Just the thought of this makes me unhappy: unjust accusation.

I have many odd quirks, and one quirk is that I can’t stand the theme of unjust accusation. That means I can’t read any book, or watch any movie or play, that deals with that subject. No Atonement, Othello, Oliver Twist, The Fugitive, The Shawshank Redemption, etc. A brilliant friend of mine just wrote a novel that looks fantastic, Scottsboro, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet — because it’s about the Scottsboro case! I just can’t bear to see someone unjustly accused.

I never thought about what this meant about my own character – until yesterday.

Something happened that raised the possibility that I might have screwed something up. I don’t think I did screw up, but my reaction gave me pause: at the mere hint of the possibility that I might have screwed up, I became furious, defensive, and combative.

I wanted to prove that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and to attack anyone who might suggest that I had.

In a work environment, I’ve trained myself to be better about this. A long time ago, when I started working, my father told me, “If you’re willing to accept blame, people will give you responsibility,” and I’ve found that to be absolutely true. Somehow, at work, I find this less difficult, but in my private life, I absolutely hate to be thought in the wrong, even about the smallest things.

My reaction, I see, is distinctly unhelpful. Instead of being defensive, I want to be open to correction. Instead of being angry, I want to be light-hearted. Instead of being belligerent, I want to be constructive.

As I learned in a work context, people are made anxious by free-floating blame that hasn’t settled. Once someone says, “I messed up,” “That was my fault,” or “I’m sorry,” everyone can relax, forgive, and move on. Getting angry or accusatory, though, makes things worse.

I need to remind myself of this more often. I don’t want to take the blame for things I didn’t do, but I do need to follow my Ninth Commandment to “Lighten up” (see left column). I’m not perfect, I do make mistakes, it’s not a big deal.

It’s hard for me to remember this in the moment when I’m feeling unjustly accused. Still working on it.

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The happiness possibility of comics.

Ever since I read Scott McCloud’s brilliant Understanding Comics, I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities of comics. He made an outstanding case for how the comics form allows writers to do things that they couldn’t otherwise do, and his book shows how well this could be done.

I’ve always been fascinated by the ways in which form can be used to shape the way that readers learn. My own books use different structures to hammer my thoughts home in a vivid way.

I hadn’t thought about the possibilities of comics for my own writing, however, until recently. At the recommendation of a friend, I read the Sandman comics, but had decided that comics just wasn’t a form that appealed to me.

Then I read Daniel Pink’s fabulous career-guide-in-comics-form, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. It showed how effectively the non-fiction comic could be used to persuade readers. In a very few number of pages, Daniel Pink was able to make his points clearly, engagingly, and very memorably.

Through the magic of the internet, one thing led to another, and two weeks ago, I ended up having a conversation with Daniel Pink about comics and how he’d decided to write his book in comics form.

During our conversation, he gave me the most thrilling idea: I should include a comics section in THE HAPPINESS PROJECT! Yes, absolutely, I must do that!

I went into a kind of psychological shock at the thought. I desperately wanted to do it – but how? I couldn’t imagine how to bring it about. I envisioned a very short section, between 10-16 pages. But how? What would the comics section be about? Who would draw it?

“Ummm….so how would you find an artist?” I asked Daniel Pink. He gave me several good ideas. I followed them. Last week, I met with an artist who seems great – though we’re still in the very early stages of seeing whether this will work.

This means a lot of work, hassle, expense, and time, but also, I hope, tremendous fun. I’m so happy to be undertaking this experiment.

A few years ago, it would never have occurred to me to try something like this, and I could feel all my resolutions grinding together to make this kind of experiment possible:
“Force myself to wander”
“Read at whim”
“Follow my interests”
“Reach out”
“Only connect”
“Embrace novelty and challenge”
“Ask for help”
“Make time for projects”
“Look for opportunities to collaborate”
“Make books”

Resolutions! After all this time, I’m still astonished on how effectively they work to make me happy, whenever I faithfully keep them. I think again of the 1764 journal entry of Samuel Johnson, who, as an inveterate resolution-maker and resolution-breaker, is one of the patron saints of those who make resolutions:

“I have now spent fifty-five years in resolving; having, from the earliest time almost that I can remember, been forming schemes of a better life. I have done nothing. The need of doing, therefore, is pressing, since the time of doing is short. O GOD, grant me to resolve aright, and to keep my resolutions.”

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I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Don’t worry about drinking enough water.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I was astonished to see that the goal-tracking site 43 Things reports that “Drink more water” is in the Top Ten list of people’s goals. This is a waste of precious resolution-making energy! A person only has so much self-discipline (studies back this up), so you should choose your resolutions carefully – and in most circumstances, you just don’t need to worry about drinking enough water. If you’re training for a marathon, or you live in the desert, you need to pay more attention to drinking water — but I see a lot of people worrying about it while leading sedentary, air-conditioned lives.

