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

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Can money buy some happiness? In my case, YES.

OzbooksOne extremely important and interesting happiness question is the relationship between money and happiness.

On the question of whether money buys happiness, I believe the answer is: It depends.

It depends on the nature of your personality. (Do you have a passion for collecting art or for renting movies? Do you yearn to have your own horse or your own cat?)
It depends on how you spend your money. (Is your money buying cocaine or college? Are you splurging on a convenient gym or a dining room table?)
It depends on how much money you have relative to the people around you, and relative to your own experience. (Are you richer or poorer than most of your friends and family? do you have more or less than you did in the past?)

There are so many aspects to this issue, but it seems to me that because most people scoff (or pretend to scoff) at the idea that money can buy happiness, they don’t spend enough time thinking about how to spend money toward happiness.

Put aside the question of whether to spend money on stuff, or experiences, or health, etc. For now, just think about STUFF.

The fact is, sometimes just the mere possession of some STUFF does give you a big jolt of happiness. (What’s more, sometimes the mere purchase of some stuff gives you something that feels an awful lot like happiness, temporarily – a fact that warrants far greater examination, I think.)

Maybe this shouldn’t be true. But for many people, it is true.

The trick is to know how to spend your money wisely. Some purchases will give you great joy, others are a waste in terms of happiness bang for the buck.

My resolutions include “Think about what happiness money could buy,” “Make purchases that will further my goals—family, friends, work, etc.” and “Indulge in a modest splurge.”

So last week I did something that I’ve been meaning to do since the Big Girl was born. I called the famous children’s bookstore in New York City, Books of Wonder, and ordered the “Wizard’s Super Special—Oz Set #4.” This is the complete set of the fifteen Oz books by L. Frank Baum.

Now that I’ve admitted to myself my deep passion for children’s literature, I no longer pretend to be buying these books for my daughters. I’m buying them for ME.

Yesterday, they arrived in all their glory. They have a lovely unified design, hard-backs, with matching spines and heavy paper. Gorgeous covers with the original illustrations. Color illustrations inside. Fanciful border drawings. Different books have different special touches: the anniversary edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has gilded pages, one book has colored pages as the characters travel through the different colored lands of Oz, another has color used in interesting ways on the pages. (Aha, I see that I am very interested in the GRAPHIC DESIGN!)

I thought I’d only read five or six of these books, but once I looked at them, I realized I had read and re-read all of them – but the library books weren’t nearly as nice as these books.

I haven’t even put them up on a shelf yet. I’ve left them in a big pile on the table, because I get a thrill of happiness each time I see them. (See photo at top.)

Now, happiness experts might argue that I’ll adapt to my purchase. Soon, I’ll be accustomed to owning these books, they’ll sit on a shelf and gather dust, and I’ll be no better off than I was before.

I disagree. Because I have a real passion for children’s literature, I feel confident that these will give me a boost every time I see them. After all, I have a big stack of the old, beat-up, beloved Cricket magazines I had as a child, and those still make me happy, too.

The secret – as in all happiness matters – is to know yourself, and to choose wisely.Glindaoz2

Speaking of Kurt Vonnegut…I was surprised by how moved I was by a visit to his website.

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.

What I learned from “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.”

Yesterday I finished my five-day intensive Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain course. Zoikes, what an astonishing process.

Here is my pre-instruction portrait.Drawselfpreup

This self-portrait is so astoundingly bad that when we put up our pre-instruction and post-instruction portraits, people in the class jokingly asked if I’d really been trying, or if I was just aiming to have the most dramatic improvement. The crazy thing is that I was trying as hard as I could to do a good job.

Here is my post-instruction self-portrait. (Unfortunately, I can’t get rid of the glare, so it’s a bit hard to see.)



It doesn’t really look like me, but it looks like a real drawing of a person. My instructor Brian Bomeisler gave me a huge amount of help, and without that my drawings would have been far different. But nevertheless – I still can’t quite believe I did these.



What a thrill!

Apart from the drawing, the class boosted my happiness in several ways: it put me in touch with new people and ideas; it gave me an adventure outside of my usual routine; by taking me out of my routine, it heightened my appreciation for my usual routine; it gave me the sense of “growth” so important to happiness; it gave me a sense of freedom to realize that I could decide to do something like this and carry it through.

Also – and I didn’t expect this – the class helped me to recognize what I’m actually interested in learning. Before this class, I thought of “art” as a vast subject in which I had an undeveloped but real interest. I wanted to learn something, but I didn’t know quite what.

Now I see more clearly what I’d like to learn.

I’d like to learn how to sketch. I like the idea of setting up to do a full drawing, but I know that I won’t. There are so many things I want to do with my available time; I know I won’t do this kind of drawing. My initial reaction was to deny this truth, try to convince myself that I’d keep up with my new skills, then I thought – nope. I’m not going to make myself feel guilty about this.

Instead, I’d like to learn how to make quick sketches. And as it happens, the Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain program offers a one-day sketching course, so I’ll sign up for that this summer.

Also – and this makes perfect sense when I consider that I devoted an entire month of the Happiness Project to “Focus on books” – I realized that I really want to learn about graphic design. Page lay-out, fonts, cover design, the visual presentation of information…these things fascinate me.

That’s why I was ecstatic to discover the incomparable work of Edward Tufte. That’s why I bought Chip Kidd’s fantastic Book One. That’s why I’m telling everyone about one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (and why I’m reading his Making Comics, even though I don’t even like comics).

