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

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One secret to happiness and productivity: don’t follow Paris Hilton’s misadventures.

Paris_hiltonMaybe you’re genuinely interested in Paris Hilton. Maybe you talk about her with your colleagues around the water-cooler. Maybe you see her shenanigans as a fascinating commentary on certain aspects of American society.

If so, spending time on Paris Hilton certainly may contribute to your happiness. This kind of topic can be a lot of fun to follow.

I, however, was reading the occasional Paris Hilton story not because I was at all interested, but because I felt some kind of obligation to keep up with the latest twists. There’s so much coverage of it, I had a vague sense that I should keep myself informed.

Finally, light dawned. Hey, I told myself, this isn’t Iraq! This isn’t the immigration bill or the presidential election or even that guy with the rare strain of TB! I have no civic obligation to keep up with her story.

I’ve decided to spend NO TIME on monitoring the doings of Paris Hilton, and I’m sure I’ve saved untold hours to dedicate to more important activities, like reading magazines, flossing, and tidying my office.

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I love tips lists, quotations, and anything to do with the subject of happiness, so I always find something worth checking out on the Positivity Blog. There’s always something to get me thinking.

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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.

A secret to happiness: “Be a storehouse of happy memories.”

SchoolbusToday is the Big Girl’s last day of second grade. She’s thrilled, but for me, as always with these milestones, it’s bitter-sweet. The days are long, but the years are short.

One of my resolutions is to “Be a storehouse of happy memories,” and one tradition that I started years ago, almost accidentally, was taking a photograph on the first and last day of school each year. I have the Big Girl (and starting next year, the Little Girl) hold up a sign that says “Last day of second grade — June 14, 2007″ or whatever.

It makes a great keepsake. I wish that I’d been organized enough to start a special photo album, just with these pictures, so we could more easily see the changes over the years. I didn’t think to do that, so they’re just sprinkled in the albums among the other pictures, but they’re still fun to see.

Research shows that a good way to boost happiness is to reflect on happy times in the past, and looking at photographs — or any other memento — is a good way to prompt your recollections.

Also, although taking a photo is easy and takes only a second, the tradition of making the sign and taking the photograph adds a little bit to the special quality of these first/last days, and that’s important to me, because I want my children to understand the importance of school.

I make extra copies and send them off to the grandparents, too. So little work, so many happiness resolutions fulfilled!

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It occurs to me that this post is Parent-Hack-ish, so if you like this sort of thing, be sure to check out Parent Hacks, which has a million ideas for making it easier to be a parent. A recent favorite hack of mine: ask your kids to do their pouring over the open dishwasher door. The door makes a good surface, just the right height, and any spills are contained and cleaned up when you run the dishwasher.

If you’re new to the Happiness Project, you may want to consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed.

This Wednesday: Six tips for coping with the fact that you don’t remember a person’s name.

MynameistagEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for coping with the fact that you don’t remember a person’s name.

If you’re like me, you sometimes have trouble remembering people’s names, or even how you know them. A few years ago, while at a chaotic birthday party for a three-year-old, I was on the brink of going over to some little kid’s father to say, “I think we went to college together.” Turns out it was Dylan McDermott!

So I’ve developed some strategies for coping with the fact that I’m not able to pull up a person’s name right away. Of course, you can always just say politely, “I’m sorry, I don’t recall your name,” but if you’d rather try to disguise your forgetfulness a bit, give these a try:

1. The “I know your name, but I’m blocked” dodge:
“I keep wanting to call you “David,” but I know that’s not right.”

2. The “Of course I know you — in fact, I want all your information” dodge:
“Hey, I’d love to get your card.”

3. The “The tip of my tongue” dodge:
“I know I know your name, but I’m blanking right now.”

4. The “You’re brilliant!” dodge:
“Wow, you have a terrific memory. I can’t believe you remember my name from that meeting six months ago. I can’t remember the names of people I met yesterday! So of course I have to ask you your name.”

5. The “Sure, I remember you” dodge:
“Remind me – what’s your last name?” If you ask a person for his last name, he’s likely to repeat both names. “Doe, John Doe.”

6. The “One-sided introduction” dodge:
“Hey,” you say to the person whose name you can’t remember, “let me introduce you to Pat Smith.” You introduce the two and say the name of the person whose name you remember. Almost always, the nameless person will volunteer his or her name.

