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

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This Wednesday: Quiz — do you make other people unhappy?

ImageEvery Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day).
This Wednesday — Quiz: Do you make other people unhappy?

One of the most crucial keys to happiness is the ability to make other people happy. (In fact, a device to warn you if you’re being boring or irritating is in development.)

Many people, however, don’t realize that they’re not making people happy – quite the reverse. They have their own explanations for the things they say and do, and they don’t acknowledge how they’re affecting other people.

One of my favorite sections in Bob Sutton’s excellent book, The No A****** Rule (I’m omitting the title not from prudery but from fear of spam-blockers), was his quiz, also posted on his blog, Are You a Certified A******?. Some people don’t recognize the clues that should tip them off to people’s reactions.

So, inspired by Bob Sutton, I’ve put together this quiz, “Do you make other people unhappy?” Be brutally honest as you answer:

–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they do a lot of grumbling? Do they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? Do they seem reluctant to accept your generosity?

–When you join a group of people, does the mood often shift? Does a group tend to break apart after you join it?

–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?

–Do you find it hard to get your calls and emails returned by just about everyone?

–Are you often puzzled because the people around you seem dramatically to over-react to little mistakes, oversights, jokes, or casual remarks you make?

–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!”

–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer objective, helpful criticism or advice?

–Do you often find out that something you’ve done or said has caused an argument between two other people? (E.g., your son tells you that he and your daughter-in-law have been arguing about the lovely plans you’ve made for Thanksgiving.)

–Do you find that even when you’re trying to be helpful by explaining something or providing interesting information, people don’t want to seem to listen to you?

–Do you feel annoyed because people tend to refuse to acknowledge your greater experience or knowledge in an area, and instead, ignore your suggestions?

–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?

–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?

–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?

–Do you go out of your way to point out to people their mistakes or areas of incompetence – if possible, in front of others?

–If good fortune befalls others, do you feel that their good fortune makes it somehow less likely that something good can happen to you?

–Do your peers seem to have social lives that are very different from yours? Is everyone talking about going to weddings, to surprise fortieth birthday parties, to baby showers, to Christmas parties, but you’re not often invited to these kinds of occasions?

–Is it fairly common for one person to tell you that he or she will speak to a third person, so that you need not speak to that third person directly? In other words, do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking?

A “yes” may be a red flag that you’re a source of unhappiness for others.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Mencius.

Mencius“The path of duty lies in what is near, and man seeks for it in what is remote.” –Mencius

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The happiness of getting a major boost in productivity: the RSS reader.

RssiconWhy, oh why, did I wait so long to start using an RSS reader?

I’m not exactly tech-savvy, and I’d convinced myself that using an RSS reader wouldn’t be much more efficient than just visiting individual blogs.

Finally, however, after getting a pep talk and some email coaching from Ben Casnocha, I decided to try to set up an RSS reader for myself.

I’d heard that Newsgator’s FeedDemon was a good service (there are many other good ones too), so without any further research, I signed up. Zoikes, I love it!

If, like me, you have only a vague sense of what an RSS reader might be, has a good explanation.

In brief, an RSS reader allows you to open up your reader to see a list of all your chosen blogs, neatly lined up; by clicking on the title of the blog, you see an updated list of posts. This way of reading blogs allows you to cruise the blogosphere with vastly greater ease and speed.

The disadvantage is that you can’t see the comments, or post comments, without visiting the blog itself—but it takes just one click to do that, so it’s not very hard.

I still haven’t figured out how to use the bright orange icon (see top left-hand column) to add a blog to my RSS reader. I enter the URL in, instead. So I’m hardly a whiz at using the service – and still I love it.

One key to happiness is to challenge yourself, to learn something new. It can be frustrating and intimidating to learn something new, of course, but nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction when you finally figure it out.

