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

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The Three Types of Fun, and the secret of why people watch so much TV.

TvphotoI’ve been thinking a lot about TV and happiness. Research published in Science magazine using the Day Reconstruction Method showed that participants ranked TV-watching very high among their daily activities.

At the same time, Shifting Careers, on how to handle informational interviews. I read her post, as always–and was suprised and pleased to see that I made a guest appearance.

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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.

I've just finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you'd like to pre-order the book, click here.

This Sunday: a happiness quotation from Miyamoto Musashi.

Musahi“Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. 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, A Book of Five Rings

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A great site, The Simple Dollar, just joined the LifeRemix network. A ton of great information there, with a focus on frugality and sane living.

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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: think about YOUR Happiness Project. Learn from my mistake! Identify your triggers.

UnhappyfaceNot long ago, I had an epiphany – happiness projects for everyone! Join in! No need to catch up, just jump in now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

The First Splendid Truth about happiness is: to think about your happiness, you must think about
1. feeling good,
2. feeling bad, and
3. feeling right, in
4. an atmosphere of growth.

In my Happiness Project, I think mostly about #2. I’m really working to try to remove causes of the feelings of guilt, anxiety, irritation, boredom, frustration, irritation, envy, etc. I find it much easier to “feel good” and to “feel right” about myself when I’m not “feeling bad.”

One thing I try to do is to identify triggers. So, for example, I spent a huge amount of time clearing the clutter in my apartment, because I realized that when I feel overwhelmed by mess, my irritability is triggered.

Another one of my triggers is customer support or any kind of phone interaction with a company. Cable tech support, cell phone problems, etc. I find it so hard to remain patient and cheerful. It’s so foolish to lose my temper and act annoyed, because the person on the other line usually becomes less cooperative—and MUCH WORSE, I feel guilty about the way I’ve behaved.

So last night, I did everything wrong.

Someone called from a company—which shall remain nameless, though I vindictively toyed with the idea of including its name in this post.

Starting several months ago, this company should have started sending us monthly bills, but we never got them. A few months ago, they started making a lot of harassing phone calls to get us to pay. Which we were eager to do! After a lot of back and forth, and the alleged confirming of our address, it turned out that they were sending our bills to the west side, not the east side. It’s just one letter on the address line, either “E.” or “W.” but it makes a BIG difference.

So we thought that was straightened out.

Then the calls started again. They hadn’t received our most recent payment. Because we hadn’t received their most recent bill!

I said to the woman, with irritation, “Why can’t XXX manage to get our bills delivered to us?”

She said, “The bills are just a courtesy. You signed a contract and are responsible for payment whether or not you receive a bill.”

I lost my temper. “You mean that I’m a customer of a company that can’t be relied upon successfully to deliver a bill to my residence? Who doesn’t consider that a responsibility? And I’m supposed to rely on you for [unidentified services]?”

“You’re shifting the responsibility. You’re responsible for your bill.”

Etc.

I’m really ashamed by my reaction. I instantly became bellicose and obnoxious. Even worse, thinking back on it, I realize that I’d led the conversation in a way that made her make the kind of statements to me that would look VERY bad to a supervisor (if in fact they ever do listen to recordings “for quality assurance purposes”).

Finally, I got a grip on myself and got off the phone. I felt terrible all night. I had to steel myself to make sure I didn’t snap at the girls or the Big Man, just in reaction to my own guilty feelings.

So the happiness lesson?

Identify triggers and BE ON YOUR GUARD. I should have steeled myself better for the interaction, I knew the phone was a trigger for me. Take steps to keep yourself calm and good-natured when you’re in a situation that sets you off.

I have to remember my commandment to “Act the way I want to feel” (see left column). If I want to feel patient, act patient. If I don’t want to feel obnoxious, don’t act obnoxious.

What are your triggers? Maybe it’s being in the car. Or getting dinner ready. Or the morning routine. Or the afternoon before the weekly report is due.

If you act bad, you’re going to feel bad. Yelling, whining, complaining, attacking—they don’t help, they make matters worse.

I accomplished nothing except ruining my evening, and probably hers, too. There was no catharsis, no glee, no triumph – just horrible feelings of self-accusation for being so obnoxious.

As Adam Smith warned, “The consciousness, or even the suspicion, of having done wrong, is a load upon every mind, and is accompanied with anxiety and terror in all those who are not hardened by long habits of iniquity.”

Be happier! Know your trigger. Bite your tongue and avoid anxiety and terror.

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.

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There’s a smorgasbord of great information on Dumb Little Man — lots of fun to jump around and see what you can find.

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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.

How Carly Simon’s song “You’re So Vain” helped me keep my resolution to “Contemplate the heavens.”

Youre_sovainOne of my principal resolutions is “Contemplate the heavens.” It comes from one of my favorite quotations, from Boethius: “Contemplate the extent and stability of the heavens, and then at last cease to admire worthless things.”

It can be hard to contemplate the heavens during the tumult of everyday life. And what does it even mean to contemplate the heavens?

I had such a moment today.

I was working in one of my favorite diners, Pisa Pizza, and Carly Simon’s song You’re So Vain began to play over the loudspeaker.

I’ve heard this song a million times, of course, but this morning, for some reason, I remembered a very specific moment of listening to it.

I was a little girl. My mother was driving us to Milgrim’s grocery story. The song was playing as we turned into the parking lot, and I distinctly remember looking at the big blue apartment building across the street, as I listened.

The interesting thing about the memory is that I remember what I thought about the song at the time. I remember not recognizing the word “gavotte” (which remains fairly obscure), I remember being puzzled about why the man’s horse would have “naturally” won, I remember thinking that the line “my dreams were clouds in your coffee” made no sense at all.

Why did this memory make me contemplate the heavens?

It made me feel very deeply, for a moment, the passage of time. Once I was a child, now I am an adult. I understand things better than I did.

It makes me think, once again, that only the fact that life unfolds very slowly preserves it from being unbearably poignant. The days are long, but the years are short.

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Via Kottke, I found David Wilkes’s article in the Daily Mail, Bottom-ranked school shoots to top after introducing Harry Potter-themed curriculum. Is this true? As I’ve seen over and over with my Happiness Project, enthusiasm DOES matter.

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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: Five tips for gestures that look generous on the surface, but in fact, are thoughtless or even destructive.

GiftblackwhiteEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Five tips for gestures that look generous on the surface, but in fact, are thoughtless or even destructive.

Do you WANT to annoy someone? Do you want to pretend to be generous, while in fact, you’re behaving in a way that’s irritating or perhaps even hurtful?

Never fear, you can be inconsiderate, and even controlling and sabotaging—under the cloak of thoughtfulness!

Here are some suggestions, just to spark your thinking:

1. Bring over a rich dessert to a person who is perpetually trying to lose weight.
2. Ignore a wedding-gift registry and give a couple a gift they haven’t registered for.
3. Buy a toy that makes a loud noise—or maybe even a pet!—as a surprise for someone else’s child.
4. Even in the face of polite protest, insist that everyone must come to your house for Thanksgiving dinner.
5. Tell your child, “I’m happy to pay for college—but only if you major in XX or XX. Otherwise, you’re on your own.”

If you don’t think about it much, you might manage to fool even yourself into thinking that you’re behaving with someone else’s benefit in mind.

Along those lines, here are some tips for how NOT to be happy.

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Liz Tascio at the great new site HumanKind (“a blog about healing the world”) and I met for coffee a few weeks ago. We had a fantastic conversation about the nature of happiness, from our different perspectives, and she published this interview. Note to self: I over-use the adjective “huge.”

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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.