At age 10, if I was asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I answered, "Happy." Adults would look at me as if I had three heads. They'd laugh and say, "No, what do you want to be—a ballerina, an actress?" And again I would answer, "I want to be happy." Life was so much fun, I couldn't imagine any profession being more important than the feeling of bursting with exuberance.
I didn't understand that happiness is not as easy to hold on to as we age. A child laughs, experts say, about 400 times a day; adults, only 15 times. Where does the joy go?
As I grew up, raising a family while my career took off, I started feeling like a hamster in a cage. Have you ever seen one, running on its wheel, caught in a force field that it has created, a prisoner of its own pace, never stopping, never resting, going nowhere? Although people have often figured me for a zany, fun-loving free spirit from the roles I've played, I knew I needed to find a way to cultivate joy in my life.
Through that quest, I've come to believe that seeking happiness is not a frivolous pursuit. It's honorable and necessary. And most people forget even to think about it. That's why I decided to do a documentary called In Search of Joy, which I'm working on with producer Eileen Gregory. The film will examine different societies and ask why some experience more happiness than others. Another project I'm just starting is a Traveling Laughter exhibition that will go to museums and convention centers all over the country. My vision is to create a space where people can discover—through fun, hands-on, interactive technology—how joy and laughter change the body as well as the mind.
I do think that many of us end up looking for happiness in the wrong places. Jobs come and go, love affairs end, we can lose our money or fall seriously ill; eventually we die. My father used to tell me, "Goldie, when you feel too big for your britches, just go stand in front of that big ocean out there and feel how small you are." He was right.
Quieting my mind for 20 minutes a day through meditation, while being aware of life's cycles—including its ultimate end—has helped me focus on what truly brings joy. Now, every morning, I awaken feeling blessed to revisit that child who could laugh uncontrollably at the silly things, be trusting, be spontaneous—that girl who wanted only happiness and joy.