YOUR Happiness Project: Throw away some magazines.

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.

When I hear people talking about feeling overwhelmed, two tasks come up over and over: clearing out email and reading back issues of magazines.

Let’s focus on the magazines.

If you feel guilty and overwhelmed because you have a huge stack of unread magazines cluttering your living room or engulfing your bedside table — get rid of them! Put them in the recycling bin right now!

Sometimes it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to “catch up.” When are you going to feel like reading thirty issues of the New Yorker?

Maybe, like the Big Man, you’re saving a stack of The New York Review of Books to read on an airplane. Maybe, like my mother, you’re saving a stack of Architectural Digest to use as inspiration. Or maybe you have to read a certain magazine for work, or you take a positive joy in your collection. Fine.

But if you’re feeling guilty about a big stack of magazines that you read “for fun,” get rid of them. Start fresh. You’re supposed to be reading them for enjoyment, and if you’re feeling defeated by the backlog, you’re not enjoying yourself. Sure, you may miss some interesting material, but the sense of oppression just isn’t worth it.

Because we subscribe to so many magazines (25 different magazines, at last count, and three newspapers), I have a strict periodicals policy. We never keep a newspaper overnight, and we never keep a magazine for more than two months, for a monthly, or two weeks, for a weekly.

On a related note, consider storing current magazines out of sight. I keep ours in a dedicated drawer. Most people display magazines on coffee tables or in special magazine racks, but I’ve never understood this. Magazines make a room look cluttered. I keep ours hidden.

I devised a trick that helps us keep our magazines in check: the ripped cover. Because the Big Man and I read many of the same magazines, I hesitated to throw them away after I’d read them, because I didn’t know if he’d read them. Now, when one of us has read an issue, we rip the bottom of the front cover in half. That way, each of us knows if the other is done with it. It has an added benefit: sometimes I’d grab a magazine for the gym or the subway, only to realize too late that I’d already read it. Now, if it’s ripped, I know to check to make sure I haven’t read it before.

One of my Twelve Commandments is “Let it go.” Recognizing when it’s time to let go of a goal or a task is hard for me to do, but always worth thinking about.

Have you found any other simple ways to cure yourself of feeling overwhelmed?

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More true than you can possibly imagine.

My sister is always dropping memorable apercus about what life is like when you write for TV and live in Los Angeles.

Some of my favorites:

“‘Yes’ comes right away; ‘no’ never comes.”
“People succeed in groups.”
“You don’t call, you PUT IN a call.”

But my favorite may be “Everything you’ve heard about L.A. is more true than you can possibly imagine.”

Well, via Trish’s Dishes and GalleyCat, this hilarious YouTube video about book promotion is more true than you can possibly imagine. I laughed out loud, then I set off immediately to order Dennis Cass’s book, whatever it was. Fortunately, Head Case: How I Almost Lost My Mind Trying to Understand My Brain looks like the kind of thing I love.

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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.

Quiz – how fun is your workplace?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day).
This Wednesday: Quiz – how fun is your workplace?

I just read a fascinating book, The Levity Effect, by Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher. It’s about how “levity” can transform the workplace. They make a powerful case for why levity is an extremely effective tool for helping people to work better.

Now, you might be thinking, as I did, “Levity would sure be tough for me, I’m not particularly funny, and I’m not particularly outgoing.”

But what the authors mean by “levity” is really a sense of “lightness.”

Ah, I thought, I’m trying! The Ninth of my Twelve Commandments is “Lighten up” (see left column). When I posted sticky notes with key phrases all around my office and apartment, the one I put in the master bathroom read, “Tender and light-hearted.”

Gostick and Christopher include a quiz about workplace levity. Looking at it, I realized that most of my workplaces included these elements, which I’m sure contributed to the positive experience I had everywhere (except for the summer I worked as a waitress at Dos Hombres Mexican restaurant — zoikes, I did not like that job).

For example, I’d assumed that the atmosphere around the Supreme Court would be serious, thoughtful, and grand. And it was. But in her chambers, Justice O’Connor incorporated certain goofy aspects that made it a lot of fun, too. Each Halloween, she required her clerks to decorate elaborate pumpkins, and birthday celebrations were always a big deal, and she took the clerks on a yearly outing (we went fishing). And that sort of thing really made a difference.

How does your workplace measure up? Take Gostick and Christopher’s quiz:

New employees are made to feel welcome
Meetings are positive and light
We have fun activities at least once a month
It’s common to hear people laughing around here
I can be myself at work
We have a lot of celebrations for special events
When brainstorming, we like to have fun
My boss is usually optimistic and smiling
Customers would call us fun to do business with
I have a friend at work who makes me laugh
We have a good time together

It occurs to me that this is a good list for home, too; I just need to substitute a few words. I’ve been working hard to be a more light-hearted parent and spouse, and these are helpful points to keep in mind.

