“Most of Us Need Some Sort of Plan to Give Our Lives Coherence.”

“Some people are born with the gift of being happy for the moment, but most of us need some sort of plan to give our lives coherence. And since human beings are mostly virtuous, we need to feel good and useful, that others are happy round us, that no one suffers through our doing. All this besides being warm and fed, and healthy, and occupied, and a dozen other luxuries. Small wonder that happiness is a fitful state.”

Nan Fairbrother, An English Year

“Some sort of plan to give our lives coherence”…this is one place where habits meet happiness. More to come in Before and After!

She also wrote, ” “The happiness of others is almost completely unpredictable.”

Agree, disagree?

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Before and After: Use the Accountability of Weight Watchers and a Personal Trainer.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from someone who wants to stay anonymous.

As I was staring down the barrel of turning 50, I decided it was time to get up off the couch and get in shape. It had been years since I had exercised and truly watched what I ate. I just couldn’t be fat and fifty. Since there was nothing to do about turning 50, I decided to tackle the fat. For my 48th birthday I gave myself two gifts: a membership to Weight Watchers and a personal trainer at the gym. I need accountability, so having to answer to someone else was the push I needed to keep me headed in the right direction. Six years later, I still work out with a trainer and am probably the “fittest” I have ever been. Now, if only I could break the Diet Coke habit.

The Strategy of Accountability is one of the most effective strategies for habit-formation, and for Obligers, of course, external accountability is absolutely crucial.

But even for people who are Upholders, Questioners, or Rebels, accountability makes a big difference. We behave differently when we know that other people will know what we did, and if we know that there will be consequences.

Also, this reader drew on the Strategy of Thinking — when an idea, such as the idea of turning fifty, acts as a catalyst for change.

Have you found ways to hold yourself accountable? Have you ever been inspired to change a big habit because of an idea such as reaching a milestone birthday?

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Secret of Adulthood: Enthusiasm Makes Difficult Tasks Easy.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

 

The more I think about happiness, the more I value enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is a form of social courage – it’s safer to criticize and scoff than to praise and embrace — and I’ve decided that I’d rather be “enthusiastic” than “confident.”

I have a patron saint for enthusiasm. Can you guess it? Julia Child! (This post about Julia Child may be one of my favorite posts ever.)

It can seem cooler and smarter to be ironic, detached, or critical, and it’s certainly much easier and safer to adopt that sort of stance. But enthusiasm is more fun. Enthusiasm is generous, positive, energetic, and social. It’s outward-turning and engaged. It’s unselfconscious, warm-hearted, and kind of goofy. Like Julia Child!

Also, enthusiasm makes difficult tasks easy. One interesting question for self-knowledge is: What do you memorize without effort? That tells you something important about yourself. Do you effortlessly remember sports scores, song lyrics, scientific facts, vocabulary words, recipes, details about friends’ lives?

When I feel enthusiastic about some undertaking, it comes so, so, so much more easily to me. For instance, writing. My husband is great at writing, but I’m a writer, and he’s not — because I have endless enthusiasm for writing and revising, and he doesn’t.

How about you? Do you find that enthusiasm makes an otherwise difficult task easy?

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Do You Have These Friends? Must Friends, Trust Friends, Rust Friends, and Just Friends.

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Tip Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: Four types of friends.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree that a key — perhaps the key — to happiness is strong relationships with other people. We need to have intimate, enduring bonds; we need to be able to confide; we need to feel that we belong; we need to be able to get support, and just as important for happiness, to give support.

We need many kinds of relationships; for one thing, we need friends.

Now, the term “friend” is a little loose. People mock the “friending” on social media, and say, “Gosh, no one could have 300 friends!” Well, there are all kinds of friends. Those kinds of “friends,” and work friends, and childhood friends, and dear friends, and neighborhood friends, and we-walk-our-dogs-at-the-same-time friends, etc.

Obviously, such relationships are very different, although they’re all “friends.”

In Geoffrey Greif’s book Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships, he identifies four categories of friendships:

Must friend: a best friend, a member of your inner circle, a person you count on when something big happens in your life

Trust friend: a friend who shows integrity, someone you feel comfortable with, that you’re always glad to see, but not in your inmost circle; perhaps someone you’d like to be closer to, if you had the time or opportunity

Rust friend: a person you’ve known for a long, long time; you’re probably not going to get any closer to that person, unless something changes, but a part of your life

Just friends: a person you see — at a weekly poker game, at your child’s school — who is enjoyable company, but you have no desire to socialize outside a specific context or to get to know that person better

I think it’s helpful to think about the different types of friends. Even if you wouldn’t invite some people to your wedding, they can still add a sense of warmth and richness to your life.

A friend of mine did an interesting friend-related exercise. She took a big piece of paper and made a chart of her friendships, based on clusters. As she did it, she highlighted the names of the people or institutions that had introduced her to a particular cluster. What she found — and this struck me as so interesting — was that a few people had served as very important connectors. Until she made that chart, she hadn’t realized that these few individuals had made such a difference in her social life.

I keep meaning to do this exercise myself.

What do you think of the four categories: must, trust, rust, and just friends? Are there any kinds of friends that aren’t captured in those four terms?

If you want tips for making new friends, look here, and tips for maintaining friendships, look here. I write about friendship in The Happiness Project, chapter on friendship.

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Story: Everyday Life in Utopia.

This week’s video story: Everyday life in Utopia.

 

How I love this phrase! I want to tattoo it on my ankle, paint it on the wall above my desk, and wear it on a T-shirt. Everyday life in Utopia! This is my new motto.

I’d told my daughter about the word “utopia” and what it meant. Some days later, I was reading aloud to her from Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I explained that Camazotz, in the book,  was a “dystopia,” and gave a little lecture about how that was the opposite of a utopia. My daughter listened patiently.

About a week later, as we continued with A Wrinkle in Time, I asked in a teacherly voice, “Now do you remember the word for the opposite of utopia?”

“Metopia,” she said, without missing a beat. It took me a moment to get the joke.

Everyday life in Utopia and Metopia!

Behind-the-scenes revelation: I use this story as part of my conclusion for Before and After. (As a writer, my speciaity is writing endings. The ending of Happier at Home may be the best thing I’ve ever written.)

Because it really does seem to me that when we think about all the resolutions we might follow, or all the habits we might change, we’re aiming at getting as close as possible to everyday life in Utopia.

Agree, disagree?

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