Need a simple way to boost your mood in one minute? Look at a photograph of someone you love.

A reader sent me an email telling me about a strategy she uses when she needs a dose of happiness: she imagines the smiling faces of her family and other beloved people in her life.

That certainly rang true for me. We have a long line of photographs along a windowsill in our bedroom, and I often stop to look at each photograph, even though I’ve seen them all a thousand times, and it always cheers me up.

I read a note in the May O Magazine about a study in which people were asked about their moods before and after eating chocolate, listening to music, and looking at photographs of loved ones. The only activity that altered their moods was looking at photographs – they got an 11% lift.

I’ve never been one to carry photos of my family in my wallet (I figure that it’s safe to assume other people aren’t as interested in my children as I am), but now I’m going to start – not to show other people (though I’m sure I won’t be able to resist), but for my own benefit.

I was surprised, however, that this study suggested that listening to music didn’t boost people’s moods. I’ve read other research showing that listening to music is one of the most effective ways to get a lift. Maybe the people in this study didn’t get to pick music they liked.

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Countdown continues! Tomorrow is the big day! The first Women’s Murder Club airs — ABC, 9:00 Eastern.

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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.

This Wednesday: Six tips for preparing yourself for a vigorous, healthy old age.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips to prepare yourself for a vigorous, healthy old age.

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” H. L. Mencken proclaimed.

We all want to be energetic and pain-free for our whole lives, but just watching how older people walk down the street (or are pushed in a wheelchair) is a reminder of how differently people age.

Some people look great and move easily; other people who are about the same age are obviously frail.

One of my happiness-project resolutions is to take steps now that will lay the groundwork for my life decades from now. Studies show that even modest changes can have a dramatic effect on health and longevity.

Here are six tips I follow that will, I hope, set me up to be strong and healthy in my old age:

1. Exercise regularly. There are different theories to explain why aerobic exercise promotes brain regeneration and wards off decline, but for whatever reason, it does have that effect.

2. Yoga. Falls are a major danger to older adults, and working on flexibility and balance means that we’re less likely to fall.

3. Strength-training. We naturally lose muscle as we age, and working out with weights helps offset that process. I started working out with weights fairly recently, and I’ve been astounded by the difference it has made in my body. I thought I was one of those people who just couldn’t develop muscles; turns out I was one of those people who didn’t have a very effective exercise regimen.

4. Wear sunscreen every day. Dermatologists agree that this is the best way to ward off wrinkles. (Okay, this is about vanity, not frailty, but still important to me.)

5. Floss and go to the dentist. My father is haunted by a line from the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married,” when one character remarks that she wished she’d taken better care of her teeth. I hate to admit this, but I’ve always been pretty lax about tooth-care, beyond brushing — but I’ve reformed.

6. Act happy, be happy. Montaigne observed, “It seems to me that in old age our souls are subject to more troublesome ailments and weaknesses than in youth.” No one wants to age into a querulous, isolated person. Being happy is a safeguard against many ills. Having fun, making time for friends, and keeping up with family traditions are important steps to happiness now and forever.

I don’t need to quit smoking, take blood pressure medication, lose a bunch of weight, or keep my cholesterol down, but these are obviously important steps to take if necessary.

A key to all these steps is being able to stick to your resolutions. If keeping resolutions is a challenge, you might be interested in this post.

I’m sure there are many other things I should do…any suggestions?

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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.

Women’s Murder Club, the arrival fallacy, and why it’s important to “Enjoy the process.”

The countdown begins! Just three days until Women’s Murder Club premiers on ABC! 9:00 EST, plan to watch!

My sister and her writing partner are Executive Producers. Getting a show on network TV is a HUGE DEAL, and I’m thrilled.

The true hugeness of it hit me this morning, when I saw giant posters for Women’s Murder Club in the subway. I’d seen signs for the show on buses, and the Big Man saw a billboard on the Bruckner Expressway, but somehow seeing a wall poster in my very own home subway station really brought it home to me.

Of course, I had to take a photo. (One crucial happiness-project resolution: always carry a camera.)

In Tal Ben-Shahar’s book Happier, he mentions the “arrival fallacy,” in which we believe that if only we could arrive at a certain destination, then we would be happy. However, reaching that destination usually doesn’t make us as happy as we expect.

Five years ago, if you’d asked my sister how she’d feel to have a show premiering on ABC, she would’ve said, “I’d feel ecstatic!”

Of course, she is ecstatic. But arriving at a destination, no matter how longed for, rarely brings the pure joy we anticipate. First of all, by the time you’ve reached the destination, you’re expecting to reach it. So it’s not a huge leap in experience.

Second, arriving at a destination reveals all the effort that must go into staying there. It’s rare to achieve something (other than winning an award) that brings unadulterated pleasure without added responsibilities or concerns.

Having a baby. Getting a promotion. Buying a house. Having a show on TV. We look forward to reaching these destinations, and they do make us happy (usually), but having reached them, they bring emotions other than sheer happiness, as well.

Now when I find myself focusing over-much on the anticipated happiness of arriving at a certain goal, I remind myself of one of my Twelve Commandments: “Enjoy the process.”

If I can enjoy the process, I don’t need to count on the happiness that is (or isn’t) waiting for me upon arrival.

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Curt Rosengren, familiar to many from his blog The Occupational Adventure, has launched a new blog, The M.A.P. Maker — where M., A., and P. stand for Meaning, Abundance, and Passion. With my new interest in people identifying their personal symbols — their imago, or figuration, or totem, or whatever it should be called — I was struck by the image at the top of the blog, a compass. That’s a great personal metaphor.

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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.

Looking for a way to make your emails more efficient? Try my latest productivity innovation.

I recently made one of those little shifts in everyday life that ends up making a big difference.

I changed one of my email habits.

For years, when I had several issues to raise with someone, I sent a round-up email with a subject line that said something like “various.” I prided myself on my efficiency in combining everything in one big email.

Finally, light dawned, and I realized that my system didn’t work very well.

Usually I’d get a response to one or two of the issues I’d raised, and the other issues would be forgotten.

I was frustrated until finally I applied one of my Twelve Commandments: “Identify the problem.” (See left-hand column for the Twelve Commandments.)

What was the problem? Some issues were being addressed, others weren’t.
Why? Because I was packing too many issues together.

If the recipient wanted to refer back to the email, it was hard to find because the subject line wasn’t descriptive. It was easy to delete the message without realizing that some issues had been overlooked.

I’ve hit on a system that works much better. Every separate issue goes in a separate email, with an appropriate subject line. I’ve been known to send four separate emails to the same person in the space of five minutes. (In those cases, the unfortunate recipient usually is the Big Man.) Sure, it means more email traffic, but it makes each email shorter and easier to track—and each one is its own “action item.”

So far, the experiment seems to be a success.

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Kathryn Hawkins posted an extremely nice piece about The Happiness Project on a terrific new site, Gimundo, which celebrates “Good news and positive stories…served daily.” Her kind words and the spotlight on my blog made me very happy!

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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.

This Saturday: a happiness quotation from Michael Frayn.

“The idea of happiness is surely the sun at the centre of our conceptual planetary system – and has proved just as hard to look at directly.” –Michael Frayn

This line is from Michael Frayn’s novel A Landing on the Sun, which is absolutely ESSENTIAL reading on the subject of happiness.

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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.