This Wednesday: Six questions to help you stay serene.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six questions to help you stay serene. Or, at the very least, to keep from losing your temper in an angry fit.

One of my worst faults is my tendency to “snap” – to react sharply, in a minor but harsh way. This trait clouds my happiness and the happiness of everyone who feels the lash.

The conventional advice for mastering your temper is to “Count to 10” before reacting. My problem is that, in the difficult moment, it never occurs to me to count to ten.

Figuring out ways to control my snappishness is one of my chief goals for the Happiness Project. To try to rein it in, I’ve tried everything from the Week of Extreme Nice to hypnosis.

I also came up with a set of questions that kick into my brain (sometimes) in time to affect my behavior.

If you’re about to lose your temper, ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I at fault? I hate to be criticized or to be in the wrong. Often, I’m angriest when someone is chiding me about something that I am, indeed, guilty of. When I’m about to hit back, I remind myself to accept criticism politely, if grudgingly.

2. Will this solve anything? I often snap when I feel like I’m confronting the same annoyance over and over. Fact is, people often have irritating habits that aren’t going to change. Failure to meet deadlines, failure to return phone calls, untidiness, etc., etc. I try to remember that snapping isn’t going to make any difference, but will only make me feel bad.

3. Am I improving the situation? This is particularly important with my children. If I lose my temper with my children, the problem just escalates to a whole new horrible level. My daughter dissolves into tears and wails, “You talked to me in a mean voice!” It’s far more effective to stay calm. Also, nicer.

4. Should I be helping you? Often, I lose my temper because I’m actually feeling guilty about my own unhelpfulness. My guilt makes me crabby, but it’s really a sign that I should be taking action.

5. Am I uncomfortable? Discomfort shortens my fuse. I’ve become much more careful to dress warmly (even when people make fun of my long underwear and double sweaters), to snack more often, to turn off the light when I’m sleepy, and to take pain medication as soon as I get a headache. The Duke of Wellington advised, “Always make water when you can,” and I follow that precept, too.

6. Can I make a joke of this? Using humor is extraordinarily effective, but I usually can’t find the inner depths to laugh at an annoying situation. A distant goal for which I’m striving.

It’s tempting to dwell on questions like, “Whose fault is it?” or “Why am I upset?” but in the end, these tend to stoke my temper instead of soothe it. I try to remind myself that no behavior is annoying if I don’t find it annoying. A hackneyed observation, but true.

*
A thoughtful reader sent me the link to a very interesting website, We Are What We Do. The idea of the website is that people can bring about big changes by making a series of small changes–“take a first-aid course,” “smile and smile back,” “have more meals together,” “recycle your cell phone” and many others. I couldn’t agree more with this approach. Also, there’s a way to record and track the changes you want to make, plus you can see what other people are trying to do, so looks very useful to folks doing their own happiness projects.

I was particularly pleased to see someone making the case for organ donation.

*
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.

Why Alicia Silverstone’s “Dumbest Celeb Quote” actually gives profound insight into the nature of happiness.

I was in the physical therapist’s office the other day (see the epiphany of Back Spasm) and reading the January edition of Readers’ Digest. Drawing from VH1’s 40 Dumbest Celeb Quotes, a sidebar called “They’re Stars, Just Dim Ones” quoted Alicia Silverstone saying, “I think the film Clueless was very deep. I think it was deep in the way that it was very light. I think lightness has to come from a very deep place if it’s true lightness.”

Now, quoted like that, I admit, Alicia Silverstone sounds a little preposterous. But I think she’s quite right.

A line from the British writer G. K. Chesterton has haunted me for years, and has been one of the major influences on my Happiness Project: It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.

It’s on the screensaver of my laptop. It’s one of my personal koans. It floats through my head several times a day. It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.

This is one reason that I love St. Therese of Lisieux so much. She made saintliness seem so light – so effortless, so fun, so happy – that many of her fellow nuns didn’t even recognize her heroic virtue. Even now, when people discuss the style of her spiritual memoir, The Story of a Soul, they criticize her for her sweetness, and exclamation points, and her hearts-and-flowers aesthetic. They don’t understand that she was choosing (I think) to be light.

One mystery of happiness is why some people choose to be unhappy. One answer: It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light. And you don’t get credit for being light. It looks easy and effortless. No one thinks much about you or tries to accommodate you. You get taken for granted.

Same thing with a movie or a book – it seems so easy to do a light movie, with jokes and cheeriness and a happy ending. But is it easier to make people cry or to make them laugh?

Is it easier to be critical or to be enthusiastic?

Is it easier to be fretful or to be satisfied?

Is it easier to yell or to joke around?

It is easy to be heavy; hard to be light.

Zoikes, I bet that G. K. Chesterton and Alicia Silverstone have never come up in the same discussion before, ever.

