My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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In which my friend’s waitressing experience teaches me something about happiness.

CrowdedrestaurantA friend told me a story about the first summer she spent as a waitress.

Several times, she had tables of people who seemed really nice, with whom she had a great rapport, for whom she went the extra mile, and she’d think, “Wow, I’m going to get a great tip!”

And she wouldn’t.

Other times, she had tables of people who seemed indifferent or grouchy, and she’d think, “Wow, they’re going to stiff me.”

And they’d leave a generous tip.

She mentioned this observation to her manager. He said, “You’re only surprised because you’ve just started waitressing. You’ll see, almost always, people tip whatever they usually tip. They don’t tip more or less based on you and what you do.”

To me, this story seemed to contain two lessons.

First, although I feel like the center of the action, often I’m not. People aren’t adjusting everything they do based on me. I need to remember that in many cases, I’m not responsible for the reactions that I think I’m provoking.

Second, habit is important. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” A generous person makes a habit of generosity, a happy person makes a habit of happiness, a querulous person makes a habit of complaining. So I need to watch the habits I build.

(I love the way the Happiness Project has put me in the practice of finding moral lessons in casual anecdotes.)

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