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

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What I learned about happiness from my love of Harry Potter: lesson #2.

HarrypotterMy love of the Harry Potter books underscores an important general lesson about happiness: one way to be happier is to figure out how to get more bang for the happiness buck.

There are four stages for enjoying a happy event:
 anticipation
 savoring
 expression
 reflection

So, with each happy event, we should think about:
 actively looking forward to it
 relishing it in the moment—which may mean, among other things, not talking on your cell phone or checking your emails
 talking about it with other people, writing about it, etc.
 thinking back on it—a task for which mementos like photos or scrapbooks are very useful

So, instead of just thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait for HP7 to come out” and waiting for the book, I’m doing as much as I can to wring every drop of happiness out of that event.

I re-read all six books, so that I’d remember the twists and turns of the story. What a pleasure.

I bought MuggleNet.com’s What Will Happen In Harry Potter 7, which was so much fun.

I’ve had many happy conversations with friends and the Big Girl to speculate on what might happen, and we’re already planning to have long talks as soon as we’ve finished, to debate the ending.

A good friend of mine has a son who is the Big Girl’s good friend. We’re not sure if two eight-year-olds will be able to stay up until midnight without crashing, but we’re going to try. We’ve planned a night of watching the first Harry Potter movie at home, then going to the countdown party at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square. Jim Dale will be reading.

I’m going to take pictures to help us remember the night, later. I hope that it will be one of the Big Girl’s fondest memories of her childhood. It is an historic literary event – and she gets to stay up until midnight! (that’s the most thrilling part for her).

Funnily enough, the hardest part of enjoying Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be the third element – savoring. The suspense is so enormous that I fear that I’ll gulp down the book too quickly to savor it. On Saturday (we decided—no peeking at the book until Saturday morning), I’ll have to use tremendous self-control to read slowly enough to drink in the details. Also, I plan to cut off all communication with the outside world, for fear of a spoiler. I’m confident that the New York Post will have a headline like, “Harry Lives!” or “Harry Dies!”

Sometimes, anticipation is greater than the happiness actually experienced in the moment – that’s known as “rosy prospection.” The publication of HP7 is one of the rare occasions when I’m confident that my prospection will not be disappointed.

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Gosh, I’ve gotten so sentimental. Today the Very Short List featured a lovely 60-second ad for Lloyds bank, and I found myself sniffing. It makes me think, once again, that only the fact that life unfolds very slowly preserves it from being unbearably poignant.

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I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

What I learned about happiness from my love of Harry Potter: lesson #1.

HarrypotterOne extraordinary source of happiness for me these days is the knowledge that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (or HP7, as I affectionately call it) will be clutched in my hot little hands in less than a week.

And upon reflection, I realize that my love for the Harry Potter books has taught me several important things about the nature of happiness.

First is the truth, and the primacy, and the challenge, of my First Commandment: “Be Gretchen.” (See left column for all twelve commandments.)

One fact about me is I have an enormous love for children’s literature. I love it, I just love it. I still haven’t figured out what I get from children’s literature that I don’t get from adult literature, but there’s something.

But for a long time, I didn’t admit my passionate interest in kidlit. It didn’t fit with my ideas of what I wished I were like. It wasn’t grown-up enough. I wanted to be interested in constitutional law, and serious literature, and the economy, and other adult subjects. And I was interested in those topics, but I somehow felt that I needed to hide my love of Philip Pullman and Louisa May Alcott. I repressed this side of my personality to such a degree that when the third Harry Potter book came out, I didn’t buy it for several days. I’d fooled even myself into thinking that I didn’t care.

When I started The Happiness Project, I realized that I should try to embrace this suppressed passion, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about doing that.

Then one day, I had lunch with an acquaintance—someone I hoped could be a friend but who wasn’t a friend yet. She was young, polished, highly educated, a well-established literary agent, and quite intimidating. But somehow it emerged that she, too, was a Harry Potter…well, freak captures the intensity of her enthusiasm. And she loved children’s literature, too. I’d found a kindred spirit.

Then it occurred to me – I knew a third person, as well. Could we start a book group? For adults reading children’s literature? Would anyone else want to do that? I decided to see if I could organize one.

Now comes the Oprah-ish part of the story: not only did it turn out that a lot of people were interested in children’s literature, but they were all highly bookish, accomplished, interesting people—and most of them I’d known, at least a little bit, before. Once I spoke up, I discovered that I already knew and liked many people who shared my interest.

Now this children’s literature book group is one of the joys of my life.

The first time our group met, I set around an email with the details (we were discussing C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe over dinner), and I included a quotation from C. S. Lewis’s brilliant essay, On Three Ways of Writing for Children:

When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

But I realized that this apologia didn’t mean much to anyone else in the group, because they’d never tried to squash their interest in children’s literature. Why had I? Remember, be Gretchen.

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Via a site I love, 43 Folders, I found an interesting post about how to handle email by another blogger I love, Colleen at Communicatrix.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo2“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” –Leonardo da Vinci

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Studies show that doing a good deed will make you happier – and here’s a (little) opportunity!

GoldstarNow for a little arrant self-promotion.

If you know people who would enjoy The Happiness Project blog, please take a moment to pass them the link. Word of mouth really works, because people respect the opinions of their friends and colleagues.

Now, I know that as good deeds go, this isn’t a particularly lofty or important deed, but still, it’s a nice thing to do.

And it will likely make you feel happier, too. Current research and the wisdom of the ages teaches us that doing good deeds makes us happier, and I’ve been surprised by just how powerful that effect is. It’s really true: a surefire way to get a shot of happiness is to do something to increase the happiness of someone else.

Paradoxically – and this is really worth thinking about – a key way to increase the happiness of other people is to be happy yourself. As Mark Twain said, “Whoever is happy will make others happy, too.” The circularity here is confusing, but worth puzzling over.

Well, I feel a little sheepish making a plea for help with blog promotion, but one of my Secrets of Adulthood is “It’s okay to ask for help,” and now I’m asking.

The happiness of finding a new technique to improve my writing.

Laptop2I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Susan Bell’s new book, The Artful Edit, about how writers can do a better job of editing themselves.

It has a lot of good advice, but there was one technique – reassuringly simple to do – that I tried today with great success.

I printed out my draft in a different font.

Yes, it was as easy as that. When I printed out my draft for editing, I switched the text from Times New Roman, which feels like my own handwriting, to Georgia.

It sounds insignificant, but in fact, the changed look of the page made it easier to spot awkward spots.

When I’m done with this edit, I’m going to try another of Bell’s suggestions, and read the whole darned draft aloud.

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For folks interested in the general subject of self-improvement, the great site Pick the Brain has a helpful round-up of blogs worth checking out. Needless to say, I was very happy to see The Happiness Project on the list.

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If you’re new to the Happiness Project, you may want to 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.