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

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Are you looking for a delicious, nutritious, filling, low-calorie treat?

Smoothie_2Summer is the season of the smoothie, and I have one every night.

Here’s my recipe:
One cup of skim milk
One cup of frozen blueberries or strawberries
One banana (I don’t much like bananas, but they give the smoothie a nice texture, and the flavor of the berries dominates)
8 packets of Equal (yes, I know, that’s a lot of Equal, but I’m okay with that)
As much ice as I can put in without making the smoothie too bland
Blend well

This recipe makes an enormous amount of smoothie, and it’s a great treat for people who are watching their calories.

Studies show that while drinking water doesn’t make you feel full (contrary to what many people believe), high water content in food does make you feel full. So, for example, eating some ingredients made into a soup will be more filling than eating those same ingredients made into a casserole. Lots of ice in the smoothie makes it very filling.

Also, if you’re really watching every single calorie, consider that you burn up one calorie for every ounce of an ice-cold drink, because of the energy needed to warm it up.

Despite the photograph, I eat my smoothie from a bowl, not a glass. Eating out of an enormous bowl, with a spoon, makes me feel like I’m having something substantial and meal-like, while drinking a smoothie out of a glass makes it seem like a casual snack. Research shows that your perception that you’ve eaten a lot, or a little, plays a big role in satiety.

For a different treat, freeze the smoothie in little cups. That’s delicious too, but I can never manage to resist eating the smoothie right away.

Life Two describes itself as the “destination for information on middle age,” but there’s a lot of great information there that’s not specific to middle age. Good round-ups of studies, useful links, interesting articles. This morning, one item particularly caught my interest, because it’s an important issue for happiness: What we can learn from near-death experiences.

[Later] Aack, in my hurry, I completely forgot to note that the Life Two post was riffing off the interesting post at Marginal Revolution on the subject of near-death experiences. Check that out, too.

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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.

Music and happiness: the joy of re-discovering a song I love.

RedhotYesterday, I spent a few hours working in one of my favorite spots, the Pisa Pizza pizza shop. I usually don’t notice the music playing in the background, but I heard a song that I love that I hadn’t heard in a long time.

I don’t enjoy music much; I don’t have an iPod, I don’t buy CDs or songs from iTunes, it never occurs to me to listen to music as I got about my daily routine. I wish I liked music more, but as part of my resolution to “Be Gretchen,” I’ve accepted my tastes. Nevertheless, when I do like a particular piece of music, I love it.

As with this song. I didn’t know its title, or the name of the band, and I couldn’t understand the words very well, but I stopped working to listen.

In keeping with my resolutions to “Follow my curiosities,” “Take time to wander,” and “Be Gretchen,” I decided to try to track down the song.

Ah, the glories of the modern age. I jotted down some lyrics that I could understand, and when I got home, I searched for them in Google. I discovered that the song was “Under the Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Big Man had put all our (really, his) music on our computer, so I searched for it and – there it was. In a flash, to my intense gratification, the song was playing in my office.

Studies show that listening to music is one of the best ways to bring on a good mood, and 92% of people get a boost when they listen to music of their choice.

“Under the Bridge” rouses strange emotions in me. I wouldn’t say it makes me feel happy, exactly. The song is beautiful, and I listened to it many times. But listening to the song is almost painful, too…I can’t describe how it makes me feel. There is a kind of exquisite pleasure that is happiness, but also not happiness. But there is happiness in experiencing it. And it sure made me happy that I could so easily track down and listen to the song.

It’s playing right now.

Just as I was getting ready to post this, I decided to see if I could link to the song without violating any copyright laws. I’m not sure about the legal status of this link to YouTube, but here it is: Under the Bridge, live in concert. On the one hand, watching the video undermined my experience of the song, because I was distracted by the band’s questionable fashion decision to forgo their shirts (of course, they’re known for their propensity to forgo much more than their shirts). And a live version has more glitches than the recorded version. On the other hand, I loved hearing a stadium full of people crooning the chorus along with the band.

I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day
Take me to the place I love, take me all the way…

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This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Viktor Frankl.

FranklWe stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: “If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.”

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth — that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way — an honorable way — in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, “The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.”
–Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning.

If you haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning, run out and buy it now.

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One secret to happiness and productivity: don’t follow Paris Hilton’s misadventures.

Paris_hiltonMaybe you’re genuinely interested in Paris Hilton. Maybe you talk about her with your colleagues around the water-cooler. Maybe you see her shenanigans as a fascinating commentary on certain aspects of American society.

If so, spending time on Paris Hilton certainly may contribute to your happiness. This kind of topic can be a lot of fun to follow.

I, however, was reading the occasional Paris Hilton story not because I was at all interested, but because I felt some kind of obligation to keep up with the latest twists. There’s so much coverage of it, I had a vague sense that I should keep myself informed.

Finally, light dawned. Hey, I told myself, this isn’t Iraq! This isn’t the immigration bill or the presidential election or even that guy with the rare strain of TB! I have no civic obligation to keep up with her story.

I’ve decided to spend NO TIME on monitoring the doings of Paris Hilton, and I’m sure I’ve saved untold hours to dedicate to more important activities, like reading magazines, flossing, and tidying my office.

I love tips lists, quotations, and anything to do with the subject of happiness, so I always find something worth checking out on the Positivity Blog. There’s always something to get me thinking.

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A secret to happiness: “Be a storehouse of happy memories.”

SchoolbusToday is the Big Girl’s last day of second grade. She’s thrilled, but for me, as always with these milestones, it’s bitter-sweet. The days are long, but the years are short.

One of my resolutions is to “Be a storehouse of happy memories,” and one tradition that I started years ago, almost accidentally, was taking a photograph on the first and last day of school each year. I have the Big Girl (and starting next year, the Little Girl) hold up a sign that says “Last day of second grade — June 14, 2007″ or whatever.

It makes a great keepsake. I wish that I’d been organized enough to start a special photo album, just with these pictures, so we could more easily see the changes over the years. I didn’t think to do that, so they’re just sprinkled in the albums among the other pictures, but they’re still fun to see.

Research shows that a good way to boost happiness is to reflect on happy times in the past, and looking at photographs — or any other memento — is a good way to prompt your recollections.

Also, although taking a photo is easy and takes only a second, the tradition of making the sign and taking the photograph adds a little bit to the special quality of these first/last days, and that’s important to me, because I want my children to understand the importance of school.

I make extra copies and send them off to the grandparents, too. So little work, so many happiness resolutions fulfilled!

It occurs to me that this post is Parent-Hack-ish, so if you like this sort of thing, be sure to check out Parent Hacks, which has a million ideas for making it easier to be a parent. A recent favorite hack of mine: ask your kids to do their pouring over the open dishwasher door. The door makes a good surface, just the right height, and any spills are contained and cleaned up when you run the dishwasher.

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