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

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This Wednesday: Five tips for making your schedule work better (with particular emphasis on coping with Mondays.)

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Five tips for making your schedule work better (with particular emphasis on coping with Mondays).

Over the last few weeks, unrelated to each other, a few friends happened to mention to me that they’d made minor changes to their approach to scheduling their work, with dramatic results.

These changes demonstrate the usefulness of paying attention to our own idiosyncratic rhythms – when we feel like buckling down, when we feel like goofing off.

1. One friend used to hate the frantic rush of Monday mornings, but now he comes into work Monday morning without any expectations for himself until after lunch. He lets himself do easy work like checking email, reading email newsletters, and doing more substantial tasks IF he feels like it, but doesn’t consider himself “at work” until 1:30. The result? He gets about as much done as he did before – he just feels less pressure.

2. Also on the subject of Mondays — one of my former roommates has always suffered from the Sunday Blues. Now she deals with it by making sure she has something to look forward to on Monday: she schedules lunch with a friend, excuses herself from some daily task that she doesn’t enjoy, or figures out some other way to improve the day. Once Monday morning comes, she’s always fine – she just suffers from dread on Sunday. Having something pleasant to anticipate lessens the feeling.

3. Another friend gets to work at 8:00 a.m. but doesn’t react to anything until 10:00.m. He only works on tasks that he’s set himself. By not answering email or working on someone else’s request until 10:00, he takes care of his own priorities first.

4. Studies show that the brain is often better able to tackle cognitive tasks before noon. A friend of mine noticed that this was true for him, so now he loads all his serious intellectual work into the morning, and uses the time after lunch for meetings, easier work, and going to the gym.

5. The change I’ve made in my approach to my schedule is – don’t expect to have a regular schedule. I love routine and predictability, but the way my life is right now, every day is different. For a while, that made me felt frustrated and inefficient. Now I’m trying to embrace and enjoy it.

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Is your iPod a source of happiness? At last, I discover the happiness power of music.

IpodThe first of my Twelve Commandments is to “Be Gretchen,” and it’s only since I’ve started making an effort to “Be Gretchen” that I realize how difficult that goal is.

Take music.

I knew from my research that listening to music is one of the most effective ways to boost your energy and mood (second only to exercise). In fact, in one study, 92% of people felt happier when they listened to music they liked. If you’re in a blues emergency, music is a great way to turn yourself around.

For a long time, I had assumed I liked music, because “everyone” did, but then realized I didn’t enjoy music very much (I thought). It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: “Just because something is fun for other people doesn’t mean it’s fun for you, and vice versa.”

I decided that I didn’t really like music much, and I thought this recognition was a mature, thoughtful embrace of “Being Gretchen.”

But a few nights ago, as I listened in ecstasy to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Under the Bridge for the fiftieth time since I discovered it, I thought – wait, maybe I DO like music.

It has finally dawned on me that I do like music, but I like to listen to it in a very particular way. I don’t like to get a CD and listen to the whole thing. I don’t like a wide variety. I like to listen to my very favorite songs over and over.

I’ve always been slightly embarrassed by this propensity. I thought it showed a lack of sophisticated appreciation. It’s a Top-40 kind of mentality. I have no depth of musical knowledge, just familiarity with a handful of scattered songs. Plus, my taste in music runs to the slightly cheesy.

But I thought, “Be Gretchen. Listen to the music I like, the way I like.”

I bought my first iPod yesterday. The Big Man – who loves music – showed me how to load it. It’s very easy.

And now I’m so excited to listen to music. I’m in the process of hand-picking my favorite songs to put on the iPod. Perfect timing, because we’re going home to Kansas City to visit my parents, and I like to go running there, and running is so much nicer with music.

This project is giving me a huge boost even when I’m not listening to the music. I’ve noticed that making collections of your favorite things is a great way to get a jolt of happiness. Try it. Make an album of your favorite photos of your friends or kids; make a shelf of your favorite sources for your Ph.D. thesis; make a list of your favorite restaurants.

I KNOW listening to this music is going to make me happy – plus, it will probably make it more likely that I’ll go for a run, also a mood booster.

Incidentally, I would point to this incident as an example of the way money, used right, can give happiness support. I was very lucky to be able just to go out and buy an iPod when I decided I wanted one. Now that I have it, I’m sure it will give me a lot of happiness bang for the buck.

Next on my list of songs to download: Angie by the Rolling Stones.