In figuring out how to use an RSS reader, I reminded myself of several useful rules:
 “Ask for help” (thanks, Ben!)
 “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” (i.e., don’t do endless research to find the “best,” just find a good choice and act)
 “I am as smart as most people” (if lots of other people can figure this out, I probably can too)
 “Put myself in jail” (pretend that I’m in jail, so I have all the time and patience in the world to tackle a problem).

So give using an RSS reader a shot! And if you do, please consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed.

The happiness of seeing the world a little more clearly, by learning the term “service heart.”

ButlertrayFor me, a great source of happiness – or perhaps intellectual rejoicing is a more accurate description – is when I find a phrase or word that identifies an aspect of human nature that I haven’t previously understood.

For example, several months ago, I posted about darshan. So satisfying to understand darshan! The world came into focus just a bit more clearly.

Several days ago, while reading the Wall Street Journal, I saw an article by Robert Frank about the “butler boom.” I can’t find the exact article online, which I believe was an excerpt from his book Richistan, but the same material is covered on his blog.

In Frank’s discussion of the butler boom, an unfamiliar term caught my eye: the “service heart.”

And many household managers talked with pride about what they call “the service heart”— the joy of giving their employers exactly what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. As butler student Dawn Carmichael told me, “I loved knowing what made my employer happy. I know that sounds weird, but making him happy made me happy.”

Ah, the SERVICE HEART! Now that I know this description, I see it in the world around me.

People with a service heart will be happier in certain professions than people with the same job who don’t have a service heart, because some jobs lend themselves to expression of the service heart; conversely, such people might be less happy if they worked in professions that didn’t allow them to satisfy that aspect of their personality.

What jobs allow expressions of the service heart? Not just butlers. Executive assistants, chiefs of staff, nurses, special assistants…

The first of my Twelve Commandments is “Be Gretchen,” and I’ve realized that one of the difficulties of “being Gretchen” is that I must accept myself, as is, which means accepting some things about myself that I wish I could change.

I can imagine that a person with a service heart might wish he or she did not have a service heart. People with a service heart relate to the world in a certain way, and a person might want to be different.

Knowing yourself, accepting what really makes you happy (not what you wish made you happy), is a key to happiness. I’m constantly amazed by the difficulty of following this principle, which seems the most obvious, the most trite, the most stale.

Whether or not you’re considering of training to be a butler, to know that you have a service heart — or that you don’t have a service heart — tells you something important about yourself.

If I had the genius and the insight, I would devise a Periodic Table of the Elements for human nature, with the myriad of archetypal forms fitted into an all-embracing elegant pattern. When I was writing Power Money Fame Sex, my favorite times came when I felt that I was groping toward that kind of discovery of the workings of the four worldly desires.

The other day, I read about a study that purported to show that people can get pleasure from paying taxes (this CBC News account isn’t the article I originally read, but it describes the study). Hmmmm, I thought, I love a good counter-intuitive finding, but this is one of those cases where I’m not sure I buy the conclusion, study or no study.

Occasionally, when I read happiness studies, I’m reminded of Samuel Johnson’s refutation of idealist George Berkeley (who, if I remember correctly, denied the existence of matter): Johnson kicked a stone and said, “I refute him thus.”

I didn’t think much more about it until I came across Will Wilkinson’s comments on his Happiness and Public Policy blog, where he explores some of the weaknesses of the study’s design. Very interesting.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Anne Lamott.


“But about a month before my friend Pammy died, she said something that may have permanently changed me.
“We had gone shopping for a dress for me to wear that night to a nightclub with the man I was seeing at the time. Pammy was in a wheelchair, wearing her Queen Mum wig, the Easy Rider look in her eyes. I tried on a lavender minidress, which is not my usual style. I tend to wear big, baggy clothes. People used to tell me I dressed like John Goodman. Anyway, the dress fit perfectly, and I came out to model it for her. I stood there feeling very shy and self-conscious and pleased. Then I said, ‘Do you think it makes my hips look too big?’ and she said to me slowly, ‘Annie? I really don’t think you have that kind of time.’

–Anne Lamott