scientific proof that publishing a book won't make you happier

INTERN interacts with a lot of writers (some of them her friends) who have elaborate fantasies of rapture and eternal contentment following the acceptance for publication of their chapbook/short story collection/thinly-veiled college honors thesis.

But then, at her internship, INTERN interacts (or usually, overhears interactions) with writers who have book deals, but have deferred their rapture and eternal contentment to when their book sells 1,000,000 copies, or when they get interviewed about it on the Daily Show.

And yesterday when INTERN was dumping flour in the bread machine, she noticed that the rather humble bread machine cookbook she was using had sold over a million copies (and this, apparently, in 1991). INTERN was suddenly swamped in the feeling that her life was futile, and required two hours of high-octane pep-talking from Techie Boyfriend to come around. INTERN's book is slated to be published in May. The initial rapture-and-contentment has worn off, and now she is getting the jump on worrying about it.

INTERN has been bothered by this contradiction for a long time, and finally found an explanation for it: the hedonic treadmill. According to the hedonic treadmill theory, human happiness can only fluctuate so much before an internal recalibration occurs, and one returns to how happy or anxious one always was.

Over time, achievements that seemed huge and wondrous will shrink in importance until they seem like abject failure in comparison to the next desired achievement. Merely getting a book deal will seem like nothing compared to becoming a bestseller, or getting famous, or ghost-riding the whip on TV.

This is actually good news. It makes INTERN feel way better about life to know that she will always be approximately the same
degree of happy no matter what she does, and to think that Donna German, czar of bread machine cookbooks, is probably still feeling normal emotions rather than writhing in perpetual bliss.

INTERN is supposed to be signing and sending out stock declines right now, but she really wants to add a note to each one: don't worry about it! you are as happy now as you will ever be!

Comments

  1. I love your blog! I am only writing to let you know that I have a little inkling about Donna German and I will say she looks very happy in her pictures. It is such a small world. I do not know Donna, but she and her husband run a small publishing company in the town where I live. The website is
    http://www.sylvandellpublishing.com/index.php in case you'd like to investigate her happiness continuum.

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  2. It may be my heroic age but I learnt this lesson many years ago. Happiness lies in doing, succeeding and, importantly, failing. I love failing - it means I've got a reason to get up in the morning.

    There is a book in that; 'How to fail to make your dough rise and be happy'.

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  3. INTERN is wise; happiness comes from within.

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  4. INTERN's book is slated to be published in May.

    Squee! Congratulations, INTERN!

    May you have many, many more rapture-and-contentment moments--like acid flashbacks, but not as hard on your ability to type.

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  5. Ooh, what's your book called? And won't you at least get high in the chemical finish of the dust wrapper?

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  6. It's very true, you know. But very human. It's what makes us keep trying.

    Alas, there are other anxieties that will creep up on you as your release date approaches. I'm in the throes of pre-release purgatory right now.

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  7. Yeah, I sold my second book two months ago and I'm already in that "happy as I'll ever be" place. I might get happier when I get the check for the advance, but I think there will be few thrills after that. Recently someone asked me if I still get excited to see my book in stores and I didn't have the heart to tell her, "No."

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  8. Ha! Donna German has to wade through slush every day as the editor of Sylvan Dell. Pretty sure that rules out perpetual bliss, but you would know better than I, Intern.

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  9. I love your blog. I read almost all your posts (and never comment) But this one struck such a chord that I just had to tell you. It's spot-on!

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  10. How interesting (and slightly perplexing) it would be to see that note on the bottom of a rejection letter!

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  11. wow, INTERN had no idea Donna German was, like, a real person...well, obviously, she's real, but people know who she is! neato. if anyone sees her, say thanks for the sweet whole-wheat oatmeal bread recipe :)

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  12. Nope, I'm pretty sure that I'll be insanely happy if I ever get on the Daily Show. The hedonic treadmill pales in the face of the Jon Stewart effect. (*dreamy sigh*)

    Oh, and it drives me NUTS that we may never learn the title of your book, since you're trying to preserve your anonymity...

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  13. This post made me smile, though in five minutes, I'll be "myself" again. But I'm gonna ride this joy wave right up to the beach. :D

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  14. This post made me smile, though in five minutes, I'll be "myself" again. But I'm gonna ride this joy wave right up to the beach. :D

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  15. Don't be mean, give everyone a lipstick kiss, at least they'll feel happy for a little bit.

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  16. My book just launched last week, and you will DEFINITELY feel the worry/pleasure that goes with that situation! But your internal equilibrium will go back to normal pretty quickly. It's good to set our own happy-meter rather than have someone/something else set it for us.

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  17. INTERN, have you been reading Zen Shorts? After reading this post, I have a sudden urge to take tai chi and start calling my oldest child "Grasshoppah".

    Somebody get the INTERN a straight shot of espresso! STAT!

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  18. I have a theory about this phenomenon. If we were happy with the last thing we achieved, we wouldn't get anything else done. It's evolution, plain and simple. If our ancestors were completely fulfilled with one good harvest/hunt/raiding party, they would have starved the very next year.

