How to Be Happy: Be More Like Oprah

Sarah Treleaven will seek out someone who has gained wisdom and insight into how to live a happier, more fulfilling existence and she will get their best advice.

This Time: Robyn Okrant, a 35-year-old actress in Chicago, has decided to spend a year – which began on January 1 – following all of the advice that Oprah doles out in the hopes of “Living her best life.” Here, she discusses her resentment at having to buy an unnecessary fire pit, and what living as Oprah has taught her about being happy.

Q: Why did you decide to start this project?

A: I think it’s vitally important for women to question the sources of influence and persuasion in the media. We are inundated with get rich, get thin, and get married suggestions every time we turn on the TV or walk by the magazine rack. And sadly, we tend to judge ourselves against seemingly impossible standards. I thought I would investigate our relationship with the most influential figure in the media. We place Oprah on a pedestal and in turn, she dictates how she believes we might live our “best lives.” I think it was important for someone to put all this advice to the test. We wouldn’t take medicine before it had been tested thoroughly, so why not do the same when we’re handed the prescription to life?

Q: Were you unhappy with your life?

A: Not at all! I actually believe it’s because I was in such a good place emotionally that I could take this challenging project on.

Q: Why Oprah?

A: Because her lifestyle advice is holistic. There is no corner left unexplored by Oprah. From health, to spirituality, to finances, to relationships, to style, to entertainment, she has suggestions about every choice we might make.

Q: How has this affected your daily life? Are you shopping like Oprah, eating like Oprah, and dressing like Oprah?

A: Well, I’m not actually doing anything LIKE Oprah…I don’t have the finances or extensive staff for that! Plus, that woman works almost every waking hour. Certainly she’s wealthy beyond my imagination, but I wouldn’t want to lose out on the downtime I cherish in order to attain her financial status.

What I am doing is following Oprah’s advice precisely as she gives it on her show, in her magazines, and on her website. So, basically, if Oprah says jump, I say how high. As you might imagine, this makes for quite a long to-do list, so most of my time is spent completing a project, planning a project, or feeling guilty for not completing a project.

Q: When you were interviewed on NPR (National Public Radio), you mentioned that you were already drained – both mentally and financially. Can you elaborate?

A: Oprah is all-inclusive in her advice and I’ve allowed this strong, highly opinionated woman to lead me without question. I buy what she tells her audience they must have, I read, I cook, I exercise, I eat, I budget, I clean, I…I am exhausted! There’s too much to list here, but let’s just say there aren’t any areas of my life into which I haven’t allowed Oprah to seep.

Q: What does your family think? Your friends?

A: My family is terrific and they’ve been very supportive. I am so lucky that I’ve always been able to depend on them to encourage me in all my endeavors. They all read my blog and are very involved in my project. My friends are having a lot of fun with it – but in a way a sadistic child might enjoy watch an insect struggle with flypaper. I’m joking (sort of!) – they’re terrific and have helped me get through the times when I’m exhausted by this. This project has just confirmed for me how great a support system I have.

Q: What does your husband think of this experiment? Has it produced any discord? Brought you closer together?

A: I could not have a more patient husband but he said it has been challenging because it’s taken up a lot of my time – especially my free time, which he and I used to spend together. He believes we haven’t had many quiet, simple moments together since the project began. He knows it’s for a finite time (the project, not our marriage!) so he’s being very patient, but I’m sure he’s looking forward to the finish line. In some ways, it has brought us closer together – his pride in me makes me feel great. He’s so excited my project has garnered so much outside interest.

Q: What advice have you found most helpful?

A: I’ve gotten quite a bit of great information from the reading – especially from the work of Peter Walsh and Dr. Christiane Northup. I think Dr. Christiane Northrup is brilliant. Her writing style and knowledge were so empowering to me – reminding me that I need to be in charge of my own body and trust my intuition and look deeply to find the cause of certain symptoms. I’ve always involved alternative and eastern medicine into my healthcare and it was great to hear a doctor of western medicine endorsing those modalities as well.

I also got a lot out of Peter Walsh’s book, It’s All Too Much. I’m one of the last people you’d ever define as a neat freak, so it was great to have the practice of de-cluttering laid out in such a logical way. Walsh helped me to see cleaning up the chaos of my office and closets as a show of respect for myself and the items I’ve chosen to spend my money on. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s an aspect of his work that I treasure.

[Financial guru] Suze Orman’s work also fell into the same category as the aforementioned publications. They’re all about self-respect and gaining clarity. There is so much power to gain from specificity in one’s life!

Q: Has Oprah given any advice that you refuse to follow?

A: Nope – I’ve not refused any assignments. The most difficult one for me was to buy a fire pit I didn’t need at Lowe’s for $79. It seemed to me Oprah was only suggesting her audience buy one because the hardware chain is a sponsor of hers. I had some resentment over spending money on something she didn’t even really feel passionate about, but was just mentioned to lead more sales to one of her advertisers.

Q: Have you had any “aha!” moments since you started this project?

A: I have not had any aha! moments as of yet as a result of Oprah’s suggestions. I have learned that I really enjoy getting together with groups of my girlfriends, though. She’s big on advising that we gals get together for movies she enjoys. I had forgotten how fun it was to get together with a smart, funny, creative group of women. I will definitely keep that up once this project is over. The energy that’s created when we’re all together is too valuable to let go.

Q: Has the quality of your life improved since you started this project? What have you learned?

A: In many ways, my knowledge about myself is deepening and I’m also feeling my priorities fall into place even more securely than they were before. I’m having a lot of fun because I find every day interesting. That’s a huge gift. It’s something I want to perpetuate once this social experiment/performance art project is complete.

I’ve learned that I am happiest when life is at its most simple. The clothes, the accessories, the “must haves,” etc. just cloud my connection to what I find most valuable. My relationships are my most precious possession and the rest is just gilding. I also prefer to learn by my own trial and error, rather than have an outsider point out the path she feels is the one that leads to my “best life.” I really believe we’re all on an individual path of learning our entire lives, so to assume another human being has found all the answers, while they’re still learning, growing and changing on a daily basis, is just folly.

Q: Has it changed your perspective on what happiness means?

A: I am going to reserve judgment until the end of this year. I’ll check back and let you know. This experience has been so intense thus far, I can’t imagine I’ll end the project unchanged.