My new strategy for making friends: the “Hey, you’re my long-lost pal from camp!” technique.

Something that has made me very happy lately has been the launch of my internet movie, The Years Are Short (and the movie is short, too – just one minute). Check it out!

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Everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers to religious leaders agrees: a KEY to happiness is having close relationships with other people.

As Bertrand Russell pointed out, “To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.”

But what if you’re having trouble liking other people? When I meet people, I often feel distracted, wary, or self-absorbed, instead of friendly.

I’ve discovered a trick.

Research shows that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. That’s why one of my Twelve Commandments (see left-hand column) is to Act the way I want to feel.

As improbable as it may sound, it really works. Try it. If you don’t like the way you’re feeling, act as you’d like to feel—and your feelings will change. It’s uncanny.

So if you want to have warmer relationships with people, act more warmly.

I started a strategy that I call the “You’re my friend from camp!” technique. When I meet someone, I try to imagine that he or she is a long-last pal from summer camp. Even though I don’t really fool myself, it makes my tone and attitude warmer. My smile is sincere, instead of a perfunctory grimace. I honestly feel more friendly.

And not only does this strategy make me feel more friendly to that person, it also makes that person feel more friendly in return.

That’s because we tend to like people who like us.

This just happened to me. There’s a woman I encounter regularly whom I’d describe as an “acquaintance.” When I came back from winter vacation, she was suddenly much friendlier to me. In return, I felt much more friendly towards her – even though nothing had changed.

In a nutshell: by acting friendly, we make ourselves feel more friendly, and as a consequence, others respond in a friendly way. Science backs this up. A study found that when volunteers were asked to treat subjects as if they liked them, these volunteers did indeed end up genuinely liking those people — and the subjects, too, liked the volunteers better.

When I was in sixth grade, my classroom had a poster that said, “If you want to make a friend, be a friend.” I guess that just because a piece of advice can be found on a Snoopy poster doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Pascal.

“All men seek happiness without exception. They all aim at this goal however different the means they use to attain it. . . .They will never make the smallest move but with this as its goal. This is the motive of all the actions of all men, even those who contemplate suicide.” –Pascal

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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.

It’s Friday: time to think about YOUR Happiness Project. This week: give something up.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

The First Splendid Truth is that to think about happiness, we should think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Examining each of these elements is ESSENTIAL to happiness.

Sometimes, we all know, something that makes you feel good also makes you feel bad. These things demand a special look.

One argument I hear a lot, from people interested in happiness, is that “It’s better to focus on the positive. Instead of telling yourself ‘no’ or ‘never’ or ‘don’t,’ focus on what you want, and be moderate.”

This is a good point to keep in mind, but I don’t agree that it’s always true. Sometimes it feels good to say, “I’m going to stop!” “No more!”

Also, personally I find that it’s easier to give things up altogether. Moderation is pleasant to the wise, but I’m more like Samuel Johnson, who remarked, “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.” In other words, I can go cold turkey, but I can’t indulge occasionally.

So this Friday, see if there’s something you want to give up, or stop doing. And give it up.

I did this recently. I read Gary Taubes’s book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, and I became convinced, finally, that I had to stop eating so much fake food. Last year, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to give up fake food, and I hadn’t been able to keep that resolution. But somehow reading the Taubes book last month shifted something in my thinking.

I have to admit that my friends laugh at my definition of “fake food.” I haven’t given up Diet Coke, or candy, or frozen yoghurt. All of which I consume in enormous amounts.

But until I gave up fake food, I was also eating a lot of Snackwell’s cookies, Glenny’s 100-calorie brownies, sugared cereal in single-serving packages, Quaker Oats bars, etc. “You haven’t given up all fake foods – you’ve given up food that comes in crinkly packages,” a friend explained.

It feels GOOD. I miss my fake food, but now that I don’t eat it, I realize that I’d been feeling quite bad about eating so much bad food. It weighed on my mind. Also, fake food was crowding out healthy food. I’d think, “I could have a bowl of vegetable soup – or I could have a package of Snackwell’s cookies! I want the cookies!”

Have I lost weight? No. Do I feel healthier or more energetic? No. But I feel happier, freed from those bad feelings about knowing that I wasn’t eating well.

Also, as the happiness experts tell us, just making a decision and sticking to it is a source of happiness. It gives us a feeling of control, of efficacy, of responsibility. Also, any positive change enhances the “atmosphere of growth.”

I’ve asked around, and here are some things that my friends have given up in the last year, and report being happier for having done so:

– grabbing treats from Cinnabon in airports
— buying things on eBay
— sleeping until noon on Saturday
— owning a television
— drinking wine
— checking TMZ.com more than once a day
— buying bottled water
— getting the latest cell phone
— eating cereal
— sunbathing

Obviously, people’s choices will be different. Just because someone gives up TV doesn’t mean we all need to give up TV. But if you think you’d be happier without a TV, give it up! It sounds all renunciatory and Spartan, but it can feel good.

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I always find something thought-provoking and/or hilarious when I read Michael Melcher Reports — particularly because we’re both former lawyers (well, really, once a lawyer, always a lawyer, so I suppose I should say “non-practicing lawyers”).

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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.

Check out my happiness-project movie! A one-minute story about — what else? — how I learned to be happier.

I’m very excited.

Today, my internet movie, The Years Are Short, launched!

I hesitated to do this movie. Then I remembered all my resolutions: “Push myself,” “Try something new,” and “Enjoy the fun of failure” (well, actually, I hope that one won’t come into play).

I remembered my Secret of Adulthood: “It’s okay to ask for help.”

As always, novelty and challenge can be intimidating — but, just as the happiness researchers tell us, they give big boosts of happiness. Now that the movie is finished and out in the world, I’m very happy, even though I felt frustrated and anxious at various times along the way.

The fact is, whenever I stick to my happiness resolutions, I do make myself happier. I remind myself of that every day.

The story is a true story about something that happened to me as a parent. The title, The Years Are Short, comes from the phrase that I constantly invoke: The days are long, but the years are short.

I hope you enjoy it! Let me know what you think. If you like the movie, please pass the link along to anyone else who might like it, too.

And if you’re visiting this blog for the first time, after having seen the movie, welcome!

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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.