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

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Are you looking for reading recommendations for children’s literature?


On the last day of every month (except when I forget), I post a list of happiness-themed recommended reading.

After my recent post about my once-furtive, now-proud love for children’s literature, several people wrote to ask me for a list of books I’d recommend. Zoikes, that’s an assignment that makes me happy – the only problem is keeping the list from getting too long.

I’ve read each of these books at least three times, most of them, many more.

The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
The Silver Crown, Robert O’Brien
Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie
The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
Half Magic, Edward Eager
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
The Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
The Second Mrs. Giaconda, E. L. Konigsberg
Black and Blue Magic, Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright
The Narnia Books, C. S. Lewis
The Rings tetralogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls

Okay, I must stop here.

And Harry Potter, of course.

Just looking at these titles makes me happy.

If you didn’t have a chance to check out LifeRemix yesterday, take a look today. There’s so much great material there — LifeRemix pulls a lot of great blogs together, into one place. Full disclosure: I’m one of the participants!

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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.

Why going on vacation can make me unhappy – if I let it.

DunesWe just started our family vacation. Everything is delightful, we’re in a place we love, with friends nearby, lots of time to goof around.

And yet I’m anxious and agitated. I yelled at the Big Man. I stomped around.

Why? Because of limited internet and cell phone access.

Seneca wrote, “Prosperity fosters bad tempers” – and it’s really true. The “hedonic treadmill” describes our ability to adapt quickly to changed circumstances. We get accustomed to air-conditioning, color TV, penicillin, the ubiquity of Diet Coke, and internet access, and take these luxuries for granted. Take the luxuries away, however, and the bad temper sets in.

Also, there’s something particularly unnerving about not having constant email, internet, and phone access. It doesn’t feel merely inconvenient, it feels almost…scary. I feel cut off. But why this matters, I don’t know. If anything, I should be pleased to have the distractions shut off.

I refuse to let this issue put a cloud over our vacation. I’m setting aside one time each day when I’ll try to post to this blog and check my email. At that time, I’ll fuss about it. Other than that, I’m going to put it out of my mind.

I was very pleased to be asked to join LifeRemix, a new network of blogs selected for being great writing about how to live a better life. I was already familiar with most of the blogs included, plus discovered some new ones. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is getting a chance to connect with other bloggers, and it’s a lot of fun to be part of this group endeavor. (Turns out one of the founders lives in Lawrence, Kansas, so we have the whole Missouri/Kansas connection. It always surprises me what a kick I get from even an attenuated hometown connection.)

LifeRemix is launching today, so check it out.

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Publilius Syrus.

Publiliussyrus“We are interested in others when they are interested in us.” — Publilius Syrus.

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Samuel Johnson’s to-do list: get up early, shop, get organized…and “scheme life.”

SamueljohnsonI revere Samuel Johnson and Benjamin Franklin as the two patron saints of those who make resolutions.

I laughed aloud this morning when I read Samuel Johnson’s diary entry for his 51st birthday in September 1760. He has a long list of resolutions, and he concludes with four resolutions to begin at once:

To morrow
Rise as early as I can.
Send for books for Hist. of war.
Put books in order.
Scheme life.

I see that he followed one of my own principles, which is to make sure that every to-do list has one item that can be done fairly quickly. “Scheme life” might take some time, however.

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My “friendship” resolutions and one of my most thrilling happiness-project adventure stories.

NancyellenOne of my areas of concentration for the happiness project is friendship, and my sub-resolutions include “Bring people together” and “Help people think big.”

“Bring people together” came from my realization that the one of the most thoughtful gestures is to help friends connect with other people – setting up single friends, recommending people for jobs, etc.

“Help people think big” came from my realization that words of enthusiasm and confidence from a friend can genuinely inspire someone to tackle an exciting goal. My agent was the one who said to me, “I really think you should consider doing a blog.” “Really?” I said dubiously. “Do you think I could?”

I try to live up to these resolutions, and Tuesday night marked the culmination of one of my most dramatic happiness-project adventure stories.

In December 2004, the Big Girl’s nursery school arranged a “reunion” for all the children who had graduated into kindergarten, so they could come back to see their old friends and teachers. While the children were occupied, the nursery school directors, Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum, led a parent discussion about the kindergarten transition. These kinds of meetings were familiar, because we had had them periodically during the nursery school years.

As always, Ellen and Nancy’s insights and advice were incredibly helpful. As I stood up to leave, I thought, “These two should write a book.” I was immediately convinced that this was the greatest idea ever.

Now, I didn’t know Nancy or Ellen particularly well, but I went over to Ellen and said, “You two should write a book.”

“You know, we’ve thought about that,” she said, “but never very seriously.”

“Well, I really think you should,” I repeated. Ellen called Nancy over, and we talked about it for a few minutes. Then we said good-bye.

I suspected that nothing more would happen unless I nudged them along, so I suggested that we meet for coffee to talk about the publishing process. As we talked, they became increasingly enthusiastic and full of ideas. I put them in touch with my agent. In a flash, they had a book contract and were on their way.

And now they’re done. They’ve written a fantastic, helpful book for parents of nursery-school age children. Two days ago, Practical Wisdom for Parents: Demystifying the Preschool Years, went on sale (perfectly timed for me personally, because the Little Girl starts nursery school in the fall). That very morning, Nancy and Ellen were on the Today Show. At their book party that night, they said that if it hadn’t been for me, they wouldn’t have written the book.

The fact is, I played a teeny, tiny role in their huge achievement. But it just may be true that I played a critical role. They needed someone to say “You should do this” and to help them begin to navigate in unfamiliar territory.

They’re thrilled with their accomplishment. But I feel fabulous, too. It makes me so happy to think that I helped them. Do good, feel good. It really works.

I’m fascinated by the issue of obesity, and I was flabbergasted to read Gina Kolata’s New York Times story this morning, Study Show That Obesity Can Be Contagious, about the new study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine that shows that obesity “spreads” among friends.

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