Interview with happiness journalist and editor, Kira Newman

Kira Newman Happiness Journalist Editor Greater Good

Follow Kira at @KiraMNewman.

What do you do?
I am the managing editor at Greater Good magazine, based at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. We report on what’s called the science of a meaningful life— individual and social well-being, including mindfulness, empathy, gratitude, and forgiveness. I write and edit for the magazine.

How long have you been in this field for?
About four years in total. I’ve been at Greater Good for two years; before that, I was blogging about the science of happiness and created my own online course called the Year of Happy, which more than 1,000 students participated in. I started off my journalism career in the technology/entrepreneurship field, writing about startups and new apps.

What inspired you to pursue this career?
I was always interested in happiness and what makes a good life. Growing up, I had lots of conversations with my dad about these topics; when I was in college, I studied philosophy because I thought that’s where I would find the answers. After college, I discovered positive psychology—a whole area of research on happiness and well-being, and how to make our lives and our relationships better. I wanted to learn all about positive psychology to apply to my own life, and I wanted to share it with others through my writing.

What was the biggest hurdle in attaining your career goals?
I think my biggest hurdle was actually internal. I’m a planner, so I always like to know where I’m headed and how I’m going to get there. When I realized I wanted to move into psychology and happiness journalism, I wasn’t sure how that I would make that transition. It was a stressful time for me—there was a lot of uncertainty and a lot of doubt that I would even be able to break into the field. But I followed someone’s advice to just do the work I wanted to be doing even if no one was paying me for it; I blogged, I started an online course. That ended up being good advice, and it lead me to where I am today.

What do you like most about your work?
I think the best part is all the learning. A lot of my job is reading new books and new research studies that have come out; I’m constantly in touch with researchers and experts who are sharing their insights with the magazine. I feel like I’m on the cutting edge of one of the most important scientific fields. Plus, I get to apply the things I learn at work to my own life.

What do you find challenging about your work?
I do a lot of editing of people’s writing, including people who have far more advanced degrees than I do. And that’s a delicate process. As a writer myself, I know what it’s like to receive feedback—the criticism can feel very personal. So I’m always mindful of that as I’m editing. With experience, I’m learning to be a better editor—to convey feedback in the most productive way, to allow the writer to have a different voice than mine, to be confident in my editorial decisions.

If you weren’t an editor, what would you be?
Probably a linguist—I really loved studying linguistics in college. I enjoyed learning about the different sounds in languages, how language acquisition works, and how that relates to different parts of the brain. I only speak one foreign language—French—so I’d probably have to learn a few more as a linguist!

Name one hobby you have that’s not related to your work.
I’ve been a swing dancer for 12 years. It’s really fun. Swing music is upbeat and energetic, and it’s a really happy community of people. Everyone is very welcoming; you dance with whomever, and people ask strangers to dance. Swing dancing has always been a good way to get out of my head (and I spend a lot of time in my head).

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
The first thing I do in the morning is play with my cat, Cora. She sleeps with me pretty much every night. As soon as the humans wake up, though, she’s ready to go—purring and following me around the room, excited for breakfast. It’s a nice way to start the day.

And the last thing you do at night?
Usually, it’s some gratitude journaling. That was one of my New Year’s resolutions last year — to really commit to becoming more grateful. I have a journal where I write down three positive moments from the day, including good times with friends, little successes at work, or jokes with my partner. It’s a nice way to collect some happy memories.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you enjoy your work? 
8 out of 10