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

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A secret to happiness and love: PAY ATTENTION.

“I’ve decided to stop being so compulsive about going to the gym,” the Big Man remarked when we were at dinner with friends a few nights ago.

“Really?” I said in surprise. “I didn’t know that you thought of yourself as compulsive about going to the gym.” Though I do know that he hates to miss even one day.

The conversation shifted, so he didn’t say anything more, but I vowed to follow up on his comment. It’s a strange effect of marriage that certain kinds of confidences become much rarer; most married people know the experience of hearing your spouse make a startling revelation to some strangers you just met at a Parent Social.

In his book The Relationship Cure, preeminent marriage researcher John Gottman explains that the less people turn toward each other, the less satisfying their relationship.

One of the glories, and one of the drawbacks, of a long relationship is that people start to take each other for granted.

I’m trying to pay more attention to the Big Man – by putting down my book when he talk to me, instead of saying “Mmmm, hmmm” as I continue to read, by paying attention to his likes and dislikes, by doing little errands I notice that he needs done (like dropping off his shoes at the shoe repair place) even when they aren’t strictly “my” job.

I’m reminded, once again, of the line by Pierre Reverdy: “There is no love; there are only proofs of love.” An easy and obvious way to prove love is to pay attention. It’s harder than it sounds.

One of my happiness hobbyhorses (zoikes, I’m going to hang on to that phrase!) is the importance of getting enough sleep, so I was very interested to read the post on the Ririan Project blog on that topic.

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I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Samuel Butler.

Samuelbutler“One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and the most neglected of all arts and branches of education.” –Samuel Butler

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Here’s a quick, easy, free way to boost your happiness: get more SLEEP.

AlarmclockLast night, the Big Man and I went to sleep at 9:45 pm. This seemed preposterously early, but we were both so tired that we decided to turn off the light.

However, it occurred to me, 9:45 is not all that early. Usually we get up at 6:30 am. A bedtime of 10:00 pm means 8 ½ hours of sleep. The recommended amount for an adult is 8 hours – however, only 26% of adult Americans get that much sleep a night, down from 38% just six years ago.

Usually we go to sleep around 11:00 pm. That means we’re chronically underslept.

One common sleep problem is insomnia, but another common sleep problem is ignoring sleepiness to keep working, reading, cruising the internet, and TV channel surfing.

Studies show that people get accustomed to being sleep-deprived. At first, they notice the effect on their mood and alertness, but before long, they adjust to that state as normal. So even if you insist that you feel fine, if you got more sleep, you might feel a lot better.

I know, it’s hard to turn off the light. There’s so much to do, so much interesting information to absorb. But when I woke up this morning, feeling well-rested and energetic, before the alarm rang, I was very happy that I’d put down Prokosch’s The Asiatics to go to sleep.

Even more than getting more sleep, clearing clutter is one of my favorite ways to boost my happiness — so I love the blog Unclutterer. Today’s post, an interview with clutter expert Peter Walsh, was a fascinating discussion about the roots of clutter and how to tackle it.

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In which my friend’s waitressing experience teaches me something about happiness.

CrowdedrestaurantA friend told me a story about the first summer she spent as a waitress.

Several times, she had tables of people who seemed really nice, with whom she had a great rapport, for whom she went the extra mile, and she’d think, “Wow, I’m going to get a great tip!”

And she wouldn’t.

Other times, she had tables of people who seemed indifferent or grouchy, and she’d think, “Wow, they’re going to stiff me.”

And they’d leave a generous tip.

She mentioned this observation to her manager. He said, “You’re only surprised because you’ve just started waitressing. You’ll see, almost always, people tip whatever they usually tip. They don’t tip more or less based on you and what you do.”

To me, this story seemed to contain two lessons.

First, although I feel like the center of the action, often I’m not. People aren’t adjusting everything they do based on me. I need to remember that in many cases, I’m not responsible for the reactions that I think I’m provoking.

Second, habit is important. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” A generous person makes a habit of generosity, a happy person makes a habit of happiness, a querulous person makes a habit of complaining. So I need to watch the habits I build.

(I love the way the Happiness Project has put me in the practice of finding moral lessons in casual anecdotes.)

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This Wednesday: If you’re tired of being nagged all the time, here are 8 tips to STOP the NAGGING.

Nag2Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: If you’re tired of being nagged all the time, here are 8 tips to STOP THE NAGGING.

Nagging is unpleasant for both participants. If you find yourself on the naggee side of the equation, how can you put a stop to the nagging? Try these strategies:

One main reason for nagging is that a naggee isn’t responding. Some folks seem to think if they don’t answer, somehow, all will be forgotten. To the contrary. Because the nagger doesn’t feel heard, the nagging continues unabated. So if you’re being nagged:

1. Answer, to show that you’ve registered what was said. “Okay, I need to stop at the store on the way home.”
2. Commit to a deadline. “I don’t have time today or tomorrow to deal with the car insurance, but it’s on my calendar for Friday, and I’ll take care of it then.”

One unpleasant thing about being nagged is hearing the nag, nag, nag voice in your ear.

3. Find a WORDLESS way to be reminded to do a chore. Ask the nagger to put light-bulbs on the counter if the light-bulbs need to be replaced.
4. Ask to be reminded in writing, with notes or emails. This method is also more efficient and helpful.

Instead of just ignoring the nagging, explain why you’re not responding:

5. If you’re being nagged to take an umbrella, eat breakfast, or put on a coat, remind the nagger that you are a grown-up, and you choose not to do so.
6. If, in truth, you simply aren’t going to do something, tell the nagger that you’re not going to do it. A nagger would prefer to KNOW that you won’t do it rather than to be kept in frustrated suspense – especially because often, your stalling makes the task ultimately more difficult to accomplish.

Remove the prompt for the nagging:

7. Sometimes we have an aversion to a particular chore. If you’re always being nagged to do the dishes because you HATE doing dishes, try saying, “For some reason, I hate doing dishes. Is there something else I could do, as a substitute?”
8. Throw money at the problem. Marital happiness is a high life priority. Instead of buying a new kitchen table, spend the money to hire a teenager to mow the lawn.

And naggees – remember, one obvious way to stop being nagged is to DO YOUR SHARE! If you never follow through, if you never do a chore without being repeatedly asked to do it, if you never pitch in, you know why you’re being nagged.

It’s no fun to be nagged, and it’s no fun to be a nag. It’s worth putting some thought into cutting down on this noise in your household.

If you’re in the mood for a more scholarly approach to happiness, try poking around on Happiness and Public Policy–it has a lot of interesting, provocative material. It hasn’t updated in a little while, but there’s plenty of information there to keep a reader busy.

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