Also, remember that others might have trouble remembering your name. When you’re saying hello to someone, err on the side of re-introducing yourself. “Hi, John, it’s Gretchen Rubin.” Say your name slowly and clearly. And don’t get offended if someone doesn’t remember your name!

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I love a good personality test, so I was pleased to discover, on Rocks in My Dryer, a link to Similar Minds, where I can take all sorts of personality tests for free. They have a whole “Enneagram” section…zoikes, don’t get me started on the Enneagram. I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m a “3,” by the way. And ENTJ.

A secret to happiness: re-frame something that’s making you unhappy.

FrameOne technique for happiness is to “re-frame” – that is, to change your attitude or your thinking about something that’s making you unhappy.

This sounds Pollyanna-ish, but I’ve been surprised by just how often it’s quite possible, and extremely effective.

For example, I’m writing this post at 4:15 a.m. I woke up at 3:30, and was so wide awake that I knew I’d never get back to sleep. Instead of lying in bed, fuming about the lost hours of sleep (which I really need), I hopped out of bed and headed to my office.

Instead of feeling that I lost that time, I feel like I’ve gained precious time. I cleared out some emails, I took some notes (zoikes, I love to take notes), I cleaned off my desk, and I got a jump on my day by drafting this post.

(Because I knew I’d be up until morning, I’m doing mental work. If it were 1:00 a.m., and I thought I might be able to go back to sleep, I wouldn’t do any thinking – I’d be tidying up the apartment instead, a task that doesn’t roil the brain.)

A friend told me that when his kids were younger, he and his wife would try desperately to sleep late on the weekends, but their kids were up by 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. After months of frustration, he decided to give up the dream of extra sleep. He’d get up, get the kids dressed, and take them to the park so his wife, at least, could stay in bed.

Those mornings turned into a highlight of that time of his life – the early morning light, the quiet streets and empty playground, the time alone with his sons.

I suppose “re-framing” is a more scientific way of saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But just because a piece of advice can be found on a Snoopy poster doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying.

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Another fun thing I’m doing, up in the middle of the night, is cruising around the Internet and stopping at sites I’ve never explored before. I don’t have any particular reason to be reading the Deception Blog, but what a treat to feel like I have the time to explore all the interesting material there.

A key to happiness: figuring out to keep your resolutions.

Jiminycricket_2Before I started my Happiness Project, I — like everyone — had repeatedly made resolutions to make positive changes in my life.

Since I started the Happiness Project, I’ve managed to do a better sticking to these resolutions. Recently I asked myself—why? What was different? Two reasons: accountability and salience.

ACCOUNTABILITY is a key aspect to sticking to a resolution. You must have a way to record your goals, your successes, and your failures. I make a big chart each month, modeled on the virtue chart Benjamin Franklin describes in his Autobiography, on which I score myself each day.

Many readers have asked to see my scoring charts, so I’m prettifying them now, and will make them available soon for anyone who’d like to see a model. Obviously everyone’s resolutions will be very different, but seeing my charts might help spur ideas.

SALIENCE is another key aspect to sticking to a resolution. I found that the more quickly and readily a resolution pops into my mind at an appropriate point, the easier it is to keep that resolution. And the way to keep an idea uppermost in mind is through repetition.

I re-read my Twelve Commandments (see left-hand column) every day. I have sticky notes around the house to remind me of my resolutions. Scoring myself on my chart requires me to review every resolution, every day.

As a result, I hear a little Jiminy-Cricket voice in my head whispering “Let it go,” “Show up,” “There is only love,” “Remember the evening tidy-up,” “Sing in the morning,” and all the rest as I go through my day. Of course, I often ignore that little voice, but at least I hear it more clearly than I did before.

Just last night, I discovered a new mechanism to be reminded of my resolutions. It’s a fantastic website called Hassle Me. This site allows you to arrange to be hassled at certain times – so, for example, as a trial I arranged to be hassled every two days with a message, “No fake food.” It can remind you to go to the gym, to call your grandmother, to pay bills, whatever you want, however often you want.

I think I’m going to send myself fifty hassle-me’s. More salience!

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I found an interesting site, Wise Bread. It’s about “living large on a small budget,” and I like the sensibility. One of my happiness themes is the relationship between money and happiness, which I think is more complictated than people claim. This site is about living frugally, but with a fun and adventurous spirit — not cramped penny-pinching. Plus I learned the history of the “baby carrot.”