Comedian Paula Poundstone, who brings her standup to Knight Theater Friday, spent seven years researching her new book, “The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness.” Her quest led her to fitness, Facebook and philanthropy – all of which she approached as experiments.
We spoke to Poundstone recently about what worked, what didn’t, and her not-quite-scientific new podcast “Live From the Poundstone Institute.”
Q. So what’s the secret to happiness?
A. Sadly, the answer is kind of unromantic. It’s kind of what we’re always told – get some exercise, for one thing. There are things that just biochemically release endorphins, and that’s helpful. There is something about being fit and exercising. I did not do a chapter on good sleep hygiene. I should’ve, because I’m sure that has a large bearing as well. I did something opposite in a way.
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Q. What was that?
A. Learning to use a computer. I went out and bought a laptop. I have a pretty disrupted sleep schedule. Once I started using a computer, using Facebook, I found myself up in the middle of the night checking the silly thing. The addictive qualities of all that stuff took hold pretty fast, and it definitely altered my sleep and took away from any ability it had to make me happy. Making contact with other human beings is something that gets sucked away by our obsession with electronics. I think most people think they’re unaffected. I think for anybody who goes near one of those things, there’ve been negative changes. Not necessarily devastating ones.
Q. So did you quit using social media after that experiment?
A. No, I didn’t. To some degree, it altered the science, the veracity of my experiment. The fitness experiment I did for months. Eventually, after I got a good bit of writing out of it, I moved on to the next experiment. I stopped (exercising) so we didn’t have bleed-over. For science, I stopped. Oddly, I didn’t pay any attention to what I didn’t stop. The first was the computer, once it was in my life. The second was volunteering. I still volunteer at the place from the book.
Q. Did you think it would turn you into a fitness nut?
A. I speculated (if I would) continue. ... Why given that I can say clearly that it makes me feel better, why won’t I do it on my own? ... I did lose weight. But as I suspected it returned with a vengeance.
Q. You also have a new podcast, Live From the Poundstone Institute. What’s the setup?
A. On (NPR’s) “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me” (where she’s a regular), for years now (host) Peter (Sagal) will cite these studies. They just found cats are the only animals that can forgive. He puts it out like someone saying, “Pass the butter.” I often have to say, “Where did that come from? Why would anyone do such a study?” In the podcast, I interview the scientists who do those studies. It’s a chance to laugh about it, but you learn stuff. The studied people are the real scientists who did the study. We even do our own in-house study each night, measuring the percentage of our audience who are asked a question on their way in. The information gets collated, so the Institute has a base of science.
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.
Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.