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  19. They say the same thing about folks who have won the lottery. If they were happy before, they are happy after, and if they were miserable before, they will be miserable afterward. The really important stuff in life, like family and health and what have you is completely unrelated to whether or not your book is published or sells well.

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  20. But what if you've always been kinda unhappy? Will it never get any better?

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  21. Intern, I am a real, live, living person and am quite happy in life! (By the way, check out Google Alerts to see how I found this!). I am a firm believer that a person makes his or own happiness in life. I feel very blessed that the Bread Machine Cookbook series did so very well (and that the timing was right). For me, it was a time of rearing very young children and writing and it worked well. Yes, I do still bake bread but not as often...During bread testing days, I loaded 45 machines two or three times a day and gave a way LOTS of bread (the homeless shelter LOVED me!).
    My husband and I started a small children's book publishing company a few years ago with the proceeds of the bread machine cookbook money (and more). Children's books have always been a passion of mine.
    You are absolutely correct about one thing that I notice with our authors...signing the contract is not the end...it is really just the beginning. Yes, there is euphoria to get the contract (and probably a celebration!). Once the book is out, though, there's marketing, marketing, marketing: book signings, blogs, library visits, interviews, more signings and, oh yeah, don't forget to be working on your next book while doing all that. Authors that thrive and survive understand that it's a business and marketing is key!
    Congrats on the upcoming book! Donna

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  22. You are so sweet. I always look forward to your posts, and this one brought me out of lurking.

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  23. You may be as happy now as you will ever be, but all the same, if your book is as smart and witty as this blog is, it will be A Triumph. IF you tell all of us, in May, who you are and what it's called...

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  24. This is an awesome post. Just wanted to thank you for writing it. So true.

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  25. "You are as happy now as you ever will be." What wonderful advice. Even so, I look forward to the day when I do publish a book. I may dip down to normal again, but it will be a moment in time to remember forever.

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  26. I'm new to this bog but I love it! Thanks so much for posting.
    This post, in particular is awesome b/c my pb came out in March. I thought it was doing OK. It's in its second printing, the rights have been sold to China and Indonesia, and I'm currently under contract for a second one. Then I spoke to my agent who ran through all the Amazon sales averages and "recalibrated my happiness." So I'm back to being 25% nervous but 75% happy - which I think will be good enough.
    Best of luck with your book!!!

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  27. The Intern is young and has Much to Learn.

    The only reliable pleasure you will ever get from writing books is the pleasure you experience while you write them. If you aren't enjoying the process, save your energy and do something else.

    I've had a bestseller. For every person who was impressed there were two who were jealous and two hundred who read their last book 25 years ago and can't understand why anyone would waste time writing one.

    There are roughly 15 authors who make real money. All the rest, including a lot of "bestsellers" earn amounts so tiny the publishers keep their advances secret.

    I write because it would take a very expensive, time consuming intervention to stop me. I write when people pay me to do it, and I write when they don't. If I had been doing this for "validation" or, for that matter, real money, I'd have slit my wrists by now. Since I write because I love writing, I've had a very good life.

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  28. whoa...WHOA. Donna German—hello! INTERN put a batch of your zucchini bread in her bread machine this morning. she feels weirdly crazed to be hearing from you, and is happy to hear that you are having a good life! thanks for saying hello! rock on!

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  29. people who commented re: INTERN's book title: by May, INTERN will no longer be an intern, and might post the title. until then, lips are sealed!

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  30. Thanks for this pleasant surprise via Google Alert. (I work with Donna German, and it showed up this morning. LOVED this post.) Keep on truckin' and prepping for YOUR book launch. Can't wait to hear all about it. If you want PR input, drop me a line. AND don't forget, I would love to get a column from you for my blog!!!

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  31. Awesome post, INTERN! I will be linking to this one on my own blog, for sure.

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  32. Okay, that's the second time today I've randomly read about the hedonic treadmill, and I'd never heard of that theory before. Clearly, the universe (or the Internet) is trying to tell me something.

    Congrats on the book!

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  33. At least let us know what the title is when it comes out, therefore we can all *buy* it and thus see it on the best seller list. ;-)

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  34. INTERN, please don't stop blogging once your book comes out. I look forweird to hearing your comments on the industry. This is too precious for your hangers-onners.

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  35. Howdy INTERN! The hedonic treadmill theory makes perfect sense. One note for optimism - my basic happiness setting has gotten bumped up a few notches from what it was in my younger days. I have no idea why this is. But it's true.

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  36. I hope we get at least a little hint about your book, INTERN!

    Hey, look! I'm happier that the INTERN is releasing a book!!
    :)
    G.

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  37. "But what if you've always been kinda unhappy? Will it never get any better?"

    I thought this too (I have a history of depression), and I think the thing to remember is that this philosophy is referring to the ability of external, temporary things to change your level of happiness. It is certainly possible, with work and time and self evaluation (and for some of us, therapy and medication), to increase your average overall level of happiness. However, you shouldn't expect that events (like publishing that book or winning a million dollars or even meeting the person of your dreams) are going to make everything better overnight. The change has to come from you and it takes time.

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  38. Don't worry, INTERN! Judging by the amount of comments on your posts, you already have some folks who will buy (and probably love) your book.

    It's not every day an author has this many fans BEFORE he/she gets published!

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