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

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It’s January 1, 2008! Make a happiness-project resolution now!

Times_squareAs I’ve been working on my Happiness Project, people keep asking me, “Well, can you really make yourself happier?”

And when I say that YES, I absolutely have made myself happier, they ask, “Was it hard to do?”

And the answer to that is NO. But also YES.

I’ve been surprised by the dramatic happiness boost I’ve gotten from making very small shifts in behavior. I didn’t have to make radical changes in my life to make myself much happier. Little things made a huge difference.

So in that sense, it was easy.

But I did have to put some THOUGHT into what I wanted to change (it wasn’t always apparent what needed to be done) and I needed to STICK to my resolutions. This wasn’t exactly difficult, but it took attention and persistence.

That’s why I think doing my monthly written resolution charts really helped me. Each month, I have a special focus (family, marriage, work, leisure, friends, spirituality, attitude, energy, etc.) and several resolutions meant to help me make progress.

Now that I’ve worked through the entire year, I review all twelve charts every day, and I score myself on any applicable resolution.

My resolutions continue to evolve. I didn’t always realize quite what my resolution should be. I’ve added more specific resolutions and swapped out resolutions that didn’t work. I hit on two of my favorite resolutions, “Keep a one-sentence journal” and “Make three friends” when I was well into the process.

Some resolutions were only good for one month. For example, I wrote a novel in a month only for one month. So now I don’t need to keep track of that resolution.

I love charts. They keep resolutions fresh in my mind, they keep me accountable, they allow me to give myself the gold stars I crave, they give me a sense of growth – but most important is the constant review. I backslide often, and when I don’t review my charts, I backslide much more quickly. I’ve seen this happen again and again.

So consider making a chart! If you’d like to see mine, to use as an example, just email me. I get a HUGE amount of spam, though, so I’m going to encrypt my email address here: grubin – [now put in the usual symbol] – gretchenrubin [now add the most common end-part]. Or you can look in the left-hand column of my blog to get my email address if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.

If making a chart doesn’t appeal to you, check out Joe’s Goals or 43 Things.

Another approach, which my sister follows, is to give an entire year a theme. For example, one of her years was the Year of Hot Wheels. She and I are both fearful drivers, but it made much more of a difference in her life, given that I live in New York City and she lives in L.A. – in the Year of Hot Wheels, she bought a car and started to drive (three years after she’d moved to L.A!). The next year was Hot Body. 2007 was her Year of Free Time, and she’d done absolutely nothing in furtherance of that goal until the recent writers’ strike made her perfectly compliant with her year’s resolution.

Another friend of mine also uses themed years. I haven’t heard what he’s had for the past several years, but if I remember correctly, he had Dark ‘96, Network ’97, Fame ’98.

Everyone’s Happiness Project will look different from everyone else’s. You may want to make one resolution; you may want to make fifty. But really take the time to decide if there’s something that you can change for the better in your life.

A new year’s resolution may seem like a cliche, but I think it can absolutely pay off in happiness terms. IF you can keep up with it. Tomorrow I’ll post some tips for keeping your resolutions.

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A friend told me about KarmaTube, a site that harnesses the “power of video and the internet to demonstrate and multiply acts of compassion, generosity and selflessness.” Just my kind of thing! It’s interesting — there has really been a burgeoning of sites dedicated to bringing such stories to people’s attention — I’m thinking of sites like Gimundo and HumanKind, for example.

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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.