Anna Quindlen on the Secrets to Happiness

ByABC News
May 22, 2001, 6:16 PM

May 23 -- It is the time of year when influential people bestow their worldly wisdom to graduating classes across the country.

On Sunday at Yale, Sen. Hillary Clinton told students, "Pay attention to your hair, everyone else will." Then on Monday, at the same university, President Bush had encouragment for C-average students.

But one of the graduation speeches that has caused the biggest sensation was never given.

Two years ago, Villanova University asked author and Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen to deliver the commencement address. She declined, she says, when a group of conservative students threatened to demonstrate against her well-known liberal views. "I don't think you should have to walk through demonstrators to get to your college commencement."

Spread by E-mail

But the world was not deprived of Quindlen's wisdom. She e-mailed the speech to a Villanova graduate who was disappointed not to have heard it. It found its way onto the Internet and within a few months people everywhere were talking about it.

Quindlen expanded the speech into the book called A Short Guide to a Happy Life. The book became a best seller and more than a half a million copies are in print.

Though she has touched hundreds of thousands of readers, Quindlen says her book is a message to herself. She is reminding herself "that life is splendid and there isn't enough to go around."

One of her messages is that people should not confuse their lives and their work. "I think a lot of us are really invested in our work to the extent that it totally defines us." she says, "No man ever said on his deathbed, 'I wish I spent more time at the office.'"

"I show up. I listen. I try to laugh." This, she says, is part of getting the most out of life. Though it sounds like simple advice, she insists that it's hard work. "It's not easy at all, especially the showing up part." She says, "look at how so many of us communicate with each other, on the telephone, on e-mail, not as much face to face as we used to."