“Anxiety and Ennui Are the Scylla and Charybdis on Which the Bark of Human Happiness Is Most Often Wrecked.”

“Anxiety and Ennui are the Scylla and Charybdis on which the bark of human happiness is most often wrecked.”

— William Edward Hartpole Lecky, The Map of Life

According to myth, “Scylla and Charybdis” are two sea hazards that blocked the Strait of Messina — a rock shoal with a monster on one side , and a sea monster/whirlpool on the other.

Using this phrase is the same as saying “between a rock and a hard place” or “out of frying pan into the fire.” So Lecky’s point is that to be happy, we must steer between anxiety and ennui, and not allow ourselves to be wrecked by either.

Agree, disagree?

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Why the Anniversary of D-Day Gave Me a Moment of Happiness.

My husband and I sleep with all-news radio playing (which I’m sure is a very bad idea, but we do), and I woke this morning to the reminder that today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied trips landed on the beaches of  Normandy.

I read a lot about D-Day when I was writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, my biography of Churchill. What a subject! How I loved writing that book.

And one of my favorite moments in my research was when I read about what General Eisenhower did to prepare for the invasion.

In case the invasion failed, Eisenhower had prepared a statement, known as “In Case of Failure”:

incaseoffailure

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

 

 

This is a momentous example of one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve ever received, from my father. He said, “If you take the blame, when you deserve it, people will give you responsibility.” I’ve found that to be very true.

And this memory reminded me of another story that I love about Eisenhower. It illustrates one of my Secrets of Adulthood: Sometimes, words only diminish what we want to convey.

I love this story so much that I get choked up whenever I think about it. (If you want to see me tell the story, you can watch the video here.)

At the end of the war, in May 1945, the German military commanders had unconditionally surrendered, and the time came when they signed the surrender documents. Obviously this was a momentous, awe-inspiring event.

Afterwards, General Eisenhower needed to send a message to the combined Chiefs of Staff, to tell them that this had been done, and Eisenhower’s colleagues proposed various drafts of grand language for the victory message.

Eisenhower rejected all suggestions, and wrote:

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

missionofthisalliedforce

So simple, so beautiful. Sometimes words can only diminish what we want to convey.

One of the most pure, satisfying sources of happiness is the feeling of transcendence. It can be difficult, in the crush of everyday life, to find moments of transcendence. Memories prompted by this D-Day anniversary brought me that feeling of awe.

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s 10-Point Manifesto for His Apprentices.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or List Day.
This Wednesday: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Manifesto for His Apprentices.

I’ve posted this before, but I’m posting it again, because I love personal manifestos — for instance, on the home pages of their blogs, Bob Sutton includes his 17 Things I Believe about work and Madame X lists My Rules about money (look in the right-hand column).

I read Frank Lloyd Wright’s Autobiography and found it very thought-provoking. In it, he includes a list of the “Fellowship Assets” that he outlined for the architecture apprentices he worked with at Taliesin, his summer home, studio, and school.

1. An honest ego in a healthy body.
2. An eye to see nature
3. A heart to feel nature
4. Courage to follow nature
5. The sense of proportion (humor)
6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work
7. Fertility of imagination
8. Capacity for faith and rebellion
9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance
10. Instinctive cooperation

This list was interesting to me, because although it’s quite short, it packs in a lot of big ideas and strongly held views. It really started me thinking — to ask, “What does Wright mean by ‘inorganic’ or even ‘nature’?” “What’s an ‘honest ego’?” I particularly loved #5 — the inclusion of humor on this list, and the tying of humor to a sense of proportion. I’d never thought of humor as an expression of a sense of proportion, but I think that’s one reason that humor can be so helpful at difficult moments.

Writing a personal manifesto is a very interesting exercise; it really forces you to articulate your values. Have you ever written a manifesto for yourself? Was it a useful exercise?

I wrote my manifesto, though I should probably update it. Scroll down; my manifesto is below some other manifestos. I love manifestos! If you have one, post it please. They’re so fascinating.

I need to write my habits manifesto. That will be fun. But first I need to finish the book. If you want to hear when my book about habit-formation goes on sale, sign up here.

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Video: For Habits, Try the Strategy of Scheduling.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative. My book describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To hear when this masterpiece goes on sale, sign up here.

Last week was the Strategy of Monitoring — one of my favorite strategies (yes, I do have favorites, I must confess.)

This week — the Strategy of Scheduling. Also another one of my favorites.

The Strategies of Monitoring and Scheduling, along with the Strategies of Foundation and Accountability, form the section of my book on the “Pillars of Habits.” These are big, bedrock strategies.

 

To read more about my Wednesday adventures with my daughter, check out Happier at Home, chapter on Parenthood.

You can also read more about Power Hour and the Four Tendencies in those posts.

How about you? Do you find that you stick to your habits better — especially when a habit is fairly new — if it’s actually entered into your schedule? It’s surprising to me how the simple act of making a note of something can make such a big difference.

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Are You Overlooking This Giant Influence on Your Habits?

In Maxims and Reflections, Goethe wrote, “Tell me with whom you consort and I will tell you who you are; if I know how you spend your time, then I know what might become of you.”

As I was doing the initial research for my forthcoming masterpiece of a book, about habit-formation, I tended to focus on strategies that I use as an individual.

I realized, however, that while it’s easy to imagine myself operating in isolation,  in fact, other people’s actions and habits exert tremendous influence on me, as mine do on them.

All the strategies of habit-formation deserve to be—and have been—the subject of entire books, but the Strategy of Other People is the strategy that’s hardest to distill into a single chapter. Our influence on each other’s habits is a vast subject. And it’s one of the most powerful, sometimes almost irresistible, strategies.

For instance, my husband, in particular, makes a big difference to my habits. In a phenomenon known as “health concordance,” couples’ health habits and statuses tend to merge over time. One partner’s health behaviors—habits related to sleep, eating, exercise, doctor visits, use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana—influence those behaviors in a partner. If one partner has Type 2 diabetes, the other partner faces a significant increase in the risk of developing it, as well. If one partner gives up cigarettes or alcohol, the other is more likely to quit.

My husband’s unwavering commitment to exercise has helped me stay dedicated. I also caught his habit of reading multiple books at one time, and buying books even when I have a huge pile I haven’t read yet. (Before we were married, I read one book at a time, and never allowed myself to acquire more than five unread books).

Also, some of my habits bothered him so much that I gave them up. For some reason, he objected to my snacking in bed. The things we do for love.

To quote another great thinker, in Letters from a Stoic, Seneca advised, “Associate with people who are likely to improve you.” This turns out to be very effective, because we do so readily pick up habits — good and bad — from each other.

How about you? Can you think of times when you’ve caught a good or bad habit from someone around you? Or when someone has caught your habit? A few years ago, I dramatically changed my eating habits (that’s a story for another day, and an example of the Strategy of the Lightning Bolt,  but if you’re curious, check out Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat), and I’ve noticed that my change has led to changes in other people, as my habits rubbed off on them.

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