This Wednesday: Eleven internet tools to help make yourself happier.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eleven internet tools to help make yourself happier.

The internet is a treasure trove. I’m constantly amazed by the astounding information and tools that are out there.

I’ve found several sites that provide great services that help boost happiness, in one way or another. I’ve used all of these myself and have found them extremely useful.

1. Happybirthday.com – one of the keys to happiness is keeping close relationships with other people. I plugged in dozens of birthdays to get reminders, and now I never forget a birthday. A friend of mine also uses Happybirthday.com to remind himself of happy anniversaries, like the day his daughter said her first word.

2. An RSS reader — looking for ways to use your time more efficiently? If you find yourself visiting a lot of different sites, use an RSS reader instead of your “favorites” list or typing in the URL. I use FeedDemon, but there are many readers from which to choose. It’s a far more efficient way to cruise through the internet.

For example, consider subscribing to my RSS feed! Subscribe to this blog’s feed.

3. Hack sites — oh, there are so many excellent sites crammed with life hacks. I can’t even begin to list them. It’s always fun to visit, cruise around, and look for something helpful. Some great ones include Lifehacker, Lifehack, Parent Hacks, LifeRemix, Zen Habits, Unclutterer, Pick the Brain, and Dumb Little Man.

4. Google Alerts – an atmosphere of growth is a key to happiness, and one way to create that atmosphere is to keep learning about subjects that interest you. A crucial tool is Google Alerts. It’s very easy. You pick a topic that interests you – say, “Saint Therese of Lisieux” or your own name – and create an alert. Then Google sends you a daily email alerting you to all the appearances of your subject. Fabulous!

5. Listography – Just the other day, I wrote about why I think keeping lists can be a useful tool for building happiness. Listography makes it easy to keep all sorts of lists as a way to organize thoughts, set goals, and keep accountability.

6. 43 Things — a site about goal-setting that’s great inspiration. It’s fascinating to read other people’s goals – and it also reminds me of how fortunate I am. For instance, one commenter wrote, “If I could find that one special person my life would be complete!!!!” Ah, that made me feel grateful for the Big Man.

7. Day Zero: Home of the 101 Things to Do in 1001 Days Project – along the same lines, this site leads you through the process of tackling 101 goals in 1001 days (the site even has a calendar calculator, so you can figure out the date). It also has some terrific tips for successful goal-setting.

8. HassleMe — sticking to resolutions is tough, and my “HassleMe” reminder nudges me each day to “Eat healthfully. Write in your one-sentence journal. Lighten up!” The trick is not to get used to seeing the reminder arrive in my email each day, but to read it mindfully and follow it every day.

9. Joe’s Goals — making and keeping resolutions is a key to becoming happier. This excellent site makes it easy to keep track.

10. Start your own blog. Many readers have emailed me to say that they’ve started their own version of a happiness-project blog – to lose weight, stop drinking, clear closets, cope with a messy divorce, read more, etc. Recording progress in a blog makes a lot of sense. First, you articulate your goals. Second, you commit to those goals in public (even if you’re the only one reading your blog, it’s public, and that increases your sense of accountability). Third, seeing your list of entries grow gives you a great feeling of accomplishment – that “atmosphere of growth” that’s so encouraging.

11. Puzzlemaker – making homemade presents is a great source of happiness, but it’s tough to pull off. Last night, the Big Girl told me about Puzzlemaker, which allows you to make your own personalized word jumbles, word searches, etc. My mind is REELING with the possibilities – invitations, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents, etc. I’m sure my beloved laminator will also come in handy.

Different strategies work well for different people. Experiment. If one site strikes you as unappealing, visit another site until you find an approach that rings true.

I’m sure there are many other great sites, as well. I’d love to read other people’s suggestions.

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I was so excited to read in Wise Bread today about the Library of Congress’s initiative to release some of their photograph collection onto Flickr, with no copyright restrictions. Ooooh, my mouth waters at the thought. What to do with those photos? I have no idea, but I’ll probably spend far too long paging through them.

For example, both are my parents are from Nebraska, and went to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, so I was particularly interested to see this charming picture of a grocery store in Lincoln in 1942.

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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.

How to boost your happiness by keeping a list of your “Things I’ve Learned So Far” or “Secrets of Adulthood” or “Notes to Self” or whatever.

A thoughtful reader sent me a link to Eric Zorn’s fantastic post, 50 things I’ve learned in 50 years, a partial list in no particular order. It’s a great read – amusing and thought-provoking.