I’ve always been fascinated by how readers’ understanding of information can be shaped by presentation. In Power Money Fame Sex: A User’s Guide, I used tip lists, boxes, font changes, boxed quotations, photographs, all sorts of elements to make my information memorable.

In the forty chapters of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill and Forty Ways to Look at JFK, I used straight narrative, and also the Q-and-A form, a timeline, a map, photographs, arguing both sides of questions, quizzes, and other methods to make my arguments in succinct and provocative ways. This sound tiresomely experimental, but actually, I think it did allow me to impart a huge amount about Churchill and Kennedy in relatively short works – and in an intriguing way.

So again I ask myself: why was it so hard to recognize my passions? Why am I only seeing this interest clearly now? Why couldn’t I see the clues in the books I loved, in the books I WROTE?

Oh, well. Now I know. I’m off to do some research on graphic design…any suggestions?

There’s an interesting new site, Insighta (oh, light dawns, I just got that pun…), that’s like a Digg with a focus on issues related to personal development. A great resource if you have a special interest in these subjects.

This Saturday: a quotation from Bob Dylan.

DylanFrom Bob Dylan’s riveting memoir, Chronicles:

“I looked at the menu, then I looked at my wife. The one thing about her that I always loved was that she was never one of those people who thinks that someone else is the answer to their happiness. Me or anybody else. She’s always had her own built-in happiness.”

This is what I’m striving for – to have my own “built-in happiness.” Not to rely on other people to boost me up, or to let reverses drag me down. Built-in happiness makes it easier to make other people happy, as well.

I imagine this quality would be particularly helpful if you were married to Bob Dylan.

Happiness doesn’t always make you FEEL happy.

DrawingOne of my “Secrets of Adulthood” (see left column) is that “Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.”

Yesterday, although the drawing class was very tough, I left feeling exhilarated.

This morning, I felt completely different. I dreaded the thought of showing up. I remembered how much my back hurt, how worried I’d been that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, and in particular, how tremendously frustrated (almost panicky) I’d felt when starting my chair drawing.

I had to remind myself that sometimes, happiness is painful. The activities that contribute to long-term happiness don’t always make me feel good in the short-term. I don’t always look forward to those activities. I may find them actually upsetting.

I had to be in my seat by 9:30 a.m., so it wasn’t long before my dread of going to class had turned into a reality. And once I was there with a sketchbook in front of me, I felt fine.

But I realized that it was an advantage to be taking the intensive class, five days in a row. If I’d been taking the course over a semester, I would’ve been dreading the class for a week. Maybe I would have talked myself out of coming back.

Today was tough, too. The more I learn to see, the more I learn to see what I’ve done wrong. But whenever I got discouraged, I’d just take in my entire drawing and gloat, “I DREW this corner! And it actually looks like a corner!” After three days of instruction. Amazing.

Following my resolutions, I decide to take a “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” course.

RightsideMy happiness resolutions include “Follow my curiosities,” “Push myself,” “Show up,” “Spend money to further my goals,” “Enjoy the fun of failure,” and “Take time for mini-adventures.”

It’s not always easy to see how to transform these resolutions from abstract ideas, typed in my notes, into actions in my real life.

This week, however, I am. I’m taking an intensive, 9:30-5:30, five-day class, on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Yesterday, today, and for three more days, I head down to Soho each morning instead of sitting down in front of my computer.

I was partly inspired by Daniel Pink’s account of taking the class in his terrific book, A Whole New Mind. He includes pictures of the self-portrait he drew before receiving any instruction, and the self-portrait he drew at the end of five days. The leap in execution was astonishing.

I have no art training and no skills. Nevertheless, I’ve always had an interest in art that I’ve somehow never found a way to tap. The promise of learning how to draw – and really, how to be able to see better – was enormously attractive.

When I read things that interest me, I always feel a compulsion to…process them. I have an urge to take notes, to clip articles, to manipulate information and ideas. I feel the same way when I see something beautiful or interesting, but I don’t have any tools with which to tackle that kind of material. I’d love to be able to make a sketch or some kind of record.

Now, you might say, “Just have fun with it! Do your best, it doesn’t have to be good!” But the fact is, it’s not much fun to make a very bad sketch. It’s frustrating, and not enjoyable to look back at later.

Happiness research shows the people get a big boost from learning new skills, and also from novel experiences; as the research would predict, the drawing class (so far, at least) has been tremendously fun and valuable.

Unfortunately, when you’re feeling blue, it’s easy to feel too overwhelmed and dispirited to make the effort to try something new. It seems difficult, exhausting – even making the arrangements seem too hard. So it’s hard to take a step that, if you could manage it, would give you a boost.

And this class is hard. During the class, I felt intimidated, defensive, hostile, and frustrated. I’ve been exhausted when I come home, and my back hurts.

Yet it’s also tremendously gratifying to learn something new – that’s the “atmosphere of growth” so important to happiness. It’s fun to have a break from my usual routine, and even to be in a different part of the city at a different time of day. It’s nice to meet some new people.

Plus – my goodness – I drew my hand! I drew a chair that actually looked like a chair! I still can’t quite believe it.

Pollyanna Week continues. It’s such a useful exercise. I’m absolutely astonished by a) how hard it is to remember to refrain from criticism, nagging, complaints, etc., and b) the huge percentage of my conversation which consists of criticism, nagging, complaints, etc. I haven’t been able to wear my orange reminder bracelet, because of the drawing class (it gets in my way), but have been trying to stick to the goals. It’s more challenging than it sounds.