It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: What “Pimp My Ride” and “Trading Spaces” can teach you about happiness.

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

I love any kind of before-and-after, especially with photographs, progress charts, or anything that shows how much change has been accomplished. That’s one reason I love putting gold stars on my Resolutions Chart. (If you’d like to see a copy, see the left-hand column for directions.)

I know many people feel the same way – just look at number of TV based on before-and-after: The Biggest Loser, Pimp My Ride, Extreme Makeover, Trading Spaces, Nanny 911, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy…and what’s the name of that fashion show?

Yesterday, at the gym where I do my strength-training, my trainer showed me the stack of charts that she’d filled in since I started. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t believe that I’d shown up that many times. I vividly remember watching her write my name at the top of a page, on my first day.

It occurred to me this morning that it would be fun to ask her to set the machines at the weights I could lift when I started. That would also give me a sense of accomplishment – a “before” and “after.”

I’m planning to re-organize some closets, and to deepen my gratification, I’m going to take “before” pictures so that I’ll have a record of the improvements I’ll have made “after.”

For your Happiness Project, look around in your own life and see if you can find a before-and-after opportunity.

Could you take a photo of a messy car or closet “before,” then another photo “after”?

Could you carefully note your present physical condition, so that if you stick to your exercise routine, you’ll be able to measure how far you’ve come “after” a few months? I remember when I first started running, I ran just a tiny bit further each day, and after six months, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment each time I passed by the place that had been my turn-around point when I’d started.

A “before-and-after” requires a commitment. By documenting your “before,” you’re promising yourself that there will be an “after” – and that fact alone will probably make you more likely to follow through.

Also making progress tangible makes it more rewarding – and we’re more likely to stick with rewarding activities.

If you happen to document your before-and-after on the web, send me the link! And if anyone knows any great sites that show before-and-afters, please post them in the comments – I’m willing to bet that most people would like to seem them as much as I would.

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My pal Ron Hogan writes one of my favorite blogs, GalleyCat, and he invited me to tag along when he met Beth Lisick, who wrote a terrific memoir called Helping Me Help Myself: One Skeptic, Ten Self-Help Gurus, and a Year on the Brink of the Comfort Zone, in which she writes about the year she spent trying to improve her life by following the advice of ten of America’s best self-help gurus: Suze Orman, Richard Simmons, Jack Canfield, John Gray, etc. (sound a bit familiar?).

He just posted his account of our happiness-filled encounter, which I thought was pretty funny.

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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.

Happiness is…a twenty-two point analytical framework? How’s that possible?

One important source of happiness is intellectual gratification. Satisfying your curiosity, mastering a new subject, acquiring a new skill – these bring intense happiness. Also, intellectual gratification doesn’t necessarily involve other people. It’s clear that a critical – perhaps THE critical – element of happiness is strong bonds with other people, but I, for one, also enjoy retreats into solitude.

For me, discovering unexpected patterns and echoes among people’s behavior is enormously satisfying. I love the identification of universal, unifying characteristics.

That’s why I love brilliant, mind-blowing books like A Pattern Language, lots of work by Carl Jung and Mircea Eliade, The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, The Golden Bough, The Accursed Share, and Crowds and Power. In law school, I was fascinated by the idea of “Restatements” of law.

That’s why I had such a delightful time writing my own books, Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide and Profane Waste.

So I was thrilled to discover a list by Lord Raglan, from The Hero (1936), in which he identified patterns in the lives of heroes. He found twenty-two archetypal features shared across the hero-myths of many cultures.

Consider:

1. The hero’s mother is a royal virgin;
2. His father is a king, and
3. Often a near relative of his mother, but
4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and
5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god.
6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grand father to kill him, but
7. He is spirited away, and
8. Reared by foster-parents in a far country.
9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but
10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.
11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast,
12. He marries a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor and
13. And becomes king.
14. For a time he reigns uneventfully and
15. Prescribes laws, but
16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which
18. He meets with a mysterious death,
19. Often at the top of a hill,
20. His children, if any do not succeed him.
21. His body is not buried, but nevertheless
22. He has one or more holy sepulchres.

To see this framework applied to the lives such as Krishna, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, King Arthur, Odysseus, Zeus, and Harry Potter, check out an analysis by Professor Sienkewicz of Monmouth College.

Why does this kind of thing make me so happy? It just does. And the challenge of this kind of interest is that I can’t just walk into a library and head to a certain shelf, or run a search on the internet. I have to stumble across it, so the joy of finding something is rare and intense.

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Speaking of the happiness of satisfying your curiosity, I’ve always been curious about something I’d heard about (I think there was a movie?): that in World War II, a group of “Code Talkers” used their Navaho language to communicate in an unbreakable mililtary code. Yipppee, I found an article on Gimundo that was was just long enough to satisfy my curiosity.

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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: Six questions to help you stay serene.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six questions to help you stay serene. Or, at the very least, to keep from losing your temper in an angry fit.

