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

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It’s Friday: think about YOUR Happiness Project. How can you have more fun?

CatinhatNot long ago, I had an epiphany – happiness projects for everyone! And people have responded enthusiastically.

Hundreds of people have emailed me to get a copy of my resolution charts, to use for inspiration. (If you’d like a copy, email me, grubin [at] gretchenrubin[.com] – ignore the anti-spam brackets.)

Jackie Danicki started the Happiness Project group on Facebook, and so far, almost 700 people have joined. Check it out.

Many people have started blogs themselves, to chart their own happiness projects. Our Happiness Project is an excellent example, really a great read.

One purpose of this blog, of course, is to help other people learn from my happiness project. But given this response, I’ve been thinking it would be a good idea to do a weekly post explicitly aimed at helping people design their own happiness projects, beyond just reacting to mine. It took me a lot of research and reflection to figure out how to set up a happiness project, so maybe I can help others to do it, too.

So I’ve decided to make this a new theme on the blog: how to design your own happiness project.

These posts won’t be arranged in any particular order. I love the peerless Flylady’s reassurance: “You’re not behind, you’re just getting started!!” No need to start at the beginning or get caught up; just jump in whenever. So, without further ado…

Your Happiness Project: Today’s question for self-examination is — how can you have more fun?

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

Research shows that the absence of “feeling bad” doesn’t mean that you “feel good.” You must actually strive to find sources of “feeling good.” Having fun on a regular basis is a pillar of happiness.

Having fun sounds easy, but it’s not. Take the time to do some real self-reflection. As you ask yourself, “How can I have more fun?” keep two things in mind:

1. You must be honest about what’s actually fun for you. It’s a Secret of Adulthood: just because something is fun for someone else doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa. Wine-tasting, skiing, baking cookies, reading mysteries—I personally would NOT enjoy any of these “fun” activities. They’re fun for some people; not for me. Don’t try to be self-improving, and don’t plan a “fun” event based on what other people would enjoy. Make time for something that’s fun for YOU.

2. Do have real fun. I often feel so overwhelmed by tasks that I think, “The most fun would be to cross some items off my to-do list. I’d feel so much better if I could get something accomplished.” In fact, though, I just make myself feel trapped and drained. If I take time to do something that’s truly fun for me (re-read Jane Eyre for the fifteenth time, call my sister), I feel better able to tackle that to-do list.

I’m going to break a lifelong vow here – never to quote Dr. Seuss for a nugget of life philosophy. When I was reading The Cat in the Hat to the Little Girl, these five lines hit me so hard I simply can’t resist.

Look at me!
Look at me!
Look at me NOW!
It is fun to have fun
But you have to know how.

So very true. You do have to know how to have fun — and it takes serious reflection.

In case Dr. Seuss isn’t convincing, I’ll also invoke Samuel Butler:

“One can bring no greater reproach against a man than to say that he does not set sufficient value upon pleasure, and there is no greater sign of a fool than the thinking that he can tell at once and easily what it is that pleases him. To know this is not easy, and how to extend our knowledge of it is the highest and most neglected of all arts and branches of education.”

Have fun! Join me! Start a happiness project of your own! We’ll start a movement. And it really does work. You can make yourself happier.

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On second thought — is this a bad idea? Is posting about “YOUR Hapiness Project” once a week going to seem redundant and didactic? Two great things about a blog is that 1) your readers can respond and 2) you can change what you’re doing at any time. So let me know if you think it’s a good idea or not.

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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.

What it means to “Spend out” (Commandment #7) and why it’s a good idea to spend out.

ScoreboardProbably the most idiosyncratic and cryptic of “My Twelve Commandments” (see left column) is “Spend out.” What does it mean?

Spend out encompasses several resolutions.

I have a miserly nature; by spending out, I mean to stop hoarding, to trust in abundance. I find myself saving things, even when it makes no sense. Not long ago, my last pair of jeans started falling to pieces. I made myself go shopping, bought two pairs — and yet, I’ve still only worn one of the pairs. Why am I saving the others? Not wearing clothes is just as wasteful as throwing good clothes away.

I also need to spend out by letting things go. I re-use razor blades too many times, I keep my toothbrushes for too long. There is a preppy wabi-sabi to soft, faded khakis and frayed cotton shirts, but it’s not nice to be surrounded by things that are worn out, or stained, or used up.

Spend out applies to creativity as well as to possessions. I find myself thinking, “I should save that story…” or “I don’t want to use all my best examples now…” But pouring out ideas is better for creativity than doling them out by the teaspoon.

