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.”

"At Last. Something Real."

Pynchon

"When something real is about to happen to you, you go toward it with a transparent surface parallel to your own front that hums and bisects both your ears, making eyes very alert. The light bends toward chalky blue. Your skin aches. At last: something real."
-- Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

"At last. Something real." is a phrase that has haunted me for years.

* When you're in the mood for a funny, irreverent look at parenting, Jill Smokler's blog Scary Mommy is a great read.

* 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 [email protected].




Find a "Comfort Food" for Your Mind.

Macaroni-cheese1

One common happiness question is: How do you give yourself a boost? If you're feeling anxious, blue, angry, scared, what can you do to soothe yourself?

A few days ago, I posted 5 myths for fighting the blues. Okay, those don't work very well. So what does?

One suggestion: find a "comfort food" for your mind. Know what you can do with your brain that will give yourself a comforting break from your worries, at least for a little while. By doing so, you’ll re-charge your battery, find it easier to stay calm and cheerful, find it easier to take action to remedy your situation—and you’ll sleep better. But this is easier said than done.

We all suffer from “negativity bias,” that is, we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good. (What do you remember better, a compliment or a criticism?) Research shows one consequence of negativity bias is that when people’s thoughts wander, they tend to begin to brood. Anxious or angry thoughts capture our attention more effectively than happier thoughts.

So if you're feeling blue, look for ways to pull your mind away from your worries onto positive topics. One great way is to watch a movie—not something upsetting!—or a favorite TV show. Don’t muddy the experience by trying to multi-task; if you're paying bills or folding laundry, you’re not going to get the benefit of taking a break from your own thoughts to watch Shrek. Give yourself a proper vacation: sit down and enjoy what you're doing.

My favorite activity is reading, and when I really need “comfort food” for my mind, I read children’s literature. I always re-read, too; when I’m upset, I want the comfort of knowing that I’ll love the book and that I won’t be upset by some unexpected plot twist. (For instance, I can't bear any plot that includes unjust accusation. You wouldn't believe how often unjust accusation pops up in books, movies, plays, and TV.) Just this weekend, I re-read Philip Pullman's masterpiece, The Golden Compass, for the tenth or eleventh time, and it made me so happy.

I do find that some activities that are usually happiness-inducing don’t work very well when I’m preoccupied with bad thoughts. Listening to music, for example, is generally an extremely effective way to boost mood, but I find it too easy to start thinking about my worries when I’m listening; others might not have this problem. Similarly, although going for a walk usually cheers me up, it also gives me an excellent opportunity to brood if I’m in a brooding mood.

Cooking, cleaning, playing with your kids, playing video games, playing basketball—different people find different solutions. If you can find an activity that gives you exercise, gets you outside, or brings you in contact with other people, that’s especially effective.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, give yourself some mental comfort food. By giving yourself a break and a bit of comfort, you’ll make yourself feel better, and you’ll also equip yourself to deal more effectively with tough situations.

What mental comfort food works for you?

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.

• A thoughtful reader sent me a link to Shaun Usher's fantastic site, Lists of Note. Warning: highly addictive!

• Do you love great quotes? To get a happiness quotation in your email inbox every morning, sign up for the Moment of Happiness. Subscribe here or email me at [email protected].




"I Used to Think That Cheery, Regularly Happy People Were Too 'Lite'..."

Danielle_laporte

Happiness interview: Danielle LaPorte.

I heard about Danielle LaPorte several years ago, when I read a Domino magazine article about her work. I found her ideas so interesting that I got in touch with her, and over the years, I've gotten to know her better and better.

There's tremendous buzz around her latest book, which hits the shelves next week. The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms is a terrific resource for anyone who wants to get clarity on what they want and how to get there. Passion and purpose! And making ideas real. These are Danielle's big themes.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Danielle: Impromptu kitchen disco. (Note: cooking is not required, especially at my house. Just clear the floor, crank the tunes and get down ON it.)

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Happiness is