Scarlett Thomas: “The Best Happiness Isn’t Instant, and You Can’t Buy It.”

Interview: Scarlett Thomas

Scarlett Thomas is an author of fiction, whose novels include The End of Mr. Y (Amazon, Bookshop), Bright Young Things (Amazon, Bookshop), and PopCo (Amazon), as well as the magical children’s book series Worldquake (Amazon, Bookshop). She is a professor of Creative Writing & Contemporary Fiction at the University of Kent.

I’m a huge fan of her novels. If you ask, “Which one should I read first?” it’s a tough choice. I think I’d go with PopCo.

I also really enjoyed her book about writing, Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories. (Amazon, Bookshop)

Her new book, 41-Love: A Memoir (Amazon, Bookshop) is available now, and because I so admire her work, I read it as soon as it hit the shelves. It’s the memoir of how in 2013, when she turned 41, she returned to playing tennis for the first time since she was a talented 14-year-old. (If you’d like to learn more, she gave an interesting interview in the New York Times about the memoir.)

I couldn’t wait to talk to Scarlett about happiness, habits, and aims.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Scarlett: I spend time thinking about my goals before I work out how to achieve them. I think it’s dangerous to chase after stuff that looks like all the shit in adverts or on Instagram without stopping to think, ‘Do I really want this?’

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That the best happiness isn’t instant, and you can’t buy it.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit – or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I gave up smoking in 2008. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. The key was sticking to my decision, even in moments I felt I might literally die.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

Upholder.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

Patriarchal capitalism tends to be a bit of a downer, tbh.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

Watching the Forks Over Knives documentary recently turned me from a junk food vegan into a wholefood vegan.

Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful?

I love Claire Weekes’s formulation against anxiety: Accept, face, float, let time pass.

Has a book ever changed your life – if so, which one and why?

The first time I read the Tao Te Ching was pretty incredible! (Amazon, Bookshop)

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