Can you think of movie scenes in which someone does an exceptionally kind or generous act?

The other day, on the subject of “YOUR Happiness Project,” I posted about trying to cultivate an “area of refuge” for your mind – that is, when you feel yourself beginning to brood, wrench your thoughts away to think about happier subjects.

Along those lines, I’ve been making a list of scenes from movies where I felt a big jolt of pleasure at seeing someone perform some exceptionally kind or generous act – but I’m having trouble coming up with a lot of examples.

Off the top of my head, I thought of the scene in Boogie Nights when the main character, Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and his friend Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly) eagerly ask the porn producer (Burt Reynolds) if they could make a different kind of porn movie, with plot and character. Burt Reynolds pauses and reflects, then agrees to take a chance on their vision.

One reason I love Boogie Nights so much is that the setting – the porn industry – is such an unexpected context in which to see a working out of the questions “What is the nature of loving action?” “What is our responsibility to others?” “What does virtue look like?”

I also thought of the scene in Steel Magnolias, in the beauty shop, when the sick, pregnant daughter (Julia Roberts) tells her mother that she wants to cut off her beautiful hair, to make her life simpler. Her mother (Sally Fields) pauses and thinks, then answers, “I think that would be just precious.”

In both cases, it is in the pause before speech that grace descends. The audience sees that the answer could go either way – to the loving, generous response, or the hasty, thoughtless response. Very Flannery O’Connor-ish.

I’d love to have more examples, and I know there must be a million. Please post any great scenes that come to your mind – and the more widely known the movie, the better. There are a ton of examples from the movie After the Wedding, say, but not very many people have seen it.

I posed this question to the Happiness Project group on Facebook, and got a terrific list — not of transcendent scenes that I recognized, however, but rather of movies to rent! I think I’d only seen three or four of the movies people mentioned.

I had never thought of Groundhog Day (a movie I love) as a forced, inescapable Happiness Project, but that’s certainly what it is.

My number-one project for vacation is to rent Amelie.

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The main way that I find an “area of refuge” is to open up a book. I was very excited to discover Bookdwarf, a great, funny blog about books and bookworld news that captures the delight of reading and makes me want to read everything the writer recommends. A lot of people write about books in a way that I find interesting, but that doesn’t make me feel like reading what they’re discussing. Bookdwarf inspires me to make a list and head to the library.

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If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Wednesday: Twelve tips to avoid seeming like an arrogant, know-it-all jerk.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Twelve tips to avoid seeming like an arrogant, know-it-all jerk.

I’ve been doing thinking a lot about the qualities of pride and humility.

A lot of people go through the motions of being humble, but you really have to mean it. A few months ago, I sat next to a guy I didn’t know, and when I asked him what he did for a living, he said jokingly, “It’s too boring, let’s not talk about it.” But he didn’t offer up any other topics for conversation, but just waited for me to ask him leading questions. He probably thought he was being winningly self-deprecating, but instead, he was making me do all the conversational work. (Of course, it was my pride that made me annoyed by this.)

Humility is having consideration for others, appreciation for their views, curiosity about their lives, openness to correction and education by them, willingness to be interested and amused, a sense of deference, respect, and fellowship.

Here are some tips for showing humility:

1. Offer meaningful compliments: “You have a good memory,” “You obviously know a lot about this subject.” Empty, automatic compliments like “Great tie!” don’t count.

2. Give credit to others: “The team did all the work,” “Pat came up with this idea.” It’s pointless to begrudge others their due, because being generous with giving credit does NOT minimize your own contribution.

3. Ask questions and allow others to supply information. I’ve even seen some good leaders ask questions to which they knew the answers, merely to allow others the chance to demonstrate what they know. This is a challenge for me. I am a real know-it-all. It’s hard for me to ask for help, to say, “I don’t know” or keep quiet while others respond.

4. Admit error! It’s SO HARD to say “You were right, I was wrong” or “This was my fault,” but so important. Also, it’s a key to leadership. As my father once told me, “If you’ll take responsibility for failure, you’ll be given responsibility for decisions.”

