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

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I realize that I need to do some more thinking about happiness and GUILT.

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I’ve decided that I need to do some more research on guilt.

According to my ground-breaking happiness formula, to think about happiness, we need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

The Happiness Project showed me that in my case, to boost my happiness, I needed to do a lot of work in the “feeling bad” category. I needed to figure out how to feel less anger, irritation, remorse, boredom, anxiety, etc.

And, of course, less guilt.

I recently read that a study divided guilt into two categories:
o Breaches in SELF-REGULATION — procrastinating, overeating, drinking too much, spending too much, not exercising
o Breaches in COMMITMENTS – sexual cheating, not spending enough time on friends or family

But aren’t there other kinds of guilt? Some people feel guilty for living in comfort and safety when others are suffering. Maybe that’s the second category, “commitments”– you feel that you’re not doing enough to alleviate the world’s pain.

I have absolutely found that one reason that my Happiness Project has made me happier is that I’ve worked hard to fix aspects of my life that were causing me guilt – everything from remembering friends’ birthdays, to doing weight-training, to giving up those fake Nutritious Creations cookies I loved, to quitting nagging the Big Man, to starting the morning by singing to my daughters instead of barking orders.

When I eliminate a source of “feeling bad,” often it doesn’t show up in my day as a source of “feeling good,” but it lifts up my experience of my life, because I’m not beset by constant pricks of conscience. It also makes me “feel right” about how I’m behaving.

Sometimes, though, my actions do make me “feel good.” It makes me happy to send a “happy birthday” email and get a response back from a friend. It makes me happy to have a more pleasant, cheerful morning. So not only is “feeling bad” removed, “feeling good” is added.

That’s the way to get more bang for the happiness buck. Find something that’s making you feel guilty, and find a way to make it a source of happiness.

Also, I keep reminding myself, “Make it easy to do right.” For example, because I really dislike making phone calls, I don’t try to make myself call friends or family, because I’ll just procrastinate – but I have started sending many more emails.

Guilt. Why had I not yet focused on this rich (in painful) vein of material?

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I am a big fan of PostSecret. People write their secrets on postcards, decorated however they like, and mail them in to be posted on line. I was intrigued enough to buy the book.

Two “secrets” stuck in my mind. One was a photo of a small china piggy bank beside the handwritten words, “if i had a million dollars, i would give it all away for one more day with her like it used to be in the beginning.”

The second was a picture of a woman’s hands holding up a sign, “Psst, here’s a secret…your last mortal thought will be, ‘Why did I take so many days — just like today — for granted?”

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.

Are you interested in reading about creativity?

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On the last day of every month, I post a list of happiness-related recommended reading.
A reader asked for a list on the subject of creativity, so here it is.

A note about this list: I find people’s descriptions of their own creative processes more useful than books that suggest creativity exercises, so that’s the kind of book that dominates on my list.

Each one of these books is fascinating and will be enjoyed by anyone, whether or not they’re interested specifically in creativity – except the Boice and the Baty books on writing, which really do focus on the process of writing.

Books about creativity:
Bob Dylan, Chronicles
Edward Weston, The Flame of Recognition
Twyla Tharp, The Summing Up
Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography
Robert Boice, How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency — although (ironically) badly written, everyone I know who has read this thinks it’s a fantastic book for helping writers get writing done — but it’s bizarrely expensive, so be sure to check the price before you buy!
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Chris Baty, No Plot, No Problem
Christopher Alexander et al, A Pattern Language
Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information
Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary

If you’re interested in other lists of happiness-related recommended reading, check out this blog’s right column, near the bottom, under “Happiness Library.”

This Saturday: a quotation from Goethe.

“The clearest indication of character is what people find laughable.” — Goethe

Why happiness IS a warm hug.

One of my resolutions is “Affectionate touching.”

With my family, I’m working on doing more hugging, back rubbing, and making kind gestures, like handing over a utensil, pointing out something interesting, or straightening a shirt. Sometimes we all crowd together in one big huge, and yell, “Family love sandwich!”

I’m trying to hold my hugs for a longer time, too. Research shows that if we hold a hug for at least six seconds, we optimize the flow of mood-boosting chemicals.

Studies show that a family member is 47% more likely to feel close to a family member who often expresses affection than to one who rarely does. Sometimes it’s good to say, “I love you,” sometimes it’s good to express that thought without words.

Also, frequent huggers have lower blood pressure and higher levels of oxytocin (a chemical that promotes bonding).

At the same time, I’m trying to stop jaw-clenching, eye-rolling, and sighing in annoyance. A few times lately I’ve started to make an exasperated sound, and then pretended that I hadn’t done it. I’m not fooling anyone, but it’s an improvement.

Do you want to stop nagging?

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One of my main goals for the Happiness Project has been to stop nagging, for three reasons. First, people don’t like being nagged. Second, nagging doesn’t work. Third – and I didn’t really understand this until I’d cut back on my nagging – it makes me feel bad about myself. I don’t like feeling a shrewish, badgering person.

I hit on several strategies to stop nagging the Big Man, and I’ve managed to improve. One Wednesday, I posted a list of tips for getting to do your sweetheart to do chores–without nagging that worked for me.

Once I started paying attention to my nagging, I realized that I also nag the Big Girl quite a bit (the Little Girl is still too young to be a target for nagging).

In particular, my nagging takes the form of repeating instructions over and over, before giving her a chance to comply.

For example, the Big Girl was supposed to bring an extra pair of shoes to school today. I reminded her at breakfast. I reminded her while she was getting dressed. Then, as I was putting the Little Girl into the stroller for the walk to school, I started to yell a reminder.

But I thought—no. Don’t nag. Not only is my nagging an aggravation, it shows that I don’t think she can remember to get the shoes on her own. Two reminders was already one more than necessary.

I choked back my words, and sure enough, she showed up a few minutes later with the spare shoes in her hand.