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

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Edith Nesbit.

Railwaychildren
From E. Nesbit’s classic children’s novel, The Railway Children:

[Mother said,] “I’m so glad you like the railway. Only, please, you mustn’t walk on the line.”

“Not if we face the way the train’s coming?” asked Peter, after a gloomy pause, in which glances of despair were exchanged.

“No–really not,” said Mother.

Then Phyllis said, “Mother, didn’t you ever walk on the railway lines when you were little?”

Mother was an honest and honourable Mother, so she had to say, “Yes.”

“Well, then,” said Phyllis.

“But, darlings, you don’t know how fond I am of you. What should I do if you got hurt?”

“Are you fonder of us than Granny was of you when you were little?” Phyllis asked. Bobbie made signs to her to stop, but Phyllis never did see signs, no matter how plain they might be.

Mother did not answer for a minute. She got up to put more water in the teapot.

“No one,” she said at last, “ever loved anyone more than my mother loved me.”

Then she was quiet again, and Bobbie kicked Phyllis hard under the table, because Bobbie understood a little bit the thoughts that were making Mother so quiet–the thoughts of the time when Mother was a little girl and was all the world to her mother. It seems so easy and natural to run to Mother when one is in trouble. Bobbie understood a little how people do not leave off running to their mothers when they are in trouble even when they are grown up, and she thought she knew a little what it must be to be sad, and have no mother to run to any more.

So she kicked Phyllis, who said:–

“What are you kicking me like that for, Bob?”

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It’s Friday: think about YOUR Happiness Project. What’s making you “feel bad”?

UnhappyfaceNot long ago, I had an epiphany – happiness projects for everyone! Join in! So each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

Today’s question for self-examination is – what’s making you “feel bad”?

My First Splendid Truth about happiness is: to think about your happiness, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Research shows that the absence of “feeling bad” doesn’t mean that you “feel good.” Nevertheless, removing sources of bad feelings will protect your good feelings from being swamped by guilt, anger, remorse, irritation, envy, fear, anxiety, boredom, and all the rest of that awful family.

My own happiness project has been very focused on eliminating sources of feeling bad, because I realized that the thing standing most in the way of my happiness was…ME. I wasn’t living up to the standard I expected from myself.

Some things that I’ve worked to stop doing—not that I’ve succeeded, but I’ve made some progress: gossiping, eating fake food (i.e., “food” that comes in crinkly packages from corner delis), nagging, drinking alcohol (I had to face the fact that drinking the tiniest bit of alcohol makes me incredibly belligerent), losing my temper, staying up too late, not flossing, not doing enough to help other people, leaving my clothes strewn around – well, the list goes on and on.

I really feel happier when I’m not plagued with pricks of bad feelings.

So, without worrying yet about what you’re going to do to relieve these feelings, examine your emotions as you go through your days.

When do you feel angry? What prompts feelings of guilt? When do you feel bored? Are you envious of anyone? Do you feel afraid – of cancer, of terrorists, of identity theft, of losing your job? Etc.

These emotions are unpleasant, but they’re VERY valuable. They’re showing you what you need to change or accept. These feelings are so unpleasant, however, that we often pretend that we aren’t experiencing them, or we try to ignore them. In some situations, this attitude is useful. But for this exercise, really concentrate on your negative moments.

Take envy. We often suppress or deny envious feelings, because envy is such a nasty, ignominious emotion. But envy teaches you something very important about yourself: there’s something you want that you don’t have. So what can you do about that situation?

Before you can fix bad feelings, you have to understand what’s sparking them. So spend a week thinking about it.

Next week: some thoughts about how to eliminate these bad feelings.

If you’re starting a happiness project, consider joining the Happiness Project group on Facebook.

If you’re writing your resolutions, you’re welcome to see my chart, to help get you started. Just drop me a note at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [dot com].

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Neatorama is a cornucopia of fun, diverting, amusing, provocative posts. This is the kind of site that gets me singing the praises of the Internet, for the sheer crazy amount of information that can be assembled. See if you can spot the picture of the pumpkin pi.

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If you’re in the mood to watch a movie about the nature of happiness and love.

DvdOn the last day of every month (if I remember), I post a list of recommended reading on the subject of happiness.

October 31 fell on a Wednesday Tip day, so I’m posting my list today — and I’m posting about movies, instead of books.

If you’re in the mood to watch a movie that has a particular focus on the nature of happiness and love, these are all outstanding. Great movies, very provocative, all favorites of mine.

These aren’t comedies that are guaranteed to send you away in an upbeat mood (that would be a great list for another day). Nope, these are movies that tackle big questions like: what does it mean to be happy? how do we express love? how do we think about our responsibility for other people’s happiness?

Well, that makes these movies sound like work, but each one of these is FANTASTIC, I promise.

