What Started Me Thinking

  • "The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer somebody else up." Mark Twain
  • “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." Luke 10:41-42
  • “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” Simone Weil
  • “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” Colette
  • “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” G. K. Chesterton
  • “A man’s first care should be to avoid the reproaches of his own heart.” Joseph Addison
  • “Best is good. Better is best.” Lisa Grunwald
  • “Order is Heaven’s first law.” Alexander Pope

Happiness Theories I Reject

  • Flaubert: "To be stupid, and selfish, and to have good health are the three requirements for happiness; though if stupidity is lacking, the others are useless."
  • Vauvenargues: “There are men who are happy without knowing it.”
  • Eric Hoffer: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.”
  • Sartre: "Hell is other people."
  • Willa Cather: “One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them…”
  • Alexander Smith: “We are never happy; we can only remember that we were so once.”
  • John Stuart Mill: “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

"I Feel Thankful for Trials That Have Helped Me See Perspective."

Nielsen

Happiness interview: Stephanie Nielson.

Years ago, when I started out out as a blogger, I heard about a popular blog by Stephanie Nielson called the The NieNie Dialogues. Then in 2008, the sad news swept through blogland that Stephanie been in a terrible plane crash. Her body had been 80% burned, and she was in a coma for three month and underwent several major surgeries.

Her memoir of this experience, Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy is just hitting bookstores. It's a fascinating book on several levels, but I was particularly interested to read it because Stephanie was very happy before the accident, and she explains how she struggled to find her way back to happiness, after the accident. This is obviously one of the most pressing questions about happiness: How do we grapple with a major catastrophe?

Reading Stephanie's book reminded me of a line that I think (can't swear) comes from ancient Greek literature. If I remember correctly, one of the Greek plays includes a line about "there are some forms of wisdom that one does not pray for." Perhaps Stephanie's experience has given her this kind of wisdom, and perspective on happiness.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Stephanie: I remind myself that there is no such thing as balance in my life. If I want to truly be happy, I put my family first and then figure out how to do everything else.

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).
I have learned to keep busy. Keeping busy and serving others. I find satisfaction in helping others and realizing when I am blue that someone somewhere (probably just down the street, for all I know) has it worse than me, and I need to snap out of it and find my happiness. I have so much happiness all around me. I am spoiled.

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?
I thought I knew what happiness was, and it was happiness. But since my accident I have a greater meaning of what true happiness is. What truly matters in life, why we are here doing what we are doing, and why it is worth it. I feel thankful for trials that have helped me see perspective. It's not easy, but the lessons learned are always worth it.

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
I love my windows. The windows in my house make everything seem happy and bright.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t—or vice versa?
Ironing my sheets. Sure it takes time, and sometimes I really don't want to do it, but when I do it makes me so happy after a long hard day. I love when I take the time to cook a nice meal for my family. I try and make it happen every evening. I don't think people understand the bonds and happy moments that come when the family can sit down together every night chatting about the day. Good, good memories there—even when my legs are tired and I don't want to. I never regret it.

* I'm in a phase of obsession about color, so I really enjoyed checking out the blog of fabric designer Heather Bailey, Hello My Name Is Heather.

* Would you like a free, signed bookplate for your copy of The Happiness Project, or or a gift? Or, for the audio-book or the e-book, a free signature card? Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com.




Overwhelmed? 9 Quick Tips for Keeping Your Home Feeling Serene and Organized.

Eggsinacarton

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
Feeling overwhelmed? Nine tips for keeping your home feeling serene and organized.

Because of the subject of my next book, Happier at Home, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about—you guessed it!—how to be happier at home. Here are a few very simple suggestions. These aren't the most profound things you can do to make your home feel more serene and organized, but they're steps you can take fairly quickly.

1. Be wary of bargains, sales, hand-me-downs and give-away. Do you really need this thing? Or love it? Beware: because of the "endowment effect," we value things more once we own them. Once that thing enters your home, it will be tough to get it out again.

2. Never label anything “Miscellaneous.”

3. Remember: most decisions don’t require extensive research. Aim to be a satificer, not a maximizer.

4. Don’t let yourself fall into “empty.” Keep cash in the house. Keep gas in your tank. Keep an extra roll of toilet paper squirreled away. Keep your phone charged.

5. Don’t keep excessive amounts of anything. Those glass vases that come from florists. Those ketchup packets that come with take-out food. A house with two adults probably doesn’t need fifteen mismatched souvenir coffee cups.

6. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Lower the bar. Actually spending ten minutes clearing off one shelf is better than fantasizing about spending a weekend cleaning out the basement.

7. Clean while you cook (literally and metaphorically).

8. Put things away in a specific place. It's much easier to find things later, and it's oddly satisfying to slot things into their precise places. "Ah, this particular basket on this shelf is the place for the AAA batteries."

9. Make your bed. I know it sounds trivial, but it's a bigger happiness booster than you'd expect.

* Hey everyone: a New York City-based production company is looking for people who've been inspired to start their own Happiness Projects—and who want to share their stories. Does this describe you? Do you live in the greater NYC/tri-state area? Could you spend a few hours filming, at a convenient time?

