Why am I feeling crabby on my lovely vacation?

I’m away with my family and my in-laws on vacation. We do this every spring, and each time we do it, despite the fact that this place is lovely, I seem to end up feeling a bit crabby.

One year I blamed it on this, one year I blamed it on that. Whatever the reason, it’s a drag to have a nice vacation shadowed by a bad mood. I should be thrilled and thankful to have the chance to have such a nice holiday — and I AM thrilled and thankful — but also a bit crabby.

Well, this year, I think I figured it out. I think it’s the food situation.

Usually, at home. I eat something about every three hours. Whenever possible, I eat “breakfast” at 7:30, “lunch” at 11:30, a “snack” at 2:30, “dinner” at 6:00, and a “snack” around 8:00.

My idea of what lunch etc. consists of is probably slight unconventional – but this schedule and intake works for me.

The problem? This isn’t how the world works. Some days I can stick to this schedule, but often, of course, I have to eat at different times, and it always throws me off. One thing that puzzles me is that most adults don’t seem to get hungry the way I do. They never seem to care about what time food is served.

Being on this vacation means I’m often starving before we eat. I can’t eat as often as I’d like. The food is richer than the food I usually eat, but somehow it doesn’t seem as filling. I have to gobble down my food, because at lunch the Little Girl is spiraling down toward her nap, and at dinner, toward her bedtime, so I have to be prepared to spirit her back to bed as soon as she’s eaten.

So my current prescription for my crabbiness is to start paying more attention to eating. I’m going to try to eat more protein at meals, to try to be fuller, longer. I’m going to make sure I have some filling snacks on hand (what, I’m not sure). I’m going to make sure I eat something every three hours or so, even if it’s not quite convenient.

When we get home, maybe I’ll even go to a nutritionist to see if there’s a better way for me to approach my eating, so that I’m not as susceptible to hunger and crankiness.

But other than that, we’re having a great time.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Miyamoto Musashi.

“Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast….Of course, slowness is bad. Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.” –Miyamoto Musashi

I have really found this to be true. The people who SHOULD be the most busy always seem to have plenty of time to be deliberate and polite, instead of constantly checking their cell phones or rushing around.

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Katy over at the “It’s All About the Chatter” Constant Chatter site was nice enough to do an interview with me.

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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 Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: Keep your cool.

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.

I have trouble keeping my cool. I get rattled, agitated, wring my hands, lose my temper, and generally add to the stress of a stressful situation with my actions.

I’ve always been like this. In fact, whenever I’m heading into a difficult situation, my mother admonishes me, “Now, just stay calm.” I know that getting worked up doesn’t help, but it’s hard for me to keep cool.

Last night, the Big Man got home before I did. I walked in the front door to see the Big Girl crying. “Oh, what’s wrong, honey?” I said, peeling off my backpack.

She started choking out something about the Little Girl.

“Is she okay? Is she okay?” I asked, frantic.

“She’s okay,” she said, “but she’s locked in the bathroom! A locksmith is here.”

I raced to the bathroom. A locksmith was trying to break the lock, the Big Man was speaking comfortingly to the Little Girl, and the Little Girl was sobbing piteously, “I want Mommy! I want Mommy!”

I didn’t want to say anything to her, because I knew it would make her much more upset to hear me talking when I wasn’t opening the door.

We seemed to be in that hallway forever. The Big Man had a deliberately composed air, and he said to me, “Stay calm.” I started to pace around and wring my hands. When the door wasn’t opening, I said to the locksmith in a sharp voice, “Can’t we just drill a hole in the door?”

The Big Man gave me a look, and I realized – my behavior wasn’t helping. Acting agitated would just make me feel more agitated, and that would make everyone else feel more agitated, and that would only make matters worse.

I couldn’t just stand there quietly, so I decided to try to be productive. I poured the Little Girl a glass of water, located a box of Kleenex, and found a blanket. I put a DVD of the The Muppet Show in the DVD player (the Little Girl only gets to watch TV when she’s sick or as a very great treat.)

Finally, the door banged open. I’d been afraid the Little Girl might be standing close to the door, but fortunately she was cowering in the far corner of the bathroom. I rushed in, scooped her up, cuddled her in a blanket, and plopped down in a chair to rock her—also the Big Girl, who needed a lot of reassurance.

Before long the Little Girl was happily introducing her Baby Peapod to the locksmith. Of everyone, the Big Man seemed the most traumatized by the episode.

One of the most useful things I’ve learned from the Happiness Project is my Third Commandment: I should act the way I want to feel. We think that we act because of the way we feel, but in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. If I want to feel calm, I need to act calm. This sounds like magical thinking, but hard science show that the “Fake it ‘till you feel it” strategy really works.

Staying cool helped me feel calm. Also, it helped the Big Man and the Big Girl stay cool — as well as the locksmith, who was clearly distressed at listening to those desperate cries as he struggled with the door. By staying cool, we were better able to respond clearly, better able to attend to each other, and less frazzled by the whole experience.

Once again, I remind myself to “Act the way I want to feel.” Also, to figure out a way to disable the locks in our bathrooms.

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The terrific site Gimundo had a great story about people with crazy abilities – one is super-flexible, one is able to control his body temperature through meditation, etc. Just the kind of thing that I love to read on a Friday afternoon!

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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.

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.