It’s Friday: think about YOUR Happiness Project. How can you cut down on “feeling bad”?

Not 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 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.” Nevertheless, removing sources of bad feelings will protect your good feelings from being swamped by guilt, anger, remorse, irritation, envy, fear, anxiety, boredom, and all the rest.

Last week’s question for self-examination was – what’s making you “feel bad”? It’s important to understand what’s creating bad feelings. Bad feelings are often important signals that you need to make changes in your life.

Once you’ve identified sources of bad feelings, it’s time to try to eliminate those sources from your life. That’s this week’s challenge.

When I asked myself “What makes me feel bad?” I realized that I was caught in a vicious cycle. Seemingly minor annoyances would make me feel overwhelmed and irritated, so then I’d behave badly, which would make me feel guilty and horrible, so I’d act even worse.

To give a typical, minor example: each morning, I’d open the coat closet to get out our coats, hats, and mittens for the walk to school. The closet was crowded and messy, and it was hard to find our various items. It made me feel bad to see the chaos.

As a consequence, I was much more likely to snap at the Big Girl and the Little Girl, “Hurry up!” “Why can’t you keep track of your hat?” etc.

Then I’d feel terrible about how I’d acted. Then I’d snap even more.

So I started my happiness project on a very basic, un-elevated level. To try to stop myself from feeling irritable, I became much more diligent about…
 not letting myself get too hungry
 dressing more warmly
 taking pain medication whenever I felt a headache or neck pain start up
 making sure to turn off the light each night as soon as I felt sleepy
 cleaning out clutter and organizing stuff

These steps did, indeed, lower my general level of irritability. And that cut down on the guilt I felt for behaving badly. Mess isn’t a serious problem, but being chronically short-tempered is a very serious problem.

Once you’ve given careful thought to what’s making YOU feel bad, you can begin to apply the Eighth Commandment (see left column) to “Identify the problem.” Why are you feeling angry? Or guilty? Or envious? Or anxious?

Say you’re feeling guilty. Why? Maybe you feel guilty because you think you’re letting your children watch too much TV.

Really force yourself to examine your feelings and thoughts. Are they really watching too much TV? Who says? Do you really care, or do you just think you should care? Think through possible solutions. Should you get rid of your TVs altogether? Can you limit them to videos only? Weekends only? Etc., etc. Either decide that, in fact, you don’t really think it’s a problem—or act. Don’t just suffer these pricks of guilt as the years pass.

Also, remember that surprisingly often, it’s possible to “re-frame.” You can turn a complaint into a pleasure, just by changing your attitude. So, for example, I used to feel annoyed by the fact that I pay all the bills. I felt aggrieved and resentful. Then I asked myself, “Would I want the Big Man to pay the bills if he asked to do it?” and I realized—no, I really want to keep that job for myself. I want to see where our money is going. Once I realized that I wouldn’t choose to give up that job, my aggravation lessened considerably.

Some examples of things I’ve been trying to do, to put an end to my own bad feelings: stop gossiping, call and see members of my family more often, clean up the kitchen after I eat, don’t leave clothes strewn around the bedroom, don’t read the newspaper during my time with my children, don’t fire off an email to the Big Man when I’m annoyed, don’t push past elderly people on the street, make playdates for the Little Girl, start thinking about holiday shopping…and on and on.

Another thing that would make me feel bad is the feeling that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough: I didn’t have a big enough vision, I wasn’t trying new things, I wasn’t networking, blah, blah. One of my resolutions is to “Push myself,” and I’m doing more of that. In a way, it makes me “feel bad” because it’s uncomfortable, but it also relieves my bad feelings that I wasn’t doing enough.

Some of the most important things I’m trying to do are too private to record here.

The trick here is to figure out WHY you are feeling bad and HOW you can change that feeling. Either work to fix the situation, or accept it.

If you’re feeling bad about yourself, the way to feel better about yourself is—act better! Your self-esteem will rise when you feel more worthy in your own eyes.

Via the great blog Communicatrix (or maybe it was through the Communicatrix newsletter), I found a very cool site called Listography. It lets you make lists of all sorts of things. This is a fabuous tool for a happiness project, or just for fun.

Making lists of resolutions is, I think, a great way to start a happiness project. And making lists of “favorites” or “books to see/movies to watch” or “places I’ve visited” etc. can add greatly to happiness, by highlighting happy subjects for our consideration. And making lists is FUN.

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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.