1. Junebug
2. The Piano
3. Saturday Night Fever
4. Husbands and Wives
5. All That Jazz
6. Fight Club
7. After the Wedding
8. Terms of Endearment
9. Boogie Nights (this movie is an extraordinary meditation on the nature of love and happiness, and also work, but I do want to warn folks that it’s about the porn industry, so be prepared).

Am I missing some good ones? I’m sure I am. Please post any suggestions for additions to the list. The Big Man just got back this morning from a trip to India, so I’m sure we won’t do much this weekend beyond renting a movie.

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The contributors to LifeRemix take turns posting a piece to the site. This week was my turn, and I posted on Eleven tips for feeling happier RIGHT NOW.

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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: Four tips for surmounting boredom or irritation.

Hourglass2Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Four tips for surmounting boredom or irritation.

Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

One “little thing” that can be a source of unhappiness is being stuck on a task that’s boring or irritating. Sitting in traffic. Doing laundry. Waiting in a doctor’s office—or worse, having tests done.

The more you focus on your boredom or irritation, the more you’ll amplify that feeling. Here are four tips to “re-frame” the moment; even if you can’t escape a situation, by re-framing your emotions about it, you can transform it.

Put the word “meditation” after the activity that’s bugging you. (This is my invention.) If you’re impatient while waiting for the bus, tell yourself you’re doing “Bus waiting meditation.” If you’re standing in a slow line at the drugstore, you’re doing “Waiting in line meditation.” If you’re cleaning up after Halloween mayhem, you’re doing “Cleaning meditation.” Just saying these words makes me feel very spiritual and high-minded and wise.

Dig in. Diane Arbus wrote, “The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think it’s true.” If something is boring for two minutes, do it for four minutes. If it’s still boring, do it for eight minutes, then sixteen, and so on. Eventually you discover that it’s not boring at all. If part of my research isn’t interesting to me—like the Dardanelles campaign for Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill—I read a whole book about it, and then it becomes absorbing. The same principle holds when doing boring or irritating tasks, like washing dishes.

Take the perspective of a journalist or scientist. Really study what’s around you. What are people wearing, what do the interiors of buildings look like, what noises do you hear? If you bring your analytical powers to bear, you can make almost anything interesting. (Perhaps this is a key to the success of some modern art.)

Find an area of refuge. Have a mental escape route planned. Think about something delightful or uplifting (not your Christmas list!). Or maybe review photos of your kids on your phone (studies show that looking at photos of loved ones provides a big mood boost).

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One way to deal with frustrating moments that involve sitting in front of your computer — waiting on hold to talk to the cable company, for example — is to have a bunch of fascinating blogs on your “Favorites” list or in your RSS line-up. I cruise through a ton of great blogs; some that I always enjoy reading include: Marginal Revolution, Lifehacker, Unclutterer, and Galley Cat.

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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.

A package arrived for me today: proof that keeping my happiness-project resolutions really does make me happier.

BoycastawaysPeople often ask me, “Come on. Has doing your happiness project really made you happier?”

The answer is YES.

Today, for example, I’m very happy because a package arrived in the mail from New Haven, due directly to a convergence of many happiness project resolutions…

Be Gretchen.” I embraced my true interests and passions, including the love of children’s literature, which, for a long time, I denied.

“Reach out,” “Bring people together,” “Spend time with bookish people.” I started a children’s literature reading group.

“Follow my curiosities.” After my children’s literature reading group read Peter Pan, I became very interested in J. M. Barrie, and I read Andrew Birkin’s terrific biography, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. Birkin gives a tantalizingly brief description of a book Barrie made with photographs of his muses, the four Llewelyn boys. Barrie produced just two copies of The Boy Castaway of Black Lake Island, and one copy was lost immediately.

“Take time for adventures.” Having noted that the one extant copy of The Boy Castaways was in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, I made a pilgrimage to New Haven to see it for myself.

Indulge in a modest splurge.” The moment I laid eyes on it, I realized that I HAD to have a copy! Digital images of the entire volume had been made, so I could order my own copy (images can also be viewed online). It was a not-so-modest splurge, actually, but I bought a copy of the book. It arrived today, and it is so fabulous!

“Think big,” “Make time for projects.” Inspired by The Boy Castaways, a very creative friend and I are planning a similar project using our children.

Every single element in this chain of events made me feel happy and energized. I’m so excited to have my very own copy of this book and to be starting an enormously challenging, creative project with a friend and our children.

I am 100% positive that before I started my happiness project and committed to my resolutions, I wouldn’t have started the book group, I wouldn’t have read the Barrie biography, I wouldn’t have traveled out of town to the Beinecke, I wouldn’t have splurged on the book – so it would never have occurred to me to collaborate on an homage to Barrie.

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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.