From what I read, the research indicates that there’s no evidence for the familiar advice that you need eight glasses a day. That’s a myth. Despite what many people think, if you need water, you’ll feel thirsty.

If you like drinking water, that’s great. I’m aiming this post at people who feel guilty for not drinking enough water, or who apply effort to keep themselves hitting the eight glasses a day. Because, if you stop worrying about drinking so much water, in one fell swoop, you can…
 direct your resolution-making energy to something that’s more likely to pay off for health and happiness, like going to sleep earlier or to exercising
 stop feeling guilty about not drinking enough water
 save money and help the planet
 eliminate chores

Now, I imagine a lot of people will protest that drinking water does great things for them. Is that right? Do you feel like you benefit from drinking tons of water?

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Gimundo has an interesting post about an exhibit of SMELLS. I’ve always thought that we don’t pay enough to the possibilities of our sense of smell, and here is an exhibit of exotic and extinct odors. But I have to hope that the exhibit will go on the road — alas, I’m just not going to make it to the University of Sunderland.

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I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Thinking about happiness and love.

A thoughtful reader emailed me a link to the blog Dream Mom. I spent a long time this morning reading it, and thinking about the nature of happiness, love, and fate. I encourage you to take a look.

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I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

This Wednesday: Six tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for getting yourself to do something you don’t want to do.

How many times each day do you try to work yourself up to tackle some undesirable task? If you’re like me – several.

For example, right now I’m trying to figure out how to send a monthly newsletter. I felt overwhelmed by the various sub-tasks involved, but by using the techniques below, I’m inching toward the finish line of hitting “send” for that first newsletter. Here are some strategies that I’ve used:

1. Put yourself in jail. If you’re working on something that’s going to take a long time, and you have the urge to try to rush, or to feel impatient, pretend you’re in jail. If you’re in jail, you have all the time in the world. You have no reason to hurry, no reason to cut corners or to try to do too many things at once. You can slow down, concentrate. You can take the time to get every single detail right.

2. Ask for help. This is one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood (see left column). Why is this so hard? I have no idea. But whenever I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much it…helps.

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research. This is another important Secret of Adulthood. I often get paralyzed by my inability to make a decision, but by reminding myself that often, one choice just isn’t that much different from another choice, I can move on.

4. Take a baby step. If you feel yourself dismayed at the prospect of the chain of awful tasks that you have to accomplish, just take one step today. Tomorrow, take the next step. The forward motion is encouraging, and before long, you’ll probably find yourself speeding toward completion.

5. Do it first thing in the morning. The night before, vow to yourself to do the dreaded task. And the next day, at the first possible moment – as soon as you walk into work, or when the office opens, or whenever – just do it. Don’t allow yourself to reflect or procrastinate. This is particularly true of exercise. If you think you’ll be tempted to skip, try to work out in the morning.

6. Protect yourself from interruption. How often have you finally steeled yourself to start some difficult project, only to be interrupted the minute you get going? This makes a hard task much harder. Carve out some time to work. Yesterday, I wanted to put a newsletter sign-up box on my blog. I figured this would be frustrating and time-consuming, so I waited to make the attempt when I knew I had two hours when I could work uninterrupted.

NB: Pay attention to the amount of time you spend working on tasks you dislike. No one enjoys invasive medical tests or preparing tax returns, but if you feel like your life consists of nothing but going from one dreaded chore to the next, you should take note. Maybe you need to think about switching jobs, or delegating a particular chore to someone else, or paying someone to take care of a task that’s making you miserable.

I’m very good at making myself do things I don’t want to do, and while this is an enormous help in many situations, it has also allowed me to go down some dead ends in my career. The fact is, you’re unlikely to be happy or successful when every aspect of your life or job feels like a big drag. Don’t accuse yourself of being lazy or being a procrastinator, but ask – what’s making this so difficult? The fact that you’re finding it hard to make yourself do something is a sign that maybe you should be doing something else.

On the upside: novelty and challenge, as uncomfortable as they can be, DO bring happiness. The chore that feels onerous today may give you a huge boost of satisfaction tomorrow, when it’s behind you. Keep that in mind.

What are some other strategies that you’ve found useful in trying to get yourself to jump some hurdle?

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Via the wonderful recommendation site, the Very Short List, a friend sent me a link to the Goldfrapp music video for their song “Happiness.” It’s charming.

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If you’d like to get my monthly newsletter, click on the brand-new link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog.

I’m very pleased with myself that I managed to get that onto my blog! I had to use all the strategies above, but I did it.

Or, if you prefer, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.