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

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It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Go outside.

SunrisecityI’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 now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

This assignment is easy. Go outside.

Go outside into the sunlight; light deprivation is one reason that people feel tired. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood and increase motivation.

For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning.

Now, I’m the kind of person who loves to sit around the house in my pajamas. If I can manage it, I enjoy the occasional day when I never step foot out of my apartment.

But even though I love staying in, there’s nevertheless something slightly oppressive about being inside all day.

And going from your front door, to the car door, to the office door, and then in reverse, isn’t much better.

At least for me, unscientifically speaking, spending time outside gives a feeling of freedom, of connecting with the seasons (even when the weather isn’t ideal), of breathing fresh air, of not being so trapped by a schedule that I can’t be out in the world.

Plus, if you use your time outside to go for a walk, you’ll get a double benefit for mood and energy. Because I live in New York City, I get a lot of opportunities to walk around outside, and I know it boosts my spirits.

If possible, push the directive to “Go outside” a little further, and try to build some more outdoor time into your life. Go hiking, go birdwatching, get a dog, shoot hoops in the driveway.

People in industrialized countries spent about 93% of their time inside; don’t forget how energizing and cheering it can be to go outdoors.

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I’d read about this fascinating experiment demonstrating “inattentional blindness,” but I’d never seen it for myself until Martha Beck included a URL to the video in her O Magazine article, Wait! Stop! It’s all too much.

Go to this site, by the University of Illinois’s Visual Cognition Lab, and watch the video. As you watch, count the number of times the white-shirted team passes the basketball.

If you want to know the point of the study, watch the video again — or tune in tomorrow, and I’ll explain.

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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've just finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you'd like to pre-order the book, click here.

Just two days into 2008, I broke several of my most important resolutions.

SunriseSo much for keeping my resolutions.

Last night, on Day #2 of my resolutions for the new year, I broke about fifty resolutions in the space of ten minutes. Possibly a new record.

It was late, and both of our girls, who are usually good sleepers, were up and fussing in their various eight-year-old and two-year-old manners.

The problem: I wanted the Big Man to deal with it, for my own reasons, and he wanted me to deal with it, for his own reasons.

Neither of us was right or wrong. We both had good justifications for why the other person should step up.

But I was ENRAGED. I yelled, I stormed around the room, I said all the things you’re not supposed to say, like “You always…” “You never…” and my personal favorite, “For once, can’t you just…?”

I prevailed — but I lost. I felt terrible.

Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger only aggravates it.

I’ve certainly found this to be true; losing my temper just made me angrier. And once my anger passed, I felt guilty about my behavior, which then re-fueled my anger.

I thought again of G. K. Chesterton’s haunting line, “It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.” I should have expressed myself gently, with a sense of humor. I should have exerted the self-discipline to hold my temper.

Oh, well. As I constantly remind myself as I pursue my Happiness Project, today is another day. I hope that seeing all those reproachful XXXXXs lined up in my resolutions chart will help me remember to do a better job next time.

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On the subject of New Year’s resolutions, or more generally, to-do lists, I just discovered the To Do List blog. It’s like Joe’s Goals meets Post Secret.

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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 keeping your resolutions after the zeal of 1/1/08 has worn off.

ResolutionEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Twelve tips for sticking to your resolutions after the zeal of 1/1/08 has worn off.

Some 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. I loooooove resolutions and make them constantly – I’m a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.

But it can be hard to stick to a resolution. Here are twelve tips for following through on a resolution as the year progresses:

1. Write it down – and be specific. Don’t try to “make more friends”; instead, “start a movie group,” “remember birthdays,” “say hello,” “make plans.”

2. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it.

3. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart — whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure.

4. Think big. Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure – a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.

5. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.

6. Break your main resolution into smaller, more manageable tasks. Also, a long to-do list will give you a feeling of progress as you work toward a distant goal.

7. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail) than every few days.

8. Set a deadline.

9. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.

10. Ask for help. Why is this so hard? But every time I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much easier my task becomes.

11. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day. Instead of cleaning out the whole basement, tackle one closet this afternoon. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.

Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson are the two patron saints of those who make resolutions. Benjamin Franklin’s virtue charts inspired me to do my own resolution charts (if you’d like to see my charts, drop me an email at grubin [that add the “at” symbol] gretchenrubin [add the “dotcom” part]).

I laugh every time I read the entry from Samuel Johnson’s diary on his 51st birthday in September 1760. He has a long list of resolutions, and he concludes with four resolutions to begin at once:

Rise as early as I can.
Send for books for Hist. of war.
Put books in order.
Scheme life.