One of my worst faults is my tendency to “snap” – to react sharply, in a minor but harsh way. This trait clouds my happiness and the happiness of everyone who feels the lash.

The conventional advice for mastering your temper is to “Count to 10” before reacting. My problem is that, in the difficult moment, it never occurs to me to count to ten.

Figuring out ways to control my snappishness is one of my chief goals for the Happiness Project. To try to rein it in, I’ve tried everything from the Week of Extreme Nice to hypnosis.

I also came up with a set of questions that kick into my brain (sometimes) in time to affect my behavior.

If you’re about to lose your temper, ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I at fault? I hate to be criticized or to be in the wrong. Often, I’m angriest when someone is chiding me about something that I am, indeed, guilty of. When I’m about to hit back, I remind myself to accept criticism politely, if grudgingly.

2. Will this solve anything? I often snap when I feel like I’m confronting the same annoyance over and over. Fact is, people often have irritating habits that aren’t going to change. Failure to meet deadlines, failure to return phone calls, untidiness, etc., etc. I try to remember that snapping isn’t going to make any difference, but will only make me feel bad.

3. Am I improving the situation? This is particularly important with my children. If I lose my temper with my children, the problem just escalates to a whole new horrible level. My daughter dissolves into tears and wails, “You talked to me in a mean voice!” It’s far more effective to stay calm. Also, nicer.

4. Should I be helping you? Often, I lose my temper because I’m actually feeling guilty about my own unhelpfulness. My guilt makes me crabby, but it’s really a sign that I should be taking action.

5. Am I uncomfortable? Discomfort shortens my fuse. I’ve become much more careful to dress warmly (even when people make fun of my long underwear and double sweaters), to snack more often, to turn off the light when I’m sleepy, and to take pain medication as soon as I get a headache. The Duke of Wellington advised, “Always make water when you can,” and I follow that precept, too.

6. Can I make a joke of this? Using humor is extraordinarily effective, but I usually can’t find the inner depths to laugh at an annoying situation. A distant goal for which I’m striving.

It’s tempting to dwell on questions like, “Whose fault is it?” or “Why am I upset?” but in the end, these tend to stoke my temper instead of soothe it. I try to remind myself that no behavior is annoying if I don’t find it annoying. A hackneyed observation, but true.

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A thoughtful reader sent me the link to a very interesting website, We Are What We Do. The idea of the website is that people can bring about big changes by making a series of small changes–“take a first-aid course,” “smile and smile back,” “have more meals together,” “recycle your cell phone” and many others. I couldn’t agree more with this approach. Also, there’s a way to record and track the changes you want to make, plus you can see what other people are trying to do, so looks very useful to folks doing their own happiness projects.

I was particularly pleased to see someone making the case for organ donation.

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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 Alicia Silverstone’s “Dumbest Celeb Quote” actually gives profound insight into the nature of happiness.

I was in the physical therapist’s office the other day (see the epiphany of Back Spasm) and reading the January edition of Readers’ Digest. Drawing from VH1’s 40 Dumbest Celeb Quotes, a sidebar called “They’re Stars, Just Dim Ones” quoted Alicia Silverstone saying, “I think the film Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it’s true lightness.”

Now, quoted like that, I admit, Alicia Silverstone sounds a little preposterous. But I think she’s quite right.

A line from the British writer G. K. Chesterton has haunted me for years, and has been one of the major influences on my Happiness Project: It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.

It’s on the screensaver of my laptop. It’s one of my personal koans. It floats through my head several times a day. It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.

This is one reason that I love St. Therese of Lisieux so much. She made saintliness seem so light – so effortless, so fun, so happy – that many of her fellow nuns didn’t even recognize her heroic virtue. Even now, when people discuss the style of her spiritual memoir, The Story of a Soul, they criticize her for her sweetness, and exclamation points, and her hearts-and-flowers aesthetic. They don’t understand that she was choosing (I think) to be light.

One mystery of happiness is why some people choose to be unhappy. One answer: It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. And you don’t get credit for being light. It looks easy and effortless. No one thinks much about you or tries to accommodate you. You get taken for granted.

Same thing with a movie or a book – it seems so easy to do a light movie, with jokes and cheeriness and a happy ending. But is it easier to make people cry or to make them laugh?

Is it easier to be critical or to be enthusiastic?

Is it easier to be fretful or to be satisfied?

Is it easier to yell or to joke around?

It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.

Zoikes, I bet that G. K. Chesterton and Alicia Silverstone have never come up in the same discussion before, ever.

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I always look forward to checking out Zen Habits. Lots of interesting information of all sorts, mostly in the tips format that I love. Also a fellow LifeRemixer.

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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 Saturday: a happiness quotation from Twyla Tharp.

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.” –Twyla Tharp

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Work It, Mom! is a great site where working mothers connect, find support, share advice, and de-stress — and they posted an interview with me the other day.

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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.