5. Remember other people’s names and the details of their lives. How many times have you heard people complain that “So-and-so has met me five times, but never remembers me”? It hurts people’s feelings. Unfortunately, I have a terrible time with names, so I developed some coping strategies for dealing with that.

6. Call on others for their specific contributions: “Pat is our expert on that,” “Lee, what do you think?”

7. Laugh at yourself. Few things are as winning as people who are willing to poke fun at their own foibles. This doesn’t mean saying, “I’m so clueless” and waiting for everyone to cry, “Oh, no, you’re great!” It means honestly laughing at your idiosyncrasies and mistakes.

8. Refuse to take offense. Part of humility is not taking yourself too seriously and not getting your back up. Pride takes offense at an undermining comment, humility shrugs it off.

9. Teasing. One way of showing fellow feeling is teasing people – gently. People liked to be joshed, but not about anything sensitive.

10. Remember your limits. You’re just one person. You’re not infallible. It actually IS possible that you’re wrong.

11. Don’t be a bore. It’s pride to assume that others are as interested in the minutiae of your life as you are.

12. Be courteous to others, no matter who they are. William Lyon Phelps wrote, “The final test of a gentleman is his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him.”

The issue of humility is confusing, because “being humble” is often understood to mean that you think little of yourself, that you denigrate yourself.

But I’ve found, at least in my case, when I have a stronger sense of myself, I can more easily practice humility. Lack of self-confidence makes me prideful, insistent on my ideas, defensive, quick to anger. One of the least attractive personality combinations is arrogance mixed with insecurity.

C. S. Lewis wrote: “The more we have [pride] ourselves, the more we dislike it in others…if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, ‘How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?’”

My answer: I dislike it very much. That’s why I’m working on humility.

But I’ve found the best way to think about this issue is not to frame it in terms of pride or humility, but rather to “Be Gretchen” – to let go of arrogance and boastfulness, as well as defensiveness and insecurity.

Just to make matters more complicated, humility itself can be used as a tool of pride. In her fantastic book of essays, The Woman at the Washington Zoo, Marjorie Williams recounts an old story:

At a meeting of Moshe Dayan and Edward R. Murrow, Dayan repeatedly praised the newsman’s legendary broadcasts. Murrow humbly disclaimed the achievement. Finally, Dayan said, “Don’t be so modest. You’re not that good.”

Humility. A deep subject.

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I was a fan of Curt Rosengren’s blog, The Occupational Adventure, and now he has written an e-book based on a lot of the material he developed there, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work. It just came out, so I haven’t read it yet, but I’m really looking forward to seeing what he has to say.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

What Secret Truth of Life is illustrated in the movie Junebug? The Second Splendid Truth.

As a special surprise for me, the Big Man rented Junebug last night; he knows it’s one of my favorite movies.

We watched it for the first time last July, and I was struck by Happiness-Project-y it was. It’s all about the nature of happiness, and love, and many other things as well.

Seeing it for the second time was even better.

This time, I realized something I hadn’t, before. The happiness hero of the story is the pregnant daughter-in-law, Ashley. She doesn’t seem like she would be, but she is.

She overcomes her competitiveness and dislike. She takes the blame so her new sister-in-law doesn’t get in trouble. She responds cheerfully when people are rude to her. She is thankful, easily pleased, and trusting. She acts happy.

The Second Splendid Truth is that…
One of the best ways to make myself happy is to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy myself.

As a consequence, I have a duty to be happy, because my happiness is so important to other people’s happiness. That means, then, the duty to fake it when I don’t feel it.

Problem is (and I certainly fall into this trap), when you act happy, and people believe you are happy, you don’t get credit for being cheerful, enthusiastic, and energetic. People assume it’s coming easily. You’re taken for granted, and while sometimes people will be lifted by your happiness to become happier themselves (which is good), sometimes people will feed off your happiness as a cushion for their own unhappiness (which is bad).