His “50 things list” reminds me of my Twelve Commandments and my Secrets of Adulthood (in the left-hand column and reprinted below). His list is a mixture of admonitions for behavior and nuggets of hard-won wisdom (e.g., “cough syrup doesn’t work”).

On his excellent blog, Bob Sutton has a list of “Fifteen Things I Believe” which is a similar approach to trying to make sense and sum up experience.

Distilling your life wisdom into a list is certainly fun, and it’s also a happiness-booster. Every time I re-read my own list, I’m reminded of what I’ve identified as important lessons for myself. For example, probably not a day goes by when I don’t remind myself, “It’s okay to ask for help.”

And I love reading other people’s lists. Some highlights from Eric Zorn:

–It’s better to sing off key than not to sing at all.
–Promptness shows respect.
–Cough syrup doesn’t work.
–The Golden Rule is the greatest moral truth. If you don’t believe in it, at least try to fake it.
–Keeping perspective is the greatest key to happiness. From a distance, even a bumpy road looks smooth.
–Don’t waste your breath proclaiming what’s really important to you. How you spend your time says it all.
–Wounds heal faster under bandages than they do in the open air.
–In everyday life, most “talent” is simply hard work in disguise.
–Great parents can have rotten kids and rotten parents can have great kids. But even though biology plays a huge role in destiny, that’s no excuse to give up or stop trying.
–Four things that most people think are lame but really are a lot of fun: barn dancing, charades, volleyball and sing-alongs.
–When something that costs less than $200 breaks and it’s not under warranty and you can’t fix it yourself in half an hour, it’s almost certainly more cost-effective to throw it out.
–The 10-minute jump start is the best way to get going on a big task you’ve been avoiding. Set a timer and begin, promising yourself that you’ll quit after 10 minutes and do something else. The momentum will carry you forward.
–Exercise does not take time. Exercise creates time.
–The store-brand jelly, cereal, paper goods, baking supplies and pharmacy products are good enough.
–When you’re not the worst-dressed person at a social event, you have nothing to worry about.
–Your education isn’t complete until you’ve learned to take a hint.

I think the most important of my Twelve Commandments are:
• Be Gretchen.
• Act as I would feel.
• No calculation.
• There is only love.

My Secrets of Adulthood include:
• Most decisions don’t require extensive research.
• Try not to let yourself get too hungry.
• Even if you think they are fake holidays, it’s nice to celebrate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
• If you can’t find something, clean up.
• The days are long, but the years are short.
• Turning the computer on and off a few times often fixes a glitch.
• It’s okay to ask for help.
• You can choose what you do; you can’t choose what you LIKE to do.
• What you do EVERY DAY matters more than what you do ONCE IN A WHILE.
• You don’t have to be good at everything.
• Soap and water removes most stains.
• It’s important to be nice to EVERYONE.
• You know as much as most people.
• Over-the-counter medicines are very effective.
• Eat better, eat less, exercise more.
• What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you–and vice versa.
• People actually prefer that you buy wedding gifts off their registry.
• Houseplants and photo albums are a lot of trouble.

I’ve also been meaning to add “Go outside” to my list. I’m always looking for new Secrets of Adulthood, or personal commandments, so along with Eric Zorn’s, I’d love to hear any proposed additions.

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I love anything to do with reading and writing, and Dark Party is a cool online magazine about just those subjects. They dub it “literate blather” but it’s hardly blather. The folks there were nice enough to do an interview with me. They also ran a terrific post where they asked a bunch of people “What book changed your perspective on life and why?” I named Wayne Kostenbaum’s Jackie Under My Skin — though once I started thinking about it, the list started to grow and grow. I added several books to my library list after reading the post.

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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 the Dhammapada.

“Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. A fool is happy until his mischief turns against him. And a good man may suffer until his goodness flowers.” –The Dhammapada.

I’d read this quotation many times and never remarked on it much, but lately I can’t get it out of my head. That’s one reason I like to keep reviewing my treasure trove of quotations; sometimes, it takes years before I really start to appreciate a particular passgae.

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Pick the Brain has an intriguing post on the nature of happiness. Ah, an inexhaustible subject!

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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: read Sonja Lyubormirsky’s THE HOW OF 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 right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

I just finished reading Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness,and it’s the PERFECT book if you’re starting a happiness project. It lays out the different strategies to pursue to boost happiness and provides the scientific rationale behind each of them.

