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

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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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I'm just about finished writing my next book, Better Than Before, about how we can make and break our habits. If you’d like to hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.

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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This Wednesday: One key tip to help you be happier, lose weight, have more fun, be a better parent and spouse, have more friends, be more productive, and more – plus, get something for free!

Franklin_chartEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: One key tip to help you be happier, lose weight, have more fun, be a better parent and spouse, have more friends, be more productive, and more – plus, get something for free!

We’ve all made New Year’s resolutions. But the problem is – how do we actually follow through? Initial enthusiasm and determination so often fade to neglect and guilt.

To help myself stick to my Happiness-Project resolutions, I keep resolution charts.

I borrowed the idea from Ben Franklin. In his Autobiography, he explains that he identified thirteen virtues to cultivate, then made a chart with those virtues plotted against the days of the week. Each day, he’d score himself.

I’ve made a similar scoring chart—a calendar with all my resolutions, in which I can give myself a √ (good) or an X (bad).

Keeping these charts has made a huge difference in helping me stick to my resolutions. Why?

 Studies show that we’re much more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete actions, with some kind of accountability.

 Actually writing down a goal helps to commit to pursuing that goal.

 Research shows that repeating ideas makes them much more “accessible” and therefore more active. As I review my resolutions to score myself, I’m also keeping ideas like “Sing in the morning,” “Show up,” or “Answer the phone with good cheer” uppermost in my mind.

 Visible proof of progress is encouraging. I crave those gold stars! I’ve been trying to get over my need for recognition and praise, but it’s not easy, and that little bit of reinforcement makes a difference.

Although everyone’s Happiness Project would be unique, seeing Benjamin Franklin’s example did help me create my resolution charts.

So, if you’d like to see my resolution charts, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. (I wrote the email that way to thwart spammers, but just use the usual email format.) I’ll email you my charts.

I’ve included a blank template at the end, so you can adapt the format to your own particular goals.

In case there’s confusion – each month I concentrate on a particular set of goals, but I do score myself every day on resolutions for all twelve months.

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If you’re interested in topics like creativity, productivity, and the occasional just-because-it’s interesting-or-funny piece of information, check out LifeDev. It’s the blog by the founder of LifeRemix.
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Keeping a different kind of “limited” journal – a “while-people-are-boarding-the-plane” journal.

AirplaneinteriorLast week, I posted about the anniversary of keeping my one-sentence journal. The enthusiastic response showed me that the idea of a one-sentence journal intrigued a lot of people – and that many people were keeping similar journals.

The common thread is that people find the idea of “keeping a journal” to be enticing, but overwhelming. We all have visions of writing with an ink pen in an elegant journal for forty-five minutes each morning – which, for most of us, is just NOT going to happen.

But instead of giving up the idea entirely, it’s possible to keep a limited journal, to enjoy the satisfaction of keeping a record of experiences or thoughts, but without the guilt or burden of constant upkeep.

A reader sent me an email describing his version of the one-sentence journal, and I thought the idea was so terrific I asked him if I could write about it here. He – I’ll call him “John” – said to go ahead.

John has to travel a lot for work. He keeps a small notebook in his briefcase, and every time he gets on a plane, while everyone is boarding, he fills a few pages about what’s happening in the life of his family. He plans to give the journals to his three children.

I think this is a brilliant idea, for several reasons.

 We overestimate what we can do in the short term (an afternoon) and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long term, with constant small steps (over the course of a year). By writing a few pages every few weeks, by the end of the year, John can accomplish a sizable amount of writing.

 The time spent waiting for people to board a plane seems like a frustrating, wasted period. John reclaimed this lost time to do something enjoyable, creative, and productive.

 By keeping the time devoted to journal-writing very limited, John kept it manageable. When we set a new goal, it’s tempting to set the bar so high that it’s impossible to sustain. Reforming eating habits, taking up exercise, learning a new language, planting a garden…initial enthusiasm turns to guilt and anxiety when we don’t follow through.

 Pierre Reverdy observed, “There is no love, there are only proofs of love.” Keeping these journals to be a link between himself and his children is an active proof of love. We think we act because of the way we feel, but in fact, the way we act shapes the way we feel – so performing loving actions boosts loving feelings.

 Studies show that one way to boost happiness is to keep happy memories fresh. Happy people don’t have more pleasant experiences than unhappy people, but they remember them better. Keeping a journal (which for most people skews toward the happy experiences) will help keep good times memorable.

I want to copy this idea myself, but I haven’t yet figured out how to adapt it to my life. I don’t travel often enough to use John’s plan. Also, my handwriting is so messy that I can’t keep a written notebook, but need to do all writing with a computer.

But there must be some kind of ongoing task that I could fit into the interstices of my days…

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A fellow contributor to LifeRemix is Dumb Little Man, which is glorious collection of “tips for life” — everything from improving your writing, getting better sleep, to getting a raise, even doing magic tricks. A treasure trove of information.

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