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

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This Sunday: a happiness quotation from Benjamin Franklin.

Benfranklin2“A good conscience is a continual Christmas.” –Benjamin Franklin

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If you like making lists and setting out your resolutions, take a look at Your 100 Things. This site organizes goals into 16 categories — you can also see other people’s goals. I have my own resolution charts that keep me plenty busy (email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [dot] [com] if you’d like to take a look, for inspiration) but this looks like another great way to think through and commit to goals.

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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.

I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

A new career option: happiness consultant!

Candied_appleReading the New York Times yesterday gave me an idea for a new career possibility – along with being a writer about happiness, I’ll be a happiness consultant!

Lynnley Browning’s article, For Lawyers, Perks to Fit a Lifestyle, mentioned that one Chicago law firm has a “happiness committee.” Some members of the firm get together to figure out how to give everyone working there a happiness boost.

Great idea! Sign me up! I’m a big believer in the idea that a few small changes might really make a difference in people’s happiness. As I explained in earlier posts, I believe companies can absolutely boost the happiness of their employees – what’s more, it’s economically prudent for them to do so.

However, I’m not sure that I agree with this committee’s approach. Recently, the happiness committee left candied apples on everyone’s desk. Last month, they distributed milkshakes.

It’s true that getting a surprise treat gives people a real boost. Studies show the people’s brains react much more strongly to surprise pleasures than to expected pleasures.

Being handed a free sample, finding a dollar bill on the street, being surprised by a gift – any kind of surprise treat gives people a thrill. As a consequence of this improved mood, they become more generous, more friendly, more creative, and better at problem-solving.

And I see that handing out edible goodies is an inexpensive and easy surprise treat.

However, I bet those treats brought a lot of unhappiness, as well as happiness. So many people are trying to eat better or to watch their weight– a surprise milkshake indulgence could result in a lot of guilt, remorse, and blown diets. And taking steps that undermine people’s attempts to eat more healthfully is hardly in the long-term interests of the firm (a huge percentage of insurance costs are obesity related – and more all the time).

What would I suggest that the happiness committee distribute instead? Or what else should they do? I have lots of ideas! Hire me as your happiness consultant, and watch your company’s Subjective Well-Being index soar!

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Ah, Boing Boing! Always satisfying, always something surprising and new. Almost as good as finding a candied apple on your desk, or a quarter left behind in the vending machine.

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New to the Happiness Project? 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.
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.

It’s Thanksgiving — here are four questions to ask yourself, to help boost your feelings of gratitude.

Turkey_2Today is Thanksgiving. Here are four questions to ask yourself, to help you feel grateful for your ordinary life.

1. Do you suffer chronic or intense physical pain?

2. Have you recently received heart-breaking news?

3. Have you done anything that makes you burn with remorse?

4. Is every member of your family safe?

It’s easy to forget to be grateful for the most important foundations of daily life.

On a less transcendant note, if you’re worried about overindulging at the dinner table today, check out thirteen tips for staying in control of holiday eating.

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If you’re coming via today’s New York Times or Zen Habits, welcome!

I’m very GRATEFUL to Henry Fountain, who wrote about the Happiness Project in his article, Let Us Give Thanks. In Writing. The importance of the emotion of gratitude to happiness is a fascinating subject.

One of my favorite blogs, Zen Habits, featured a guest post from me: Take this quiz: Are you an under-buyer or an overbuyer? I have to admit, I think it’s pretty funny.

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New to the Happiness Project? 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.
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.

It’s Thanksgiving — here are four questions to ask yourself, to help boost your feelings of gratitude.

TurkeyToday is Thanksgiving. Here are four questions to ask yourself, to help you feel grateful for your ordinary life.

1. Do you suffer chronic or intense physical pain?

2. Have you recently received heart-breaking news?

3. Have you done anything that makes you burn with remorse?

4. Is every member of your family safe?

It’s easy to forget to be grateful for the most important foundations of daily life.