Looking for a way to be happier AND smarter? Try idle chit-chat. It’s as effective as crossword puzzles.

One of the key points about happiness is that having strong social bonds is a critical – probably THE critical – element of a happy life.

Over and over, studies show that relationships with other people make us happy. The more friends we have, the more likely we are to be happy. Even short interactions with other people boost mood—and this is true, surprisingly, even for introverts. It’s really important to work on your connections with other people.

Now it turns out that talking to other people not only makes you happier, it improves your memory and intellectual performance, as shown by a recent study.

So if you ever feel guilty spending ten minutes in idle conversation with a colleague or for talking on the phone with a friend, now you can chalk it up to brain exercise. It will make you happier AND smarter.

I think I found this study through the great site Gimundo, but I’m not sure. I try to keep track of how I find different articles, so I can give credit when credit’s due, but this time I’m not sure I retraced my steps properly.

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: Eight writing tips from Flannery O’Connor.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight writing tips from Flannery O’Connnor.

As part of my current obsession with Flannery O’Connor, I recently finished the volume of her collected letters, The Habit of Being.

Her letters were fascinating, and among other thing, included some interesting advice and observation about writing. O’Connor was a very idiosyncratic persion, and this advice is idiosyncratic, which makes it more interesting than a lot of writing tips that I see collected.

1. “Try arranging [your novel] backwards and see what you see. I thought this stunt up from my art classes, where we always turn the picture upside down, on its two sides, to see what lines need to be added. A lot of excess stuff will drop off this way.”

2. “I can discover a good many possible sources myself for Wise Blood but I am often embarrassed to find that I read the sources after I had written the book.”

3. “I suppose I am not very severe criticizing other people’s manuscripts for several reasons, but first being that I don’t concern myself overly with meaning. This may be odd as I certainly believe a story has to have meaning, but the meaning in a story can’t be paraphrased and if it’s there it’s there, almost more as a physical than an intellectual fact.”

4. “I’m a full-time believer in writing habits…You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away…Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that’s all the energy I have, but I don’t let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place.”

5. “That is interesting about your reading some Shakespeare to limber up your language before you start; though I think that anything that makes you overly conscious of the language is bad for the story usually.”

6. “It might be dangerous for you to have too much time to write. I mean if you took off a year and had nothing else to do but write and weren’t used to doing it all the time then you might get discouraged.”

7. “This may seem a small matter but the omniscient narrator NEVER speaks colloquially. This is something it has taken me a long time to learn myself. Every time you do it you lower the tone.”

8. “I know that the writer does call up the general and maybe the essential through the particular, but this general and essential is still deeply embedded in mystery. It is not answerable to any of our formulas.”

A good sense of humor is a huge help when you’re faced with someone who is annoying you. If you’re struggling with someone who has written a passive-aggressive note directed at you, perhaps fantasizing about posting that note on the Passive Aggressive Notes website would cheer you up. For your happiness’s sake, I wouldn’t recommend actually POSTING a note there, but it sure is fun to read them.

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 it can be selfless to be selfish, or, how you can be generous by TAKING.

I’ve been thinking, lately, about how it can be selfless to be selfish, and selfish to be selfless.

The pleasure of giving—giving help, giving advice, giving a recommendation, satisfying a desire—is one of the most exquisite pleasures imaginable. But to experience this pleasure, someone must accept your gift. Or, perhaps, even ask for it. And so sometimes, you must be the selfish one, asking and accepting.

This is more complicated than it sounds.

A friend of mine told me, “I cook dinner for my family every night. I love to cook, although like anything you HAVE to do, sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. I said to my husband, ‘Tell me what you want. What would you like me to make for dinner?’ He said, ‘Everything you make is good.’”

“Was that the right thing to say?” I asked. “It sounds like the right thing.”

“No! It would be so much more fun for me if I knew I was making his favorite thing. I wish he’d say ‘Gosh, I wish you’d make chicken casserole again. That’s my favorite.’ I’d be so psyched to make it!”

Asking someone to cook your favorite dish seems selfish…but it’s not. Not always.

Along the same lines, one of my Secrets of Adulthood is “It’s okay to ask for help.” Why this is so hard, I have no idea.

Asking for help can make us feel weak, or dependent, or incompetent, or vulnerable, or like we’re imposing on other people. Maybe we don’t want to have to feel grateful or indebted. But in some instances, trying to be strong and self-sufficient isn’t the selfless answer.

