The connection between one of my Secrets of Adulthood and the “maximum-use imperative.”

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is: What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN A WHILE.

I’ve been surprised how often this “secret” comes in handy.

Exercising – I have a friend who thinks she’s a regular exerciser because every several weeks, she goes to the gym for two hours. Nope!

Eating – before I gave up fake food, I’d say to myself, “Sure, I eat fake food, but just here and there.” When I was really honest with myself, finally, I realized that I was eating fake food three or four times each day. It wasn’t a once-in-a-while habit.

In a fascinating book, Daniel McGinn’s House Lust, I learned that market researchers use the term “maximum-use imperative” to describe the fact that people will often buy something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely.

So, for example, you might look for a house, or a dining room table, that’s big enough to seat your entire family when it’s your turn to host Christmas dinner – even though you have a family of four that’s dwarfed by that size.

Along the same lines, I’ve noticed that when making decisions, I tend to give too much thought to what I do ONCE IN A WHILE and not enough weight to what I do EVERY DAY.

Shoes, for example. I wear running shoes 29 days out of 30 days a month, yet I have three pairs of black flats and only one pair of running shoes.

Why does this matter for happiness? Because, I think, we’re happiest when our decisions most closely match our natures.

If I splurge on linen cocktail napkins, but never have cocktail parties, I’m not going to be pleased with my purchase. If I tell my doctor I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, but actually eat lots of pizza and subs, I’m not going to get sound advice. If I insist that I love skiing, when in fact, I love staying inside reading, I’m not going to enjoy the vacation.

It can be hard to be myself, to acknowledge what I really enjoy — it can be easy to let lofty fantasies get in the way. Again, I ask, why is it so tough to “Be Gretchen”?

If I pretend to myself that I’m different from the way I truly am, I’m going to make choices that won’t make me happy.

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The New York Times blog Shifting Careers is a reliably great read. Even if you’re not looking to “shift careers,” it’s worth checking out, because so much of the information there is interesting and useful for work life generally.

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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: 12 tips for acting like a true friend.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Twelve tips for acting like a true friend.

Everyone from Aristotle to Martin Seligman agrees that friendship is one of the keys to happiness.

No one would argue that they DON’T want strong friendships, but the trick is figuring out how, exactly, to keep your friendships strong.

Here twelve tips for how to act like a true friend:

1. Be supportive when your friend has bad news. This is perhaps the most critical duty of a friend.

2. Be supportive when your friend has good news. This is trickier; surprisingly, it’s sometimes harder to be supportive when someone gets a promotion, gets engaged, or enjoys other good fortune, than it is to be supportive when someone is going through a hard time.

3. Don’t gossip. It’s not nice. Also, although it may be fun to gossip about Pat with Jean, Jean is probably going to feel wary of being your friend—you’re not trustworthy. Along the same lines…

4. Keep a secret. One of the most satisfying aspects of friendship is that it allows two people to confide in each other. Spilling secrets will destroy that. Ah, it’s so delicious to disclose a secret—but you have to resist.

5. Exchange favors. Along with the feeling of intimacy, one of the best parts of friendship is the feeling of support it provides. And while getting support is important, giving support may be even more important for boosting happiness.

6. Don’t criticize a friend’s sweetheart or spouse—and, at the other extreme, don’t flirt with a friend’s sweetheart or spouse.

7. Be kind to a friend’s children.

8. Be friendly to a friend’s friends. In fact, in a phenomenon called “triadic closure,” people tend to befriend the friends of their friends – and this is very satisfying. Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network.

9. Show up. Sometimes a friend wants you to show up someplace when you’d really rather not: a wedding in Topeka; a surprise party that falls on New Year’s Eve, when you’d rather be doing something else. Recognize a command performance, and don’t miss it.

Bonus activities:

10. Remember birthdays.

11. Be nice to their pets.

12. Help a friend think big. Nothing is more encouraging than a friend throwing out some huge goal and saying, “You should do that!” “You should write a book, you should start your own firm, you should run for office, you should join the Council on Foreign Relations.” You never know, sometimes one encouraging comment can have extraordinary effect on someone’s life.

Have I overlooked anything?