(As a way to link to the songs, I’m linking via YouTube, which I hope is ok from a copyright standpoint [I am a lawyer, after all] but I think the videos distract, and detract, from the music.)

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A great productivity/life hacks blog with a tech emphasis is The Cranking Widgets Blog. It’s a fun read, and although most of the tech hacks are over my non-techy head, I like being exposed to that stuff — I’m hoping it will seep in over time.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Dostoevsky.

Dostoevsky“For we are made for happiness, and any one who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God’s will on earth.’ All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy.” –Dostoevsky

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Now for a jarring transition —
I’m a regular on Karen Salmansohn’s terrific daily radio show, the Be Happy Dammit Hour on Sirius LIME 114. Yesterday we talked about the critical importance of having strong relationships,and she mentioned some interesting studies that I hadn’t seen, about the difference between the way men and women gossip — discussed on her blog, Not Salmon. Highlights: men seem to gossip more than women, and both men and women prefer to gossip with women, and women give more dramatic reactions and ask more follow-up questions. Also, only 5% of gossip time is devoted to criticism — less than I would’ve expected. Interesting.

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A key to happiness: ASK FOR HELP. Why? Because other people can help you solve your problems. Amazing.

KeyboardI was so, so, so annoyed. The “t” key on my laptop was sticking. Turns out that the letter “t” comes up a lot in writing.

At first, I pretended it wasn’t happening.

Then I told myself it would go away after I’d turned the laptop on and off a few times.

Then I tried to pretend that it would fix itself if I just kept typing.

Then I was plunged into gloom, imagining the effort and expense it was going to take to replace the key, or the whole keyboard – or, I feared, the laptop itself. Surely not. But I couldn’t continue without a workable “t.”

At last, I remembered one of my most useful Secrets of Adulthood (see left column): “It’s okay to ask for help.”

I emailed a friend who knows a huge amount about computers to ask — why was my “t” sticking? Was there anything I could do to fix it? Was I going to have to replace the key or keyboard?

He answered: “Turn off the laptop, then rub the keyboard with washcloth dampened with warm water and a little soap. Let it dry. See if that helps.”

Could it really be so simple? YES.

That was all it took to fix the “t.”

Zoikes, that made me happy. Samuel Johnson observed, “To live in perpetual want of little things is a state, not indeed of torture, but of constant vexation.” Wanting that “t” was pure vexation, and bliss to get it back.

Now I have a new appreciation for my beloved, sturdy, reliable laptop. I won’t take it for granted – at least for a few days. And I fixed it MYSELF — after I asked for help.

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A blog I discovered through LifeRemix is LifeClever, though I’m surprised I hadn’t found it before. It’s just the kind of mix of tips and information about work and life that I love — with a strong theme on design, which is a subject that I always want to learn more about.

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My HUGE happiness epiphany – happiness projects for everyone! Be happier now!

FireworksYesterday, I posted a description of the charts I use to help myself stick to my resolutions, and I offered to send a copy of my charts to anyone who wanted to see them. (Just email me, grubin [at] gretchenrubin[.com], typed the usual way.)

I’ve had an overwhelming response. People are really interested in seeing those charts. I was surprised and extremely gratified, and then it hit me –

OF COURSE. My mission in life is to try to persuade everyone to try to undertake a happiness project! I am a happiness evangelist.

Somehow, I’d never thought about it quite this way – even though implicit in the idea of keeping this blog is the desire to help other people learn from my happiness project.

But I never thought about explicitly trying to help people figure out how to go about designing their own happiness projects, beyond just reacting to mine.

It took a huge amount of reflection and self-examination for me to design my happiness project. I learned a lot, I think, about the questions to ask yourself to devise a happiness project. Everyone’s happiness project is going to be unique, that’s clear.

So I’ve decided to make this a new theme on the blog: discussion of how to design your own happiness project, and then how to carry through on your resolutions.

Join me! Start a happiness project of your own! We’ll start a movement. And it really does work.

Here I go, on The Happiness-Project Project:

Role models: Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Johnson
Mission: Be happier now.
Motto: Do good, feel good.
Symbol: Bluebird
Patron Saint: Saint Therese of Lisieux
The Two Splendid Truths:
1. To be happier, think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
2. One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

More to come…I need to think about this.

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A new site that has a huge amount of fun information is Truemors. It’s a place where people can post any news they want to make public to the world — a kind of online newspaper to which you can submit a bite-sized article. Perfect if you feel like hopscotching around a bunch of different topics, sampling here and there — or if you have a piece of news or opinion you’re dying to share.

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