Last year, the Big Girl dressed as Hermione for Halloween, and after some internal debate, I asked my mother-in-law to make S.P.E.W. badges for her Hogwarts robes. My mother-in-law is great with these kinds of creative craft projects, and she loves to do them.

Part of me had selfishly wanted the costume to be a project just for me and the Big Girl to share, and I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t do everything to pull together the costume. Then I realized that this is one of those cases where asking for help is being generous – by allowing someone the pleasure of helping, of contributing, of pleasing.

Another difficult aspect of “It’s okay to ask for help” is sometimes, I feel like someone (usually the Big Man) should KNOW how to help, and just do it, without me having to ask or explain. I feel aggrieved by the mere fact that I have to ask.

This is another way that it’s selfless to be selfish. It would be more selfish to suffer in silence, to stand on pride, to forge on alone while fuming at the lack of support, than it would be to ask for help.

There’s a moving scene described in the memoir of St. Therese of Lisieux. As a child, Therese was babied and petted by her family, and she was very sensitive to any cross word.

She delighted in the Christmas ritual of opening the presents left in her shoes (the French version of hanging up your stocking). One year, when she was fourteen, she overheard her father complaining, “Thank goodness that’s the last time we shall have this kind of thing!” Therese froze; this is the kind of comment would usually make her dissolve into tears.

Instead, she experienced what she described as her “complete conversion.” Instead of crying at her father’s unkind words, or telling him, out of pride, that she had outgrown his gifts, she ran down and opened the presents with a greedy joy. Her father laughed.

Therese realized that the saintly response was to take the presents eagerly. This was the selfless act.

Sometimes, the generous act is to TAKE — to accept help, to allow others to gratify your desires. A mystery.

Also, being selfless can be selfish…more on that another day.

Via the terrific blog Marginal Revolution, I visited Visuwords. I loved seeing “happiness” and all its related words bobbling around the screen.

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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.

Why is everyone so energetic and cheery today? Ah, mystery solved.

Everywhere I go today, people seem to be unusually chipper.

My family all woke up in bouncy, energetic moods. When I dropped the Big Girl off at school, I noticed that many more parents than usual were already there when the door opened to let the children inside.

Why this sudden upswell in cheer and energy?

I figured it out. Daylight Savings Time.

We all had that delicious extra hour of “falling back” sleep before starting our week. And it shows. People feel better. And no wonder — an estimated 63% of American adults fail to get eight hours of sleep a night.

I’ve certainly realized that for myself, getting enough sleep is a critical element of happiness.

At first, I thought sleep just mattered for my comfort: not having to drag myself out of bed, not losing steam in the middle of the afternoon.

But now I see that getting enough sleep, or not, has far greater consequences.

First, if I don’t get enough sleep, I try to stay in bed a little longer in the morning. If I get up at 6:45 a.m., we all have a calm, relaxed morning; if I get up at 6:55 a.m., we all have a frantic, chaotic morning. And a bad morning sets a course for a bad day.

If I don’t get enough sleep, I’m more likely to lose my temper, to be snappish. That’s unpleasant for everyone. Plus, I feel guilty for behaving that way, which makes me all the more ill-tempered. So I behave even worse.

Another bad effect of being sleepy is that it makes me feel less like exercising. As studies have demonstrated over and over, getting some exercise is very important to happiness. So I don’t want to do anything that keeps me from going to the gym.

And even though you’d think that sitting in front of a laptop, typing, isn’t a very ennervating way to spend your day, it takes a surprising amount of energy. When I don’t get enough sleep, I find myself putting my head down on my desk like a little kid in grade school.

The problem is that it takes a lot of discipline not to stay up too late. Those last hours of the day are precious to all of us. TV addicts use TiVO to squeeze in one more show. Workaholics want to finish just a few more emails. Parents relish the peace and quiet after the kids are asleep. Readers want to finish just one more chapter.

I’ve finally figured out some ways to get better sleep, and I try to practice as many of them as possible each night. But the most important tip is to TURN OFF THE LIGHT.

Sleep is important to general health, which is very important to happiness, and also, lack of sleep is a serious mood buster. In one study, a bad night’s sleep was one of the two factors that most upset people’s daily moods (along with tight work deadlines).

“Falling back” for Daylight Savings Time is a reminder of how good that extra sleep can feel. But we can do it ourselves! Just get in bed and turn out that light.

For a glorious compendium of surprising information, check out Boing Boing. You probably already do, but then again, with the Internet, no one sees everything. Recently, I particuarly enjoyed the Lord of the Rings origami set.

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.