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

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Secret of Adulthood: Home Is a Physical Space; It’s Also a Frame of Mind.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

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If I had to name one thing that I learned from my happiness project in Happier at Home…this is it.

If I want my home to be a serene, loving, and welcoming place, I’m the one who has to be serene,  loving, and welcoming.

I’ve long been haunted by a line from Samuel Johnson–in fact, I love it so much that it’s the epigraph to The Happiness Project. He said, “He, who would bring home the wealth of the Indies, must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.” Or as Harlan Coben put it, in terms a little closer to home, “You bring your own weather to the picnic.”

What do you think? Do you find that you are the most important element to your experience of your home?

Slight tangent: the photo shows my Christmas ornament in the shape of a miniature Fisher-Price “Play Family” house–just like the one that my sister and I played with throughout our childhoods, and that my daughters play with when we visit Kansas City. I took the photo for Happier at Home; this ornament is one of my mementos from the project of writing the book. It opens up–it even has a doorbell that rings!

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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.

“I Used to Spend Too Much Time Trying to Turn My Weaknesses into Strengths.”

danschawbelHappiness interview: Dan Schawbel.

I’ve known Dan in a virtual way for years. Now I’m trying to remember…have we ever actually met in person? I think so, but I’m not even sure. Such are the wonders of the internet.

He’s one of the foremost experts on the subject of personal branding, and the managing partner of Millenial Branding. He’s also the author of Me 2.0: Four Steps to Building Your Future, as well as a new book that just hit the shelves: Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success.

For many people, the idea of promoting themselves doesn’t make them happy, but Dan emphasizes that this exercise is really about helping yourself create the kind of life that you want–one that expresses your values and interests.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Dan: Running. I’m constantly dealing with stress from working on various projects simultaneously so I use running as an excuse to get away from everything and unwind. I’ve been able to run five miles each day without stopping this year, which I view as an achievement. I use running to break up my day so I’m not focused on work for eight hours straight. I’m happier because I’m less stressed and because I have more endurance for consistently doing the activity.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old? 

If you focus on the positive aspects of your life, and your core strengths, you will be happier. I used to spend too much time trying to turn my weaknesses into strengths and dwelling on rejection and failure. I view everything I do as a learning experience so I never see anything as failure, just a chance to improve.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

My biggest weakness is that I spread myself too thin. I take on too many projects out of passion and excitement instead of what makes the most sense for my goals and aspirations. When you take on too many projects, you end up hurting your social life and your happiness.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

A happiness quote that has stuck with me is “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” I find this helpful because it pushes us to not dwell on the past but benefit from it and enjoy the present , while looking forward to tomorrow. It’s a message that helps me put life in perspective.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children’s books).

When I’m in a bad mood, I usually cook myself a steak. The process of cooking takes my mind off of the situation too. I rarely eat red meat but really enjoy it so I save it for times when I’m not as happy.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?

My life is a roller-coaster so my levels of happiness are constantly in flux. I do activities like cooking, running and going out with my friends in order to stabilize my happiness but it’s still hard. As you know from publishing books, the process is daunting and there are so many variables. Even after the book is out, it’s unpredictable what the response will be so that stress falls on the author.

What do you do if you’re stuck at work?

A lot of workers aren’t happy with their current job situation and don’t know what to do. In a new study I did in partnership with American Express for my book, we found that 44 percent of both managers and employees agree that it’s most reasonable to leave their company if another opportunity comes along. You should always be open to new opportunities and if you’re stuck, look to see if there are internal opportunities first, then external ones afterward. You might be in the wrong job and it’s easier to get a different job within your company than to move to a different company altogether.

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Four Ways to Make Your Food Taste Better, Without Lifting a Finger.

chicken-and-broccoliEvery Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day.

This Wednesday: Four ways to make your food taste better, without lifting a finger.

One of the secrets to a happier life is to extract as much happiness from ordinary circumstances as possible. As Samuel Johnson observed, ““It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

One very ordinary part of our lives is food. Are there ways to get more satisfaction from food, without any extra effort? It turns out that there is.

