Tag Archives: myths

Do You Fall for Any of These Common Clutter-Clearing Myths?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day or List Day).
This Wednesday: Do you fall for any of these twelve myths about clutter?

This post is back by popular demand.

One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should. After all, in the context of a happy life, a crowded coat closet is trivial. And yet over and over, people tell me, and I certainly find this, myself, that creating order gives a huge boost in energy, cheer, and creativity.

But as much as most of us want to keep our home, office, car, etc. in reasonable order, it’s tough. Here’s a list of some myths of de-cluttering that make it harder to get rid of stuff.

Myths of Cluttering:
1. “I need to get organized.” No! Don’t get organized is your first step.

2. “I need to be hyper-organized.” I fully appreciate the pleasure of having a place for everything, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe it’s easier to put things away in an exact place, rather than a general place (“the third shelf of the linen closet,” not “a closet.”) However, this impulse can become destructive: if you’re spending a lot of time alphabetizing your spices, creating eighty categories for your home files, etc., consider whether you need to be quite so precisely organized.

3. “I need some more inventive storage containers.” See #1. If you get rid of everything you don’t need, you may not need any fancy containers. Be very wary of the urge to “store” something. Except for things like seasonal clothes and decorations, if you’re “storing” something, that’s a clue that you don’t really plan to use it.

4. “I need to find the perfect recipient for everything I’m getting rid of.” It’s easier to get rid of things when you know that you’ll be giving them to someone who can use them, but don’t let this kind intention become a source of clutter, itself. I have a friend who has multiple piles all over her house, each lovingly destined for a particular recipient. This is generous and thoughtful, but it contributes mightily to clutter. Try to find one or two good recipients, or if you really want to move your ex-stuff in multiple directions, create some kind of rigid system for moving it along quickly. We have a thrift shop two blocks from our apartment where we send a lot of stuff.

5. “I can’t get rid of anything that I might possibly need one day.” How terrible would it be if you needed a glass jar and didn’t have one? Do you have gigantic stores of things like rubber bands or ketchup packets? How many coffee mugs does one family use?

6. “I might get that gizmo fixed.” Face it. If you’ve had something for more than six months, and it’s still not repaired, it’s clutter.

7. “I might learn how to use that gizmo.” Again, face it. If you’ve had a gizmo on the shelf for a year, and you’ve never used it to make gelato or label a sugar jar, it’s clutter.

8. “I might lose a ton of weight and then I’d fit into these clothes again.” If you lose a bunch of weight, you’ll want to buy a new pair of jeans, not a pair you bought seven years ago.

9. “I need to keep this as a memento of a happy time.” I’m a huge believer in mementos; remembering happy times in the past gives you a big happiness boost in the present. But ask yourself: do I need to keep all these t-shirts to remind me of college, or can I keep a few? Do I need to keep an enormous desk to remind me of my grandfather, or can I use a photograph? Do I need fifty finger-painted pictures by my toddler, or is one enough to capture this time of life? Mementos work best when they’re carefully chosen – and when they don’t take up much room!

10. “I need to keep this, because the person who gave it to me might visit my house and be hurt when it’s not on display.” Is that person really likely to visit? Is that person really likely to remember the gift? Will the person really be upset by the lack of viewing of the gift?

11. “If I have any available space, I should fill it up with something.” No! One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Somewhere, keep an empty shelf. It’s funny; people often ask me, with open suspicion, “Gretchen, do you still have an empty shelf?” Yes, I do! Want to see it for yourself? Watch here in the behind-the-scenes-of-Happier-at-Home video; the shelf appears at 6:40. (Gosh, it was fun to make that video.)

12. “Yay, it’s free, I should take it!” Be very, very wary of accepting something because it’s free. It’s so easy to take that water bottle or tote bag, then realize that you’ve just brought more clutter into your house.

What other clutter-clearing traps have I overlooked? Do you fall prey to any of these?

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“We Have Found That Almost Any Types of Acts of Kindness Boost Happiness.”

Happiness interview: Sonja Lyubomirsky.

I got to know Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky through her work, which includes the fascinating book The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want (just the kind of book I love), and then I met her in person when we appeared together in this episode of the Katie Couric show.

Now she has a new book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, But Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, But Does.

She’s one of the leading writers and thinkers on the subject of happiness, so I was very eager to get the chance to pose some questions.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Sonja: Research shows that there are many simple activities that reliably make people happier.  My favorite is doing acts of kindness.  The generous acts don’t have to be random and they don’t have to be a certain kind (e.g, anonymous or social or big, etc.).  We have found that almost any types of acts of kindness boost happiness.  And two hot-off-the-presses studies reveal even bigger benefits.  An experiment we just published in PLOS ONE showed that when 9- to 11-year old kids were asked to do acts of kindness for several weeks, not only did they get happier over time but they became more popular with their peers.  And another big intervention we just finished at a company in Spain showed that asking some employees to be generous to a randomly chosen list of colleagues (we called this our “Secret Santa” manipulation) produced huge benefits (for increasing happiness, connectedness, flow, and decreasing depression) not just for the givers, but for the receivers and even for observers.  The recipients of kindness “paid the kind acts forward” and even acquaintances of the givers became happier and were inspired to act more generously themselves.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

It sounds like a cliché but I know now that happiness “resides within” and that often our “problems” can be solved by simply changing how we think about them.  A great deal of research bears this out.  As William James, the philosopher, observed, where we direct attention determines our experience; it determines our life. So we can choose to spend most of our days ruminating about negatives or we can choose to be grateful.  This doesn’t mean that we have to be in denial – it simply suggests that at least part of our time we decide to direct our attention to the positives in our life and the world at large and on the things that really matter.

 Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

An avalanche of studies (including those done by myself and my cherished mentor, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a Yale professor who suddenly and tragically passed away last week) show that circular, obsessive dwelling or overthinking (what researchers call “rumination”) is a huge obstacle to happiness. Ruminating about our problems or our feelings makes us feel even more depressed, even more pessimistic, and more out of control.

Also, as my new book, The Myths of Happiness, describes in detail, one of the biggest obstacles to staying happy is hedonic adaptation – the phenomenon that human beings are remarkably good at getting used to positive changes in their lives.  After we get married, buy a new house, obtain a promotion, or get rich, those life changes thrill us for a while, but the thrill wears off rather quickly. We either revert back to our previous level of happiness or, worse, we feel emptiness or even letdown. Understanding that this is an ordinary human process will help us get through those turning points and also find ways to slow down adaptation — for example, by putting effort into appreciating the positive life change and/or introducing novelty, variety, and surprise into our daily lives.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness? 

I frequently witness people reiterating one of the primary happiness “myths” – namely, that they’re not happy now, but they’ll be happy when the right partner or job comes along, when they have a baby, when they make more money, or move to that city they’ve always wanted to live in.  This type of thinking detracts from our happiness because it leads to outsized — and frankly false — expectations about the extent to which positive life events can impact our happiness for the longterm.  Research shows that these events almost never make us as happy (or for as long) as we believe they will. And when that happens, we might conclude that there’s something wrong with us and we may end up making poor decisions, like jettisoning perfectly good jobs or partners.

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy? 

The view.  We bought a new house (which is literally twice as big and much nicer than our old condo) just two months ago and even though I have almost completely adapted to everything about the house (the beautiful kitchen, bathrooms, extra bedrooms, etc.), but not the view.  This experience is fully supported by research.  We adapt very quickly to our possessions but not to our experiences, especially changeable ones.  The view changes all the time, and on clear beautiful days (of which there are many where I live) we see ships in the ocean.

10 Widespread Myths about Happiness — Do You Believe Any of These?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or List Day, or Quiz Day).
This Wednesday: 10 myths about happiness — which do you believe?

I’m leaving my desk for a few days, so in my absence, thought I’d re-post one of my favorite round-up pieces, about ten widespread myths about happiness.

A while back, each day for two weeks, I posted about Ten Happiness Myths. Here they are, for your reading convenience.

No. 1: Happy people are annoying and stupid.

No. 2: Nothing changes a person’s happiness level much.

No. 3: Aggressively venting anger relieves it.

No. 4: You’ll be happier if you insist on “the best.”

No. 5: A “treat” will cheer you up.

No. 6: Money can’t buy happiness.

No. 7: Doing “random acts of kindness” brings happiness.

No. 8: You’ll be happy as soon as you…

No. 9: Spending some time alone will make you feel better.

Note: I wish that in this post, I’d made it clearer that I wasn’t talking about restorative, peaceful solitude, which most people crave to a greater or lesser degree (I certainly need enormous quantities, myself) — but rather the drained, can’t-get-off-the-couch kind of isolation that sometimes sets in when you’re feeling too blue to connect with others. In that state, pushing yourself to see other people is likely to give a lift.

No. 10: The biggest myth: It’s selfish to try to be happier.

Agree? Disagree? Am I missing an important myth?

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5 Common Happiness Mistakes — “Boosters” That Actually Do More Harm Than Good.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 5 happiness boosters that actually do more harm than good.

Everyone has a few tricks for beating the blues – things you do when you’re feeling down to try to boost your mood. I’ve found out from long experience, however, that several of the most popular strategies don’t actually work very well in the long term. Beware if you’re tempted to try any of the following:

1. Comforting yourself with a “treat.” Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. (That’s why they’re treats! We usually restrain ourselves!) The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few more beers…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself – will it REALLY make you feel better? It might make you feel worse. In particular, beware of…

2. Letting yourself off the hook. When I’m feeling down, I feel tempted to let myself off the hook, to think, “I’ll allow myself to skip the gym today, I need a break.” In fact, sticking to a resolution does more to boost my sense of self-esteem and self-control. (Plus, exercise itself boosts my happiness.) So NOT letting yourself off the hook might do more to boost your happiness. At the end of a bad day, you can say, “Well, at least I went to the gym/finished that horrible report/took my dog to the dog park.”

3. Retreating to your sofa. Studies show that extroverts and introverts alike get a mood boost from connecting with other people. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re feeling blue, you’re better off making plans with friends or family.

4. Expressing your negative emotions. Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger by yelling, throwing things, punching pillows, slamming doors, cursing, etc. is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that aggressively expressing anger only aggravates it; as Plutarch observed, “Anger, while in its beginning, often can be ended by silence, or neglect.” I’ve certainly found this to be true; once I start yelling, I can whip myself into a fury. There are situations, of course, when my anger is a sign of a real problem that needs attention; I find that making sure that I express myself calmly means that I feel less riled up — and, added bonus, that approach also elicits a better response from others.

5. Staying in your pajamas all day. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my happiness research is that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. As improbable as this sounds, it really works. Sometimes it can be fun to hang out in your sweats all day, but if you’re feeling lethargic, powerless, or directionless, not getting dressed may make you feel worse. Put on your clothes so you feel prepared for whatever the day might offer. While you’re at it, make your bed.

* Today, I got out of my pajamas and away from my sofa to meet the writer Alice Bradley, of the famous Finslippy blog. She is as funny in person as on her blog! Which is high praise.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
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Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.