Woody Harrelson
Photo by Paul Wetherell

Woody Harrelson: “I have hypnotized myself”

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Short Profile

Name: Woodrow Tracy Harrelson
DOB: 23 July 1961
Place of birth: Midland, Texas, United States
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Harrelson, as an activist, are you hopeful for the next generation?

I think there are young people that are true leaders. It’s absolutely inspiring. That’s why I am hoping that finally a change happens where things like gun control and environmental issues are concerned. When the youth are the ones commenting on this, they are coming from a very pure perspective.

What do you mean?

It’s not connected to economics, it’s pure heart. You know, I showed a movie that I did at five colleges in the States, and I realized all those students who I met, what I found so great and reassuring, is that they haven’t developed this cynicism that creeps in as you get older and you are faced with all these disappointments. You naturally develop an almost self-protective cynicism as you get older!

“I think there is a lot to be said for an optimistic viewpoint — just to be positive.”

Is that something you’re trying to combat?

I do really try to be conscious of that and not be cynical. I think there is a lot to be said for an optimistic viewpoint — just to be positive. That’s what helps. It’s not that I am convincing myself to be positive, I just feel positively about things. I was hanging with one of the most brilliant guys that I know recently, that’s Matthew McConaughey, and he said something that really hit me. He said, “Cynicism is the worst disease of old age.” I forget how he put it exactly, maybe he called it the disease of aging. Now I don’t even have the damn quote right! (Laughs) Anyway, that is why I love hanging out with Matthew and people who aren’t cynical or sarcastic all the time!

Is it hard to find those people?

You just meet people. It’s how you discern who to hang out with of the people you meet. I meet people very easily — but making friends, that’s not so easily accomplished. To have someone you consider a friend is one of the most important things we have in our lives on an emotional basis. As a foundation for your life, friends and family are crucial. Pretty much everyone who has gone through a good bit of living, who has experienced a lot, in the end they can look back and say the most important thing is friends and family.

It is so true that it’s almost a cliché.

Absolutely. So to have someone become your friend is a big step, for sure. But I am one of those guys that once you are my friend, it’s very hard to get me to stop being your friend.

What else helps you to keep negative energy at bay?

This is not what a therapist would recommend but a lot of times I trick myself out of any kind of down or depressive moment. I recognize that I have hypnotized myself into this negative space and I do a trick to get out of it. But it’s no more palliative than a pill that a psychiatrist might prescribe.

What’s the trick?

You don’t sit and look at your own life and think about the things you are upset about. For me, I might just binge watch some show and then by the time I have watched four episodes, I am not even thinking about whatever it was that got me upset before. I try to just forget about it. Speaking to Matthew, he always likes to tell about one time he went through the same thing. He asked, “What do you do when you get all these things stacked up and they are really bothering you?” I said, “Just forget about it.” It’s like getting involved in an alternative life.

Has it always been that simple for you?

Well, looking back at when I was in New York, I was having a hard time getting a job, even just jobs to keep me afloat and pay the rent. I would get fired all the time! I sunk into a depression. And it was deep. One of the jobs I got was at Random House, I was a temp secretary because I could type although I might have fibbed a little on my ability… At the end of the day, they had this wall full of books, like Dickens and all these great classics, and they said you can take whatever you want. “Take whatever I want?” Well, I filled up a bin and dragged that all the way home. I couldn’t even lift it; it was so heavy. I just started reading and that slowly brought me out of my depression, almost more than anything.

Apparently you’ve also found Paramahansa Yogananda’s teachings to be very enlightening.

I am very inspired by Paramahansa Yogananda! The way I see it, in order to be happy, you have to be relaxed. In order to be relaxed, I do Yoga, exercise, meditate… Yogananda’s Kriya technique is one that I have tried to learn through teachers and people who practice it. But that’s more the style. I have a lot to learn! I have a hard time sitting and doing it, but once I do it, it’s usually pretty rewarding.

“It is still in my nature to fight but these days, I want to walk away from that.”

Would you say these philosophies have calmed you down?

I have really tried to address the way I deal with emotions like anger. I used to let people get me really mad. It’s not like it’s just their fault, it’s my fault obviously, but I have tried… I have done a lot better about getting really angry. That’s pretty rare — really rare. Anger tends to be an automatic response when someone is doing something really unjust. It’s not unusual to have that feeling, of course, but whether or not that develops into something personal…

That’s something that’s now under your control?

Well, it is still in my nature to fight if I feel someone is aggressing — not necessarily a physical fight, but an argument. It’s in my nature to stand my ground. But these days, I think I just want to walk away from that.