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

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This Wednesday: Tips for living a virtuous life–from Ben Franklin in 1793.

BenfranklinEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday…Tips for living a virtuous life, from Benjamin Frankin in 1793.

As he records in his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin “conceiv’d the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection.”

From his reading, he came up with a catalogue of thirteen moral virtues, and he drew up a graph on which he scored his successes and failures each day.

His Project was a big inspiration for my Happiness Project — I even copied his scoring chart. Here’s his list:

1. Temperance. Eat not to Dulness. Drink not to Elevation.

2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation.

3. Order. Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.

4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.

5. Frugality. Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e., Waste nothing.

6. Industry. Lose no time. Be always employ’d in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary Actions.

7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful Deceit. Think innocently and justly; and if you speak, speak accordingly.

8. Justice. Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.

9. Moderation. Avoid Extreams. Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Cloaths, or Habitation.

11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.

12. Chastity. Rarely use Venery but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.

13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

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His list is still great advice — although #12 would probably be phrased a bit differently today.

I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.

In which a man from Bangladesh asks me about the Amish.

People came from many different countries to attend this wedding in Chennai. At the Pradhanam, the dinner given by the bride’s family the night before the ceremony, I sat next to a heart surgeon from India who had just helped start a hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

He told me all about the work he was doing in Dhaka and what the conditions were like there—then, to my surprise, he wanted to ask me about the Amish people. He’d read news stories about the shootings of the five Amish schoolgirls.Amish

He’d been stunned, he told me, by the way that the victims’ families had forgiven the killer. He found this so remarkable that he’d been using the Internet to find out as much as he could about the Amish and their beliefs.

“How could they show this forgiveness?” he asked. “I would never be able to forgive. But the murderer’s wife was invited to the funerals of the girls. This is a very great thing to do.”

I’d been thinking a lot about this story, myself. And to think that news of this generosity of spirit had traveled all around the world, to capture the imagination of a man in Bangladesh – that struck me as truly extraordinary.

Back home from India.

I’m back from India. I’d expected to be able to post from there, but wasn’t able to manage it. At first, I had no trouble getting on-line but couldn’t open my Typepad account; finally the Big Man offered to see what he could do, and discovered that the Indian government blocks access to several blogging services as a counter-terrorism strategy.

I prevailed on my kind sister to post for me, but she only did that once before we went to Udaipur, and there I was never able to get onto the internet so wasn’t able to email her.

So I was utterly thwarted.

Now, at least for a few days, it will seem like a wonderful luxury to hop onto the internet and Typepad whenever I want.

That’s one of the reasons that traveling is so satisfying: it reveals the pleasures and conveniences of ordinary life.

Now that I’m back, I’ll post the entries I wrote over there.

A source of happiness on which the whole world agrees.

Now, though I can hardly believe it, I’m in Chennai, India.

In one week I’ve done more traveling to foreign countries than I’ve done in several years. Which is too bad, because I think I’d appreciate both my trips more if they hadn’t come so close together – but there was nothing to do about it.

We’re very fortunate to be in Chennai to go to a wedding. As wonderful as it is to visit a new country, it’s always far more compelling to visit people there – to be drawn into the actual life of a place. But, of course, you don’t always know people in the places you want to visit.

A wedding is especially fascinating. Even if you only travel five minutes to a wedding, of people “exactly like you” (however you want to figure that), their wedding will still be interesting – because of the way they choose to do everything.

And a wedding in a very different culture is even more interesting.

The actual wedding is still two days away, and today I went to a “mehndi” – not sure I’m using the word correctly – a big party where many of the female guests had their hands dyed in beautiful patterns with henna. My only previous contact with this custom was a vague recollection of a Madonna video where she’d covered her body with these designs. As I type, I keep picking up my hands to admire the complicated designs covering the palms and backs of my hands.

In one of those anecdotes that, cliché as it is, points to the lesson that we all have so much in common, underneath we share the same hopes and fears, etc., etc. was that I was told that it was good luck if the color of the henna is very bright. “If it’s bright,” a fellow guest explained to me, “that means your mother-in-law thinks very well of you!” Everyone laughed and agreed that this was very important.

The whole world over, people agree: Happiness is an approving mother-in-law.

Why I haven’t been posting, or the unhappiness of being censored.

I’m in India now, for a wedding, and finally figured out the reason I haven’t been able to post to my blog: the Indian government has been blocking Typepad and some other blogging sites since July — after the bombings in the trains in Mumbai.

So if this message appears, it’s because I’ve coaxed my sister into posting for me from Los Angeles.