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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.

Happiness Interview with The Bounce Back Book’s Karen Salmansohn.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness.

During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument.

Today’s interview is with Karen Salmansohn, the best-selling author who writes and speaks extensively about the subject of happiness—especially as related to career and relationships (which covers a lot of happiness territory!). She also has a terrific blog.

She has a very intriguing new book, The Bounce Back Book. Like all her books, it’s got a fabulous design and engaging graphic elements; this one boasts an appropriately “bouncy” red rubber cover. It hits on a topic that has been generating a lot of discussion lately—how and why people can show resilience in the face of adversity, setbacks, and loss.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Karen: A few years ago I went through a very difficult time – which included a sexual assault – and discovered a lot of new research on happiness while writing bouncing back — and writing a book all about resiliency psychology called The Bounce Back Book.

One thing I found super interesting was how crises can deplete your entire health. In fact, depression is considered by doctors to be “whole-body disorder”– having bad side effects on the heart, brain, bones, metabolism – you name it. So if you’re feeling depressed or upset, it’s very important to make sure you don’t overdraw on vitamins, minerals, and serotonin. You must eat healthfully and add in extra mood boosting vitamins — like St. John’s Wort, Ginkgo and SAM-e. In particular I recommend taking SAM-e – which is a naturally occurring molecule produced in your body that is there to help regulate your mood. When you’re stressed or not eating right it can get depleted, which increases moodiness and irritability. Nature Made makes the best SAM-e because it’s in super good moisture protective packaging.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Karen: I have a single word mantra I recommend – the word FORWARD. Whenever you’re tempted to dwell in the past, repeat this single word: Forward. Also, it helps if you’re a forward thinker and brainstorm up one positive thought and action to use to keep you moving forward. When you’re tempted to indulge in a negative, regressive behavior, consciously stop it and swap it for one that will move you forward!

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Karen: I love going for long walks with my dog. I cash in on multiple happiness boosters in one activity. Firstly I am with my adorable jackiuaua Maxine (studies all show pet time = happiness time). Next I am in the sun (ditto on the sunny mood benefits from being the very great outdoors). Thirdly, being with a dog leads to socializing with others (again – a mood enhancer). Finally, I am walking, walking, walking – which is terrific exercise and a mood pick-me-upper. In fact, a well-known research study at Duke University even showed that going for a brisk 30-minute walk three times a week is as effective as taking antidepressants to improve your mood.

Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Karen: Too many people ask themselves depressing questions. And if you ask depressing questions, you will 100% get depressing answers. For example it does no good to ask yourself: Why didn’t I . . .? What if . . .? Why me?

Would you accept some of the mean and nasty questions you ask yourself if they came from an outside source? Doubtful! So you gotta stop ‘em and swap ‘em immediately for these questions – which bounce you upward from a bad mood: What can I do to move forward? How can I grow from this challenge? What’s within my control to change?

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I spent waaaaay too much time reading Passive Aggressive Notes this morning. Writing, or receiving, these notes isn’t a good route to happiness, but I did laugh out loud while I was reading a few of them.

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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.

What happiness books have been recommended to you — or do you recommend?

I love getting suggestions for reading. I’ve found some of my favorite books on happiness through reader recommendations.

So here’s a question: if you’ve ever been in therapy, or marriage or family counseling, or met with a minister, priest, or other kind of spiritual adviser, or gone to a career coach or life coach, or hired a professional organizer, or anything else along those lines – what books were recommended to you?

I’d be interested just to know what books were recommended, whether or not you did read them. And if did you read them – were any books particularly helpful? Non-fiction or fiction, any kind of book.

Or if you are a therapist, minister, coach, and the like, what do you recommend?

I’d love to know what happiness professionals (of all stripes) suggest for people to read.

The right book, at the right time, can make a tremendous difference – for example, Beth Lisick suggesting 1-2-3 Magic to me. My fantasy, of course, would be that one day, people might recommend THE HAPPINESS PROJECT. One of the reader emails that has made me happiest was the email from a therapist who said that he told his patients to read my blog every day.

Part of giving great counsel (in whatever role) is seeing what book would suit a particular person’s character and situation. For example, I LOVE Story of a Soul, but I have to admit that it’s not a book for everyone.

Or is there a book that you’ve found on your own, that you want to recommend to other people?

For some of my happiness-related reading suggestions, see the lower right-hand column of this blog.

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When I was at the MediaBistro conference, I saw a presentation by the founder of the site Divine Caroline, so I went to check it out. Lots of interesting material, in several happiness-related categories.

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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.