Since its inception, the Proust Questionnaire -- an unscientific but nonetheless illuminating personality test created in the salons of nineteenth-century Paris -- has shed light on the character traits and quirks of the many men and women who have completed it. Named after the most famous early figure to fill out the questionnaire, Marcel Proust, a similar version of the one he took now lives on the back page of Vanity Fair each month, providing a look into the minds of well-known writers, actors, politicians and other public figures.
"At Vanity Fair we’ve learned a thing or two about human nature through our years of fielding Proust replies," editor-in-chief Graydon Carter wrote in 2009. "If you’re surprised by the staggering level of honesty that occasionally graces our questionnaire page ... you’re not alone."
When answering the question "What is your idea of perfect happiness?" Proust himself, at the age of 20, answered, "I really haven’t the courage to say what it is." But some of our favorite women weren't afraid to speak their joy. From baked potatoes to the great outdoors to peace of mind, here are 16 incredible women's definitions of true happiness.
"A canoe, mixed sun and cloud, no deadlines in sight."
- Margaret Atwood
"A verdant landscape filled with beautiful animals of all kinds, harp music, cumulus clouds in a bright-blue sky, and happy people conversing pleasantly, sipping cold sake from homemade bamboo cups."
- Martha Stewart
"An empty house and a good book."
- Bette Midler
"A big loaded baked potato and a good book with time to eat it and read it."
- Dolly Parton
"Healthy, happy children. A wonderful, loving partner with whom to share my life."
- Danielle Steel
"Loud bar, good band, cold beer, ride home."
- Rachel Maddow
"Reading the Sunday Times on a sunny beach."
- Jill Abramson
"Getting to the point in life where I can accept that the truth is there is no perfect happiness."
- Mary Tyler Moore
"A glass of wine at sunset on Fire Island. / No homework."
- Tina Fey
"Being totally present and at peace in the moment -- and knowing that my children and grandchildren are all right."
- Jane Fonda
"Waking up in the morning."
- Lauren Bacall
"To sit by a clear river on a warm day in early July with the smell of cut grass in the air."
- Helen Mirren
"Laughter and peace of mind."
- Liza Minnelli
"Making a gourmet dinner with my husband, Tom, then just hanging out with our four children, their spouses, and our delightful grandchildren."
- Cathy Rigby
"Searching for it."
- Shirley MacLaine
"The absence of fear, and the recognition that we are all on this ship of fools together. We may in fact go to the big ship’s Art Deco bar and have a glass of champagne, toasting our foibles."
- Carly Simon