On a less transcendant note, if you’re worried about overindulging at the dinner table today, check out thirteen tips for staying in control of holiday eating.

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If you’re coming via today’s New York Times, welcome!

I’m very GRATEFUL to Henry Fountain, who wrote about the Happiness Project in his article, Let Us Give Thanks. In Writing. The importance of the emotion of gratitude to happiness is a fascinating subject.

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New to the Happiness Project? 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.
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.

This Wednesday: Twelve tips for stopping the buzz in your brain.

RingingphoneEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Twelve tips for stopping the buzz in your brain.

We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed, of being beset by distractions.

The problem is – too many things are clamoring for your attention. People are trying to reach you, by phone, email, text or IM. There are the interesting subjects you want to learn more about, on the TV or the internet or the newspaper. Noises in the background occasionally catch your ear, from the TV or radio. Your kids all talk at the same time. Colleagues interrupt. You need to update, check in, post, or ping. Ads jump at you from the most unlikely places. Devices ping, buzz, ring, and vibrate.

It’s enough to drive you crazy. You lose your train of thought, you forget what you’re doing, you have trouble re-engaging in a task, you feel besieged.

But there are steps you can take to quiet the buzz in your brain – even if you don’t want to take up meditation.

In addition to feeling calmer and more focused, you’ll probably be more efficient, too. Turns out that people aren’t very good at thinking about two things at once.

A recent study showed that when people responded to email or IM, it took about fifteen minutes for them to resume a serious mental task.

Many of the following suggestions are fairly draconian. “No iPod?!” “A silent cell phone?!” But you’ll notice a difference in your day. Really consider whether you might be able to go a day or a week without some of these distractions.

 If you keep the TV turned on in the background – while you’re getting dressed, say – turn it off.
 Turn off the radio, too. Even in the car.
 Don’t bring your iPod.
 I have a sticky note in my bedroom that reads, “Quiet mind.” Whenever I see it, I drop my shoulders, relax my jaw, and try to smooth out my thoughts. It actually works.
 During family time, divide up your children among adults. If possible, have one child per adult.
 No multi-tasking. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re doing dishes, don’t check your email while you listen to a conference call, don’t sort the mail while your child explains the school project that’s due next week.
 Turn your cell phone ringer off. Hearing your cell phone ring – or even imaging that you’re hearing it ring – is a big source of jumpiness.
 Take a break from doing errands. Keep a list, but don’t try to fit them in throughout your day.
 Stop looking in the mirror for a week.
 Only use the internet to look up a specific piece of information; once you find it, step away from the computer. No jumping from link to link, no browsing.
 Twyla Tharp had an interesting approach: occasionally, for a week, she’d “stop counting.” She avoided looking at clocks, contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales, or anything to do with numbers, in order to let the other part of her brain take over.
 Flee temptation. I find it hard to work in my home office, because my family, the phone, my email, and the internet constantly beguile me away from my work. So I work at the New York Society Library, where I’m not set up for internet and where they enforce a strict rule of silence.

It’s important to have space in which to think.

Yesterday, I overheard someone complain, “I left my Blackberry at home, so I was so bored during my cab ride home. I just had to sit there.”

There are few things that I love more than looking out the window of a taxi. One day, when I was gazing out of a taxi window, I was struck by a thought: “What do I want out of life?” “Well,” I thought, “I want to be happy.” It occurred to me that I never thought about whether I was happy or not, or how I could be happier, or even what it meant to be happy. “Zoikes,” I thought, “I should have a happiness project!”

If I’d been checking my Blackberry, I might never have had the idea for the happiness project.

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I was catching up on one of my favorite sites, Unclutterer, and I found a fascinating post about clearing clutter as a psychological tool. I agree; I think that getting rid of clutter is an extraordinarily effective way to boost energy, calm the mind, and get a jolt of happiness.

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New to the Happiness Project? 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.
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.