In Brian Wansink’s fascinating book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think–which I highly recommend–he outlines studies that show that when food is given highly descriptive, tasty-sounding names, people enjoy the food more, and are more satisfied with the restaurant in which they eat.

Nothing about the food is different, but people’s experiences are different, because their imaginations have been fired. To quote Samuel Johnson again, “Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.” (Remember, he was writing in the 1700s.)

Wansink found that the descriptive themes that restaurants use to ignite our imaginations fall into four basic themes:

1. Geographic:  Kansas City BBQ, Southwest Salad, New York Pizza.

2. Nostalgic: Legendary Chocolate Pie, Grandma’s Fried Chicken, Classic Old-World Manicotti.

3. Sensory: Velvety Vanilla Mousse, Hearty Sizzling Steak, Buttery Plump Pasta.

4. Brands: Jack Daniels Glazed Ribs, Butterfingers Blizzard.

I can’t remember if this example comes from here or elsewhere, but I read a funny account of a classroom of children that ate an unusual amount of broccoli. It turned out that one child’s family described broccoli as “dinosaur trees,” and so eating broccoli was part of playing dinosaurs–which the children loved to do.

Imagination! We can use it to transform our everyday experiences, to make them richer and more satisfying.

Have you ever found a way imaginatively to reinvent an experience, to make it happier?

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Announcement! Join One of These New Projects to Boost Your Happiness in 21 Days.

21DayProjectsGeneral

As I’ve talked to people about happiness over the years (and I admit to being somewhat of a bore on the topic), I’ve found that certain issues tend to crop up most often. Do any of these sound familiar to you?

“I want to create an orderly, calm space, but I’m overwhelmed by clutter.”

“I need to find a way to insulate myself from someone else’s persistent negativity.”

“I feel terrible about how often I lose my temper with my kids.”

“I feel like I don’t know myself. What do I want to do for fun? Why can’t I make time for myself? Why do I feel bored by things that other people enjoy?”

For that reason, I’ve created four new “21 Day Projects” for you to follow, if you want to tackle these challenges in your own life. I’ve collected ideas in a form that makes it easier for people to remember and follow various connected resolutions on these particular themes.

A while back, I offered the 21 Day Relationship Challenge, and it has proved so popular that I wanted to offer more projects along the same model. So I’ve invested in creating these four new projects, because people seem to find this approach helpful.

I really do believe that in just 21 days, it’s possible to take many small, concrete steps to make your life happier. And don’t worry, none of these proposed resolutions will take much time or energy—because no one has much time or energy to spare. These are little changes you can easily fit into your ordinary day.

Intrigued? Of course you are!

Each 21-Day Project is $4.99, and delivers a new email from me, every day for three weeks, with ideas and suggestions for you to explore in your own life:

Get to know yourself better
Quit yelling at your kids
De-clutter your home and your life
Cope better with difficult people

Sign up here. Want to test this approach for free? Try the 21 Day Relationship Challenge.

As Samuel Johnson remarked, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.” I hope you find these 21 Day Projects useful as you pursue your own happiness project.

If you do try one of the 21 Day Projects, I’d love to hear about your experience. Email me if you have any questions or comments.

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21 Day Project — Know Myself Better

21 Day Project — Know Myself Better

It’s surprisingly hard to know ourselves. It’s easy to be distracted by the way we wish we were, or think we ought to be, or by what others think we should be, until we lose sight of what’s actually true. For this project, I’ve created a program that shares the twenty-one best ideas, resolutions, and tips that will help you to gain insight into yourself, including:

 

Know Myself Better

  • The five fateful questions
  • Why identifying your “patron saints” can be a useful exercise
  • How to avoid the trap of false choices
  • Identifying your “broken windows”

In just twenty-one days, I believe, it really is possible to take many small, concrete steps to make your life happier. And don’t worry. None of these proposed resolutions will take much time or energy—because no one has much time or energy to spare.

Each 21 Day Project is $4.99, and delivers a new email from me, every day for three weeks, with ideas and suggestions for you to explore in your own life.