If so, email a brief description of yourself, your Happiness Project, and how your life has changed as a result to THNKcasting@radicalmedia.com.




"I Put Off Making Difficult Phone Calls."

2012 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2012 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2012 a happier year -- and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- welcome! Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we're also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.

This week's Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: "I put off making difficult phone calls."

I Put Off Making Difficult Phone Calls.


If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Tips for making phone calls that you don't want to make.
Personal productivity: 9 helpful but realistic tips.
6 tips for getting yourself to do something you don't want to do.

Do you dread making phone calls as much as I sometimes do? What strategies have helped you to make those necessary calls?

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I'll make a special call for suggestions.

If you're new, jump in right now, sign up here. Studies suggest that by taking action, like signing up for this challenge, will help you keep your resolutions. For the 2012 Challenge, each week I'll post a video for you to consider, and you can check out the archives of videos here.

* I always find interesting things to read on the blog of Laura Vanderkam.

* Please subscribe to my YouTube Channel. To get the weekly video by email, right in your email in-box, you can:
-- On the GretchenRubin channel page, after you subscribe, click "Edit Subscription" and check the box, “Email me for new uploads.” Or...
-- Go to your main drop-down box, click “Subscriptions,” find the GretchenRubin channel, click “Edit Subscriptions,” and check “Email me for new uploads” there.

To get the audio podcast of the video:
-- Log in to iTunes
-- Go to “Podcasts”
-- Search for “The Happiness Project.” Free, of course.




"Spend Out, To Become Rich."

Further Secrets of Adulthood, this one related to my somewhat cryptic Personal Commandment to Spend out:

SofAspendoutrich


The Galley of "Happier At Home" Arrived!

Yesterday, I got a box full of the galleys of Happier at Home. (For you non-publishing industry folk, a galley is a pre-publication, preview copy of a book.)

This should be a thrilling moment, and it was thrilling, but at the same time, for some reason, it sent me into a bit of a panic. I could hardly bring myself to open a book. I get the same feeling when I have a piece run in a newspaper or magazine. Most writers seem to love the moment when they see their work "in print," but not me. I'm not really sure why. Am I afraid of spotting a mistake? Or seeing something that, by this point, I'd do differently? Maybe.

Do you ever experience that? Something that seems to make other people wildly happy—that you think "should" make you happy—for some reason, doesn't?

Nevertheless, getting the galleys is an important marker on the road to publication, so it's exciting as a milestone. And it make me think grateful thoughts, as I do at least fifteen times a day, about how lucky I have work that I love so much. I'm so grateful to have galleys! even if they do make me uneasy.

Voila!

HappierAtHomegalley




"Don't Sign On For More Problems Than You Must."

Twyla Tharp1

On creative collaboration:
“Don’t sign on for more problems than you must. Resist the temptation to involve yourself in other people’s zones of expertise and responsibility. Monitor troublesome situations if you need to, but don’t insert yourself unless you’re running out of time and a solution is nowhere in sight. In short, stifle your inner control freak.”
-- Twyla Tharp, The Collaborative Habit

* It's always worth a visit to Leo Babuta's Zen Habits.

* Would you like a free, signed bookplate for your copy of The Happiness Project, or for a gift? Or, for the audio-book or the e-book, a free signature card? Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com.




My Latest Resolution: Clean While I Cook.

Woodenspoonsrow

I've cribbed some of my favorite resolutions from other people, and when a thoughtful reader posted that one of her resolutions is to "Clean while I cook," I immediately decided to adopt that for my own.

"Clean while I cook" isn't just about cooking, of course. It's about cleaning up after myself along the way, instead of letting clutter and chores build up around me. I've always tried to push myself to behave this way, but for some reason, this formulation has really stuck in my mind.

For instance, I'm trying to follow "Clean while I cook" by also following the resolution to "Hang up clothes while I change clothes." I tend to throw clothes all over the bedroom as I change from one outfit to another, and to leave them there for a few days, and it looks very messy. I'm trying to do a better job of putting clothes away as soon as I take them off. My husband sets a good example here: he always puts his clothes away. (Except his socks. He leaves his dirty socks on the floor, but because I get a strange sense of satisfaction from putting clothes in the hamper, this doesn't bother me.)

One advantage of the "Clean while I cook" approach is that instead of tackling one large task, I handle many small tasks, as they arise. It's all too easy to procrastinate with big tasks, and it feels much more manageable to cultivate the habit of doing smaller chores. As Anthony Trollope observed, "A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules."

It's helpful, too, to think about the resolution to "Clean while I cook" in relationship to the cooking term mis-en-place.

Mis-en-place describes the preparation done before starting the actual cooking: gathering ingredients and implements, chopping, measuring, and all the rest. Mis-en-place is preparation, but it’s also a state of mind; mis-en-place means you have everything at the ready, with no need to run out to the store or begin a frantic search for a sifter. You’re truly ready to begin to work.

