Nia Vardalos wrote and starred in one of the highest-ever grossing ($367 million) independent films of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for which she received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. But at the peak of her biggest career success she was in the midst of her greatest personal failure: ten years of grueling fertility treatments and adoption attempts had led only to heartbreak and exhaustion. And just when things looked completely hopeless, she and her husband, actor Ian Gomez, got word that they had finally been matched with a child: a three-year-old girl who was part of the American Foster Care system and legally freed – and available — for immediate adoption. Vardalos may not have become an overnight Hollywood success, but she and her husband became overnight parents, an experience she recently wrote about in Instant Mom, a New York Times bestseller. An alumnus of The Second City comedy theater, she also starred in and wrote Connie and Carla and I Hate Valentine’s Day, starred in My Life In Ruins, and co-wrote Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks. Born and raised in Canada, Vardalos lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their daughter, and many pets as she balances her acting and writing career with motherhood and adoption advocacy.
Nia, you experienced one of the greatest happiness-ironies in life: after MBFGW, you got to do things like meet the Queen of England (really) and carry the 2004 Olympic Torch through Manhattan (really). Tell us why fame, fortune, and massive career success failed to make you (completely) happy.
I don’t want to drop kick womankind in the cervix by suggesting we’re not whole until we procreate but during the above events I was in a yearning and epic quest for motherhood. Many of my girlfriends were happy and complete without children and I tried to accept that perhaps this was the intended path for me. Until I had to admit it just wasn’t making me happy. I met my daughter when she was almost three years old. When I saw her face, my first thought was “Oh, I found you.” I am now a bordering-on-nauseating-you gushingly smiley-faced mom of this delightful eight-year-old girl my husband and I were matched with via American Foster Care. Being her mom has made me truly happy.
You may have become an Instant Mom, but you didn’t write an Instant Book! Even though you resisted telling your story, are you happier now that you’ve shared it with so many people?
No. I feel naked and exposed! But I am getting used to it and it gives me a feeling of purpose to have written the book because I’m donating profits to get kids adopted worldwide. Also, the back of the book is twenty five pages on How To Adopt from all over the planet.
It’s been proven scientifically that doing good things for others makes us happier. How has spreading the word about Foster Care Adoption made you happier?
My skin cleared up and I lost ten pounds. Okay not really, but I do feel connected to strangers. I am now relieved I listened to my instincts and went back to being a fearless idiot by revealing the truth in this book.
Writers are always complaining about how much they hate writing. As Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” Do you agree?
When something I have written comes out of the printer – whether it is a script or the book — it’s warm as it shoots out and I like to hold it against my cheek as I gently assure myself that all writers hate writing but we love having written. And yes, I hate writing. But I do like hearing from readers what they have interpreted from my writing. It’s a nice feeling of connectedness to virtual strangers. But I still hate writing.
What makes you happier about being a mother?
I enjoy the life observations my daughter has. Recently we sold our home to be closer to her school. Los Angeles is a city where many people accept that driving is part of a school day. But the thought of putting my daughter on that bus for an hour ride there and back was unbearable for me. That’s two hours a day I would not see her. At this age, the cliche is true: time is fleeting. Every day there’s a new word, new growth and I want to be a witness to it all. So we sold our home, but didn’t find a house closer to the school by the time the sale closed. So we just put our furniture in storage, rented a small beach house and are now waiting for a home close to her school to come on the market. As we said goodbye to the house, we got into the car and my daughter turned to me with a sage old-world nod and murmured, “We’re off on our adventure.” I was touched by how kids are resilient and just roll with it.
What have you learned about being happier that you didn’t know when you were younger?
You can’t get through anything until you go through it.
If you could go back, what would advice would you give your younger-self about being happy?
Success won’t be fun unless you keep your same friends and family.
Not that being a New York Times bestselling author is such a big deal (kidding!), but what makes you happier about validation from the “Newspaper of Record?”
I like to make my husband say it as often as possible. “More coffee, New York Times Bestselling Author?”
What movie project made you the happiest?
My Big Fat Greek Wedding because I was allowed to be naive and simply enjoy making a movie, without an eye on marketing or profits.
Waking up in bed with my daughter firmly tucked into my armpit.
This article was originally published on Happier.com.