  Life’s not fair.  Some people will be luckier than you and others will be less lucky (in fact, if you’re reading this right now, I’d say there are at least 6 billion people on the planet less lucky than you), so just find five things every day to be happy about, and write on.

Very well put! You also have a lot of screenwriting experience. What do you like most about screenwriting as a medium, and what do you recommend to people wanting to try it?

What I like most about screenwriting is that it requires very few words.  I’m being totally serious.  I’m probably the only screenwriter who consistently has producers ask for more description.  The blanker the page, the happier I am.  If people want to be screenwriters, they need to read scripts.  Hundreds of them.  Read amazing scripts and red crappy scripts.  It’s easier now than ever to get your hands on them.  The former can be found on the Internet and for the latter, volunteer to judge a screenwriting contest.  You’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you will learn how to avoid simply by seeing them in script after script.  Don’t try to write your first screenplay until you’ve read at least 15 others first.  Also, there is a good chance (like 99.5%) that your first script will be crap.  I know mine was.  In fact, my first three scripts were complete garbage, but that’s fine.  Does anyone think the first building an architect designs is the Getty, or that the first song a composer writes is Fur Elise?  Get the crappy ones out of your system, don’t fall in love with them, and move on.  

Excellent advice. I also enjoyed your recent  article, “Four Ways to Have Happier Holidays.” If there was a fifth to add to your already awesome list, what would it be?

I don’t put this out there too much because everyone’s feelings are different, but for me personally, the best way to enjoy the holidays is to get outside myself and do something for someone else.  I love to bake and make treat packages for friends.  I also try to be a little more generous during this time of year, especially since so many people are struggling.  I try to keep ten singles in my purse and make sure that I give them away each week in December.  There’s always a bell ringer or a person in need in front of a store, or sometimes it’s just paying the toll for the person behind me, or buying their coffee.  I am in a much better mood the whole month because of this.

Such a great idea. What are some current projects you’re working on?

Working on the next books in the “…as a Second Language” series (Success, Parenting and Marriage) and planning to get all of those out this year.  Working on two screenplays that hopefully will get put into production soon, and two television shows in development, one with a major star attached, so we’ll see what happens with those.  I read a Facebook post today that included this quote: “If you chase two rabbits at once, you will not catch either,” so this year is also going to be about narrowing my focus and making the things I really want happen.  As a writer, it’s so tough to let things go that could be good for some aspect of the career or might generate income, but without clear, directed movement towards the main goal, I might find myself chasing too many rabbits and catching none.  Instead, I plan to feast regularly, just one bunny at a time.

To snag a copy of HAPPINESS AS A SECOND LANGUAGE, click the link below. And to find out more about Valerie, visit her website.

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