*
I always look forward to checking out Zen Habits. Lots of interesting information of all sorts, mostly in the tips format that I love. Also a fellow LifeRemixer.

*
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 Twyla Tharp.

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it.” –Twyla Tharp

*
Work It, Mom! is a great site where working mothers connect, find support, share advice, and de-stress — and they posted an interview with me the other day.

*
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: Invent a tradition. Like a holiday breakfast.

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.

My resolutions include Be a treasure house of happy memories and Take time for projects. As part of these resolutions, I’ve done a lot of thinking about family traditions.

Traditions make occasions feel special and exciting. They mark the passage of time in a happy way. They provide a sense of anticipation, security and continuity.

Studies show that family traditions support children’s social development and strengthen family cohesiveness. They provide the connection and predictability that people crave. I know that I enjoy a holiday more when I know exactly what we’re going to do, and when we’re going to do it.

At the same time, most traditions (other than the tradition of ordering a pizza during the Super Bowl) involve a fair amount of trouble and are potential source of guilt if they aren’t maintained: the expectation of special decorations, special food, a special sequence of events, and participation by the whole family.

So a good happiness-project assignment is: Think about your traditions. Could you make them more meaningful, fun, or painless? Also, you don’t need to wait for traditions to emerge spontaneously. A “new tradition” may be a bit of an oxymoron, but that shouldn’t stop you from inventing a great tradition.

A friend of mine has a great new tradition.

Because of her family’s schedules, they have a tough time eating dinner together. So now she organizes holiday breakfasts.

I happened to stop by her house yesterday, and I saw how she’d set the table for the Valentine’s Day breakfast. Nothing too elaborate, but very decorated and fun – heart-shaped placemats, some candy, sticky-pads in the shape of hearts, love notes, etc.

I think this is a FANTASTIC idea. Festive, easy to set the table the night before, easy to schedule, and just the kind of observation that kids love. Or adults, for that matter. The Big Man would have been very enthusiastic about a Valentine’s Day breakfast even before we had children.

This reminded me of my Eighth Commandment to “Identify the problem.” My friend didn’t waste time fretting because she couldn’t get everyone together for dinner; instead she came up with an excellent solution.

“I’m copying you, one hundred percent,” I told her. “Valentine’s, Halloween, Fourth of July – holiday breakfasts from now on!”

So…any ideas for how to do a President’s Day breakfast? I may have to wait for a slightly more colorful holiday to inaugurate my new copy-cat tradition.

*
On his blog Practical Personal Development, Alex Shalman is running a series of fascinating interviews by different bloggers on the nature of happiness — and the title of this series is…The Happiness Project! (No relation.) He was kind enough to interview me about happiness. Lots of interesting commentary by great bloggers.

*
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.

A new way to celebrate Valentine’s Day — and one that doesn’t involve shopping, crafts, or calories.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day associated with romantic love and exchanging gifts with your sweetheart.

But you can use the day to celebrate other kinds of love, too. The Greek word agape is defined in various ways, but according to one definition, agape means a selfless, benevolent, active love for mankind.

One of my most important Happiness-Project resolutions is to Give proofs of love. As Pierre Reverdy wrote, “There is no love; there are only proofs of love.” In other words, instead of claiming to feel love, I must show my love through actions.

“But,” you’re thinking, “I can think of ways to give a proof of love to my sweetheart (bring home flowers, clean out the garage), but how do I give a proof of love to mankind in general?”

It’s easy!

Be an organ donor. First, sign up on your state’s registry (do this even if you’ve already signed an organ donor card, to make sure you’re in the online registry, which is far more accessible to doctors). Second, talk it over with your family.

This second step is CRUCIAL. States differ about what happens if a person has signed up to donate but the family doesn’t want to donate, but whatever the law holds, it’s a tough situation.

Organ donation takes place at a time of shock and grief. Make it easy on your family by letting them know – from your own mouth – what you want them to do.

So today, in honor of Valentine’s Day, while you’re drinking champagne, or eating chocolates, or grousing about what a silly, consumerist holiday it is, take a minute to PROVE YOUR LOVE by telling your family you want to donate your organs. (Yes, it’s slightly out of step with the mood induced by champagne and chocolate, but do it anyway.)

Most likely, you’re making the decision to donate your organs now, in the abstract, out of agape, but one day it may be your sweetheart who is waiting for that phone call from the hospital, to say that an organ donor has been found.

So, really. Bring it up at dinner tonight.

Your Valentine’s Day today could mean that, five years from now, several people’s lives will be saved. That’s better than cards or chocolate. That’s proof of love.

And appropriately enough, I just discovered, today is National Organ Donor Day.

*
Along with agape, another kind of love is family love. Check out my one-minute internet movie, The Years Are Short.

*
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.