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A thoughtful reader sent me the link to an article she wrote about the many strategies she used to lift herself out of depression. Lots of sound, practical ideas about tackling recurrent depression.

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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.

Happiness is…?

More blogging!

I’m very happy to have started my gig at RealSimple.com. Check out my first few posts, in my blog called Note to Self.

One of the principles of happiness is that challenges make us happier — they also make us frustrated and annoyed. As part of starting Note to Self, I’ve been struggling to deal with digital images (you may have noticed that the images on this blog have been changing size lately). At last, I think I’ve figured it out! Now the happiness kicks in.

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Oh, how I love Lifehacker. What a treasure trove.

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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 you should try to coax yourself into a good mood before going to the dentist.

I just finished a very interesting short book, Thanks!, by Robert Emmons, one of the leading experts on gratitude.

However, I found one of his most interesting observations to be, not about gratitude, but about the connection between happiness and pain.

It’s well known that physical damage doesn’t automatically result in a certain amount of pain. Other factors influence how much pain we feel.

So it turns out that, along with lots of other reasons to be happy, being happy alleviates the severity of pain.

Emmons explains that, because he knows this, he does three things before going to the dentist:
 he takes two aspirin
 he avoids caffeine for four hours before his appointment
 he tries to put himself in a good mood.

Feeling blue heightens feelings of pain and boosts arousal levels, while feeling cheerier makes it easier to withstand pain.

I can’t say I’m actually looking forward to going to the dentist or some other painful appointment, but I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to test out this strategy.

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Life Learning Today is a terrific site, with a treasure trove of information on all sorts of useful subjects.

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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: lots of happiness quotations from Eugene Delacroix.

I just finished reading The Journal of Eugene Delacroix. It’s astonishingly interesting.

Delacroix (1798-1863) is famous as a painter, but I was struck by many of his observations about the nature of happiness. I couldn’t pick just one.

“I made some good resolutions today. If my memory fails, these pages may at least reproach me for forgetting them – a folly that would only serve to make me unhappy.”

“What moves men of genius, or rather, what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”

“At least admire the great virtues, even if you are not strong enough to be truly virtuous yourself!”

“When one has money one feels no joy in possessing it, but when money is lacking one misses the enjoyments it provides.”

“The Natural History Museum is open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays. Elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus; extraordinary animals! Rubens rendered them marvelously. I had a feeling of happiness as soon as I entered the place and the further I went the stronger it grew. I felt my whole being rise above commonplaces and trivialities and the petty worries of my daily life. What an immense variety of animals and species of different shapes and functions!”

“I hope that I shall long continue to keep a record of my impressions. I shall often realize the advantage of noting down my impressions in this way; they grow deeper as one recalls them.”

“You increase your self-respect when you feel you’ve done everything you ought to have done, and if there is nothing else to enjoy, there remains that chief of pleasures, the feeling of being pleased with oneself. A man gets an immense amount of satisfaction from the knowledge of having done good work and of having made the best use of his day, and when I am in this state I find that I thoroughly enjoy my rest and even the mildest forms of recreation.”

“One always has to spoil a picture a little in order to finish it.”

“It is the same with ruins, which appear all the more impressive because of the missing portions; their details are worn away or defaced and, as with buildings under construction, you see only rudiments and vague suggestions of mouldings and ornamentation. A finished building encloses the imagination within a circle and prevents it from straying behond its limits. Perhaps the only reason why the sketch for a work gives so much pleasure is that each beholder can finish it as he chooses.”

“Can any man say with certainty that he was happy at a particular moment of time which he remembers as being delightful? Remembering it certainly makes him happy, because he realizes how happy he could have been, but at the actual moment whenthe alleged happiness was occurring, did he really feel happy? He was like a man owning a piece of ground in which, unknown to himself, a treasure lay buried. You would not call such a man rich, neither would I call happy the man who is so without realizing it…”

“How strange painting is, it delights us with representations of objects that are not pleasing in themselves!”

“A man does not work only for the sake of producing, but to set a value on his time. We feel more satisfied with ourselves and with our day if we have stirred up our minds and made a good start, or have finished a piece of work.”

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There’s a HUGE amount of great information at Etavitom.com. That’s “motivate” spelled backwards, which is a clue to what you’ll find on the site.

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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.