“Scheme life!” Now that’s a resolution.

His first resolution, “Rise as early as I can,” brings me to Tip #12: Consider giving up a resolution.

For his whole life, Johnson vowed to start getting up early, and he remained a late riser. But he managed to get quite a bit accomplished, anyway. So give it up, Dr. Johnson! Sleep late, and enjoy it!

If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose twenty pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.

And if one of your resolutions is to drink more water, don’t worry about it! This is a myth! You do NOT need to drink more water!

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I often stop by Marginal Revolution, and with this visit, was rewarded with a post about the relationship between money and happiness — one of the most complicated and misunderstood sub-topics within the subject 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.

It’s January 1, 2008! Make a happiness-project resolution now!

Times_squareAs I’ve been working on my Happiness Project, people keep asking me, “Well, can you really make yourself happier?”

And when I say that YES, I absolutely have made myself happier, they ask, “Was it hard to do?”

And the answer to that is NO. But also YES.

I’ve been surprised by the dramatic happiness boost I’ve gotten from making very small shifts in behavior. I didn’t have to make radical changes in my life to make myself much happier. Little things made a huge difference.

So in that sense, it was easy.

But I did have to put some THOUGHT into what I wanted to change (it wasn’t always apparent what needed to be done) and I needed to STICK to my resolutions. This wasn’t exactly difficult, but it took attention and persistence.

That’s why I think doing my monthly written resolution charts really helped me. Each month, I have a special focus (family, marriage, work, leisure, friends, spirituality, attitude, energy, etc.) and several resolutions meant to help me make progress.

Now that I’ve worked through the entire year, I review all twelve charts every day, and I score myself on any applicable resolution.

My resolutions continue to evolve. I didn’t always realize quite what my resolution should be. I’ve added more specific resolutions and swapped out resolutions that didn’t work. I hit on two of my favorite resolutions, “Keep a one-sentence journal” and “Make three friends” when I was well into the process.

Some resolutions were only good for one month. For example, I wrote a novel in a month only for one month. So now I don’t need to keep track of that resolution.

I love charts. They keep resolutions fresh in my mind, they keep me accountable, they allow me to give myself the gold stars I crave, they give me a sense of growth – but most important is the constant review. I backslide often, and when I don’t review my charts, I backslide much more quickly. I’ve seen this happen again and again.

So consider making a chart! If you’d like to see mine, to use as an example, just email me. I get a HUGE amount of spam, though, so I’m going to encrypt my email address here: grubin – [now put in the usual symbol] – gretchenrubin [now add the most common end-part]. Or you can look in the left-hand column of my blog to get my email address if you’re not sure what I’m talking about.

If making a chart doesn’t appeal to you, check out Joe’s Goals or 43 Things.

Another approach, which my sister follows, is to give an entire year a theme. For example, one of her years was the Year of Hot Wheels. She and I are both fearful drivers, but it made much more of a difference in her life, given that I live in New York City and she lives in L.A. – in the Year of Hot Wheels, she bought a car and started to drive (three years after she’d moved to L.A!). The next year was Hot Body. 2007 was her Year of Free Time, and she’d done absolutely nothing in furtherance of that goal until the recent writers’ strike made her perfectly compliant with her year’s resolution.

Another friend of mine also uses themed years. I haven’t heard what he’s had for the past several years, but if I remember correctly, he had Dark ‘96, Network ’97, Fame ’98.

Everyone’s Happiness Project will look different from everyone else’s. You may want to make one resolution; you may want to make fifty. But really take the time to decide if there’s something that you can change for the better in your life.

A new year’s resolution may seem like a cliche, but I think it can absolutely pay off in happiness terms. IF you can keep up with it. Tomorrow I’ll post some tips for keeping your resolutions.

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A friend told me about KarmaTube, a site that harnesses the “power of video and the internet to demonstrate and multiply acts of compassion, generosity and selflessness.” Just my kind of thing! It’s interesting — there has really been a burgeoning of sites dedicated to bringing such stories to people’s attention — I’m thinking of sites like Gimundo and HumanKind, for example.

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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.

Why NOW is the time to start keeping your resolutions.

Phone
Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, the most popular day for making resolutions, so I planned to write a long post about new year’s resolutions – how to make them, how to keep them, and why bother.

About how to eat better, to exercise more, to nag less, to have more fun, to have closer friendships, to sing in the morning to your children.

But I just got back from a funeral.

All I can think is – one day, that phone is going to ring. For you, for me, for someone we love.

Henri-Frederic Amiel wrote: “Life’s short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind.”

Dear readers, NOW is the time to keep the resolutions that will make us ready; the phone is going to ring.

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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.