Lyubomirsky talks about the “40% solution” to happiness. Research shows that happiness is 50% a product of genetics, 10% a product of circumstances (wealth, health, age, marital status, etc.), and 40% a product of the way we think and how we live our lives.

Forty percent is a lot.

I was very interested to read The How of Happiness; for my work on my own Happiness Project, I pulled together much of the same research and devised, in many cases, similar areas of focus. Though I put my own idiosyncratic spin on it.

Doing it myself was more beneficial, because my Happiness Project is perfectly tailored for me and my way of thinking, and more importantly, the process of devising it forced me to think very deeply about my own particular happiness; however, for people who don’t want to spend QUITE as much time on it, this book gives a terrific grounding and a framework for setting forth.

One way this book is different from many books on happiness – whether by philosophers, scientists, or self-help gurus – is that Lyubomirsky emphasizes that different people need to take different routes to happiness. The “fit,” she stresses, is very important.

Absolutely true. That’s why my First Commandment is “Be Gretchen.” I have to pursue happiness in a way that makes sense for me. As Montaigne wrote, “The least strained and most natural ways of the soul are the most beautiful; the best occupations are the least forced.”

I get very annoyed with people like Thoreau who insist that there’s only one route to happiness (which, coincidentally, conforms perfectly with the way they like to live their lives). Or the happiness researchers who say things like “After a person has $15,000, money makes no difference to happiness.” This simply CANNOT be universally true!

So if you’re eager to start a Happiness Project, but you don’t know where to start, or you want to know the scientific basis for various recommendations, this book will be a big help.

Continuing mystery of happiness research: why no happiness researchers talk about the effect of physical environment (e.g., clutter, beauty). If you look in popular culture, people are clearly very preoccupied with this and its effect on happiness – but as far as I can tell, the scientific happiness experts never consider it.

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I had a lot of fun with the folks making the documentary Happiness Is. They interviewed me for the movie about “the pursuit of happiness in America.” It’s about to premiere at the SXSW Fillm Festival, and I hope I’ll be able to see it soon here in New York.

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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.

Have you ever had to struggle to resist buying some enticing gewgaw as a surprise for your child?

One challenge of parenthood is setting limits on myself.

For her birthday, I gave the Big Girl a giant book of optical illusions. She loved the book—pored over it, looked at it with her friends, kept it out on her beside table. I was so pleased with myself for choosing it.

Yesterday I was in a drug store that had a rack of cheap children’s books. I spotted a book of optical illusions, and almost bought it for her. Then I stopped myself.

She already had a book with 200 illusions; this book probably didn’t have much new. But even beyond that—more of something you love isn’t always better.

In fact, as I thought about it, I wondered if having two books of optical illusions might, in fact, dim her pleasure in the first book. It wouldn’t seem as magical. Also, she’d be more likely to get tired of the subject.

I remember that when the Big Girl was in nursery school, the school head told a story about a four-year-old who had a toy car he loved. He played with it constantly. Then when his grandmother came to visit, she bought him ten toys cars, and he stopped playing with the cars altogether.

“Why don’t you play with your cars?” she asked. “You loved your blue car so much.”

“But I can’t love lots of cars,” he answered.

It’s so easy to make the mistake of thinking that if you have something you love, or if there’s something you want, that you’ll be happier with more of it.

As Barry Schwartz argues in his fascinating book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, one way to keep yourself from becoming jaded to pleasurable experiences and delightful treats is to keep them as rare indulgences.

That’s because one of the significant factors in happiness is the hedonic treadmill, or hedonic adaptation.

People are adaptable. We quickly adjust to a new life circumstance—for better or worse—and consider it normal. Although this helps us when our situation worsens, it means that when circumstances improve, we soon become hardened to new comforts or privileges.

It’s so much fun to bring pleasure to children. The smallest things thrill them. I’ll never forget the look on the Little Girl’s face when I bought her a Little Mermaid electric toothbrush at Target. “For me, Mommy? Is it FOR ME?” She literally clasped it to her heart.

But like other pleasures, the joy of giving a present to a child — as well as their joy in getting a present — will become dull if indulged in too often. Not to mention all the other obvious reasons why plying your kids with stuff is a bad idea.

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Leo Babauta of the fabulous Zen Habits has launched a new blog that I’ve already added to my RSS line-up: Write to Done, about the craft and practice of writing. Great material there for people doing all kinds of writing.

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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.