The most important meaning of “Spend out,” however, is that I shouldn’t be a score-keeper, I shouldn’t stint on love and generosity. As St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “When one love, one does not calculate.”

I have a bad habit of keeping a running tally of who’s done what.

“I gave the Little Girl a bath last night, so you…”

“I let you take a nap, so you…”

“I had to make the plane reservations, so you…”

NO! Spend out.

The vital notion behind spend out is that by spending, I create more gain.

I was intrigued by Arthur C. Brooks’s article in the November Portfolio magazine, Giving Makes You Rich, which presents analysis showing that people who give money to charity end up wealthier than those who don’t give to charity.

I was astounded by this quite literal proof that “Spend out” does work.

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Somehow I missed this great post, A Zagat-Style Approach to Your Career, from the Shifting Careers blog when it ran last week. Ah, the joys of the RSS, so easy to catch up!

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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: Seven topics to avoid if you don’t want to risk being a bore.

WaterdropEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven topics to avoid if you don’t want to risk being a bore.

I hesitate to disagree with the immortal La Rochefoucauld, but I think he was wrong when he wrote, “We are always bored by those whom we bore.”

Not always (though I often remind myself of this observation when I’m feeling bored by someone else). I think that sometimes we find a topic so interesting that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that it might not be interesting to someone else. And most of us want to make a good impression and avoid boring other people.

Unless you get a truly enthusiastic response from your interlocutor—which is possible—be very wary of recounting…

1. A dream.
2. The recent changes in your child’s nap schedule.
3. The route you took to get here.
4. An excellent meal you once had at a restaurant.
5. The latest additions to your wine cellar.
6. An account your last golf game.
7. The plot of a movie, play, or movie—in particular, the funny parts.

What do these subjects have in common? The listener has nothing to add. He or she must just hear you describe your experience.

Now, it’s not as if these subjects could never be interesting to someone. A great story-teller, of course, can make anything interesting.

And if a person has a child the same age as yours, or is a fellow oenophile, or is truly very curious about the latest addition to Philip Roth’s oeuvre, you might have a happy conversational partner.

Be on guard, though, for glazed expressions, noncommittal grunts, or darting eyes.

And here’s a point that I constantly prod myself to remember, because I love to tell a good, long, self-interested story as much as anyone: if you’re having a conversation with someone, and it’s interrupted, and that person shows no interest in picking up the thread of the dropped conversation, let it go.

“Oh, just to finish what I was saying, then we switched from I-95 to the Hutch, and then we took the next exit, which was wrong, so then we turned around and…”

Of course, the seven topics listed above are just examples. I’m sure I’m missing some topics on which it’s easy to be boring. Any spring to mind? Help your fellow readers to stay the life of the party

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If you want to get in the mood for Halloween, check out Extreme Pumpkins. I had never seen the site until someone gave me a copy of the book, Extreme Pumpkins, but then I had to see what was posted. This ain’t Martha Stewart’s vision of pumpkin-carving, but it’s pretty funny. Living in a NYC apartment means that I can’t really follow up on ideas involving power tools or highway flares, alas…

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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.

I’ve made an important new resolution: no more complaining about how tired I feel.

PillowsI’ve decided to nip a new bad habit in the bud.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been complaining constantly. “I’m exhausted,” “I feel so drained,” “I don’t have the energy to go to the park/organize a family playdate/run that errand.”

I’m sticking to my exercise routine. I’m going to sleep at a reasonable hour. I’m not sick. I’ve been trying the various tips I know about how to get a quick energy boost. I think that, from time to time, I just feel worn out. Then I feel better. This has happened before.

But I’m not giving myself a boost (or anyone else, certainly) by constantly repeating that I’m tired.

One of the critical pieces of information I’ve learned from the Happiness Project is that I should act the way I want to feel. If I want to feel more energetic, I need to act more energetic: pace when I talk on the phone, walk more quickly, put more energy into my voice.

This sounds like magical thinking, but hard science show that the “Fake it ‘till you feel it” strategy really works.

The least productive approach is to do what I’ve been doing – dwelling on my feelings of tiredness.

Of course, if this tiredness persists, I’ll go to the doctor. But I think it’s just a periodic bout of lethargy.

And with that last comment, I vow, I’ll stop talking about how tired I feel. As Samuel Johnson observed, “To hear complaints is wearisome alike to the wretched and the happy.”

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For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by Chris Anderson’s theory of the Long Tail, put forth in his book, The Long Tail. I visit his blog The Long Tail to hear what new insights he has.

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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.