I find that when I make the effort to prepare properly, and then to clean up after myself as I go, tasks proceed much more smoothly. And almost nothing is more satisfying than working easily and well.

How about you? Do you push yourself to clean while you cook—literally or metaphorically? Does it make a difference?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

* I'm having fun with the site Pinterest, which allows you to pin the images that interest you onto a board (get it? "pinterest"). Check out the site, check out my boards. If you'd like to get an invitation to join, just email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com, and I'll send you one.




"At Some Point Every Day, You Have To Say, 'No More Work.'"

John-tierney

Happiness interview: John Tierney.

I'm a big fan of John Tierney's science column, Findings, in the New York Times. And I'm even a bigger fan of his new book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. This book, co-written with Roy Baumeister, who is one of the most prominent researchers of self-control, is fascinating. For anyone who wants to be happier, self-command and self-knowledge are crucial areas of study.

As a long-time reader of John's work, I knew that he and I are interested in many of the same subjects, so I was curious to hear what he had to say on the subject of happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
John: Exercising, which I do by commuting by bike from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Crossing the East River is especially joyful, but just getting outside and moving is enough to raise my spirits.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
How much joy you get from doing things for your children—and doing things for other people, too.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Surfing the Web. I’ve tried to cut back by using some of the techniques we describe in the book. I use RescueTime software that keeps track of how I spend my computer time. It doesn’t actually stop me from doing it, but it does discourage me because I know I’ll get a report emailed to me detailing exactly how much time I wasted.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Years ago, when I was researching an article on research into stress, one social scientist passed on a simple tip: “At some point every day, you have to say, ‘No more work.’” No matter how many tasks remain undone, you have to relax at some point and enjoy the evening.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
I play one turn of “Wordfeud” (a Scrabble-like game) with my wife. (We keep a game going on our smartphones.) If I have more time available, I’ll read a chapter in whatever novel I’ve got on my Kindle.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness? 
I see a couple of things that consistently interfere with happiness. One is dieting. In the book we devote a chapter to strategies for controlling weight, but we advise against dieting, and we don’t think people should beat themselves up for not being thin enough. People often think of controlling weight as the prime example of strong willpower, but it’s actually not. Self-control correlates with success in just about every other endeavor in life: doing better in school and at work, being healthier and wealthier and happier, having more satisfying personal relationships. But the correlation between self-control and weight-control isn’t nearly so strong—it’s there, but it’s much weaker. We call it the Oprah Paradox: someone with phenomenal willpower in the rest of her life can still have a hard time losing weight. There are tricks for dealing with the temptations of food—for outsourcing self-control, as we call it—but just because you’re not thin doesn’t mean you have no willpower.

Another thing that consistently interferes with happiness is procrastination, a universal vice that that I know very well. I’ve been a terribly disorganized procrastinator my whole life. I always turned in papers and articles and columns at the last minute or later. Every weekend there was an overdue project bothering me. But to my amazement, Roy and I turned in this manuscript for Willpower two months ahead of the deadline by using the strategies and principles in the book. I learned to make doable to-do lists and found new ways to keep track of progress (and use tools to do the monitoring for me—much easier!). In the book, we describe the state of bliss that Drew Carey attained by “getting to zero”—clearing his desk and his In-Box—and I went through the same experience myself. It really does free your mind for happiness and creativity.

* Want to get my free monthly newsletter? It highlights the best of the month’s material from the blog and the Facebook Page. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com.




"I Can't Get Rid of My Stuff."

2012 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2012 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2012 a happier year -- and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- welcome! Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we're also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.

This week's Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: "I can't get rid of my stuff."

I Can't Get Rid Of My Stuff


If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
9 common myths about clearing clutter.
Test yourself: Do you have clutter mentality?
Fighting clutter? Go shelf by shelf.

How about you? Do you ever have trouble moving clutter along its way out of your home? Have you found any good strategies?

You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I'll make a special call for suggestions.

If you're new, jump in right now, sign up here. Studies suggest that by taking action, like signing up for this challenge, will help you keep your resolutions. For the 2012 Challenge, each week I'll post a video for you to consider, and you can check out the archives of videos here.

* Hey everyone: a New York City-based production company is looking for people who've been inspired to start their own Happiness Projects—and who want to share their stories. Does this describe you? Do you live in the greater NYC/tri-state area? Could you spend a few hours filming, at a convenient time?

If so, email a brief description of yourself, your Happiness Project, and how your life has changed as a result to THNKcasting@radicalmedia.com.




"Sometimes Material Desires Have a Spiritual Aspect."

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

SofAmaterialdesires

* Volunteer as a Super-Fan, and from time to time, I'll ask for your help. Nothing too onerous, I promise. Sign up here or email me at gretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com.




Gretchen RubinGretchen Rubin is the best-selling writer whose book, The Happiness Project, is the account of the year she spent test-driving studies and theories about how to be happier. Here, she shares her insights to help you create your own happiness project.

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