The first time I saw the movie, I thought that Ashley is a simpleminded, sweet, friendly, lonely chatterbox.

But with the benefit of having seen the whole movie, this time I saw that Ashley is choosing to act happy. She’s also desperately unhappy.

But her happiness (partly real, partly faked) lifts up everyone in the movie. Everyone depends on it.

Oops. It just occurred to me that this post will mean nothing to folks who haven’t seen the movie. Sorry. I could go on and on…if you haven’t seen it, and you’re interested in happiness, you’ll love it.

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Oh, how I love Lifehacker. It makes me feel like I can learn to do anything, and do everything better.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

A friend’s email shows that just as it can be selfless to be selfish, it can be generous to ask for congratulations.

According to the Second Splendid Truth,
One of the best ways to make myself happy was to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy was to be happy myself.

It follows, then, that one way we can make other people happy is to share our own occasions for happiness.

I was struck by this yesterday, when I got the following email from a high-school friend. We were close during our childhoods, and although she lives in Switzerland now, and I haven’t seen or emailed with her in a few years, I still consider her a good friend.

I knew she’d been working on a novel, on and off, for years. Yesterday, this note, addressed to 36 people, arrived in my inbox:

Just have to send word out that tonight at 9:11pm, I joyfully typed into my novel the two most wonderful words ever paired up in the English language: The End. It’s 408 pages, (this draft, anyway), and God knows, it needs a lotta revision, and some exhaustive editing, but boy, does it feel great! Nearly five years on this one. Prayers to your God of choice most welcome as I now begin the industry tap dance.
Hope your day is shaping up equally fab. :-D

I was SO HAPPY to see this. I knew she’d been working on a novel for a long time. And now she’d done it. I sat in front of the computer with a big smile on my face, and I had a very happy start to my day.

But I think it was unusual to send out an email like that. I wouldn’t have sent it out. I would have worried that people would think I was self-centered, or boastful.

But that wasn’t the reaction I had to her email at all. I was so happy for her, and I felt honored that she’d allowed me to share in her moment of achievement.

It can be selfless to be selfish. It can also be generous to ask for congratulations.

I wrote to my friend to ask if I could reprint her email here, and also to ask her whether she’d hesitated before sending out that note.

She replied:

I admit I had a private moment of selfish squirreling of my joy last night and then thought how many times have I said to friends, oh you’ll hear all about it when I finally finish this thing… so before I over-thought myself into inaction, I just typed up that email. People really do want to hear about our (royal we, universal “our”) efforts and struggles and successes along the way. I genuinely believe that. And of course I hope it goes the distance, but regardless, I figure this stage is such fabulous fun, why the heck not.

Also, her email happened to remind me of one of my favorite passages in Virginia Woolf’s diaries, written when she finished The Waves (my favorite Woolf novel):

Anyhow it is done; & I have been sitting these 15 minutes in a state of glory, and calm, & some tears, thinking of Thoby [her brother] & if I could write Julian Thoby Stephen 1881-1906 on the first page. I suppose not.

These peak moments happen rarely, for all of us. It’s generous to share them with others.

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I missed this great post on Shifting Careers on managing time more efficiently, but caught up with it today. I especially agree with the point about maximizing your personal rhythms to get the most out of your day. Also, although I can’t swear to it, and I can’t find it right now, I’m pretty sure that studies show that most people are at peak mentally about three hours after they wake up. Maybe I should look for that study again, tomorrow morning around 11:00.

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Schopenhauer.

“To attain something desired is to discover how vain it is; and…though we live all our lives in expectation of better things, we often at the same time long regretfully for what is past. The present, on the other hand, is regarded as something quite temporary and serving only as the road to our goal. That is why most men discover when they look back on their life that they have the whole time been living ad interim, and are surprised to see that which they let go by so unregarded and unenjoyed was precisely their life, was precisely in expectation of which they lived.” –Schopenhauer

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New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed. Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.
If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.