— Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography
The challenge, I think, lies in that word “home.” I became so interested in the idea of “home” that I wrote an entire book about it: Happier at Home.
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When we were talking to the clerk about how to care for the fish, she told us, “Be sure not to overfeed your fish. Just two pellets.”
When we read the little instruction book that came with the bowl, it said, “Do not overfeed your fish.”
On the bottle of fish food, it said, “DO NOT OVERFEED.”
So it seems clear to me that people have a real tendency to overfeed their fish.
Which got me thinking — why is it so fun to feed animals, birds, people? Even when it’s not such a good idea.
People feed pigeons, bears, and zoo animals, even though it’s not good for the animals or the environment. I know the feeling. Growing up in Kansas City, my sister and I loved to feed the ducks in Loose Park.
There’s just something deeply satisfying about it.
I wonder if that’s why so many people seem to have the drive to urge other people to eat, too.
In talking about their attempts to have healthier eating habits, people often told me that an important person in their life made this aim more difficult.
“My grandmother gets insulted if I don’t take seconds or thirds.”
“My friend said, ‘But I baked it especially for you!’ even though she knew I was trying to give up sweets.”
“I told my wife that I can’t have chips in the house, but she says we have to have those foods, for the kids.”
“Everyone at the table was ordering dessert, and they wouldn’t let it go until I ordered some, too.”
I think there’s a lot of things that might be going on in these situations. People judge what they eat according to what others eat, so they want others to eat more — so they can eat more, guilt free! People feel uneasy when others change an important habit. People don’t want to feel inconvenienced by someone else’s habit change.
But partly, too, I think it’s just satisfying to feed someone or something.
And this aspect of human nature is worth taking into consideration when we’re changing our habits, and when we’re thinking about how other people are affecting our habits.
The Strategy of Other People is a key strategy for habit change.
What do you think? Do you find it satisfying to feed someone or something? Even when you know it may not be a good idea?
Further Secrets of Adulthood:
If you’re interested in this idea, it also relates to the haunting Japanese concept of wabi-sabi–the beauty of “the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”
I recalled this Secret of Adulthood when I was watching a ballet last year. At one point, a dancer wobbled slightly, and for me, this brief moment of imperfection heightened the beauty of the entire performance. It made it seem more real, more thrilling.
If you want, you can hear me talk about this Secret of Adulthood in two short videos: one video is a story is about an illustration in a children’s book (a story I read about in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom); one is the story of going to the ballet and also about listening to Glenn Gould.
· one outstanding book about happiness or habits
· one outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature–I have a crazy passion for kidlit
· one eccentric pick–a widely admired and excellent book that I love, yes, but one that may not appeal to everyone
Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or visit the library! Drumroll…
An outstanding book about happiness or habits:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.
An outstanding children’s book:
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
An eccentric pick:
Open by Andre Agassi
Some readers have said that they wished that I’d describe and make the case for my book choices, instead of just providing links.
I’ve noticed that many times, when someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds.
Nevertheless, because so many readers have requested it, I’ve decided to give a bit more context for these choices in the book-club newsletter. So if you’d like to know more about why I made these selections, check there. To get that free monthly book-club newsletter, and to make sure you don’ t miss any recommendations, sign up here.
In any event, I assure you that, for all the books I choose, I love them; I’ve read them at least twice if not many times; and they’re widely admired.
If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Organizing from the Inside Out; Ballet Shoes; Cloud Atlas.
Also, in book-related news, I can’t help mentioning that Better Than Before, my book about how we change our habits, is now available for pre-order. If you’re inclined to buy it, I’d really appreciate it if you’d pre-order.
Pre-orders build support for a book, by creating buzz among booksellers, the media, and the publisher. Pre-orders really matter. Buy from your favorite indie (Rainy Day Books is my fabulous hometown indie), tell your library you’d like to read it, or go here: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, iBooks.
End of commercial. Happy October, and happy reading.
I’ve been thrilled — and I must admit, astonished — by the popularity of my 21 Day Projects.
I created these because, over the years, I kept hearing the same issues coming up again and again, as people talked about their happiness challenges. Fighting a never-ending battle with clutter. Feeling drained by someone else’s difficult nature. Feeling bad about yelling at your kids too much. Being out of touch with yourself.
In response, I created four “21 Day Projects” for you to follow, if you want to tackle one of these challenges. I collected ideas in a form that makes it easier for people to remember and follow various connected resolutions on these particular themes.
In just 21 days, I believe, it really is possible to take many small, concrete steps to make your life happier. And don’t worry, none of these proposed resolutions take much time or energy—because no one has much time or energy to spare.
When I created these, however, I wasn’t sure if people would want them, so it has been very exciting to see how many people have signed up.
Curious about which topic is most popular? Know Myself Better is in the lead, and it has been from the beginning (which I did not predict). De-clutter My Life, Cope Better with Difficult People, and Quit Yelling at My Kids jump around in position.
Each 21-Day Project is $4.99, and delivers a new email from me, every day for three weeks, with ideas and suggestions for you to explore in your own life.
If you’d like to experiment with this approach for free, you can sign up for the 21 Day Relationship Challenge.
NEW and IMPROVED: Now, in addition to the individual 21 Day Projects, you can buy the 21 Day Project Omnibus. People kept asking for something like this, to use as a reference or to get all the emails at once, so here it is. (Also, I’ve always loved the word “omnibus” to got a real kick from getting to use it.)
The Omnibus is a PDF that allows you to buy all five Projects at once in a single document, and to read it on a device or to print it out. The Omnibus is a bargain: $11.99 instead of $19.96.
I hope you find these 21 Day Projects useful as you pursue your own happiness project.
If you have trouble turning any of the proposed ideas into permanent habits, just wait until my next book comes out, in March. In Better Than Before, I examine all the strategies we can use to change our habits. For real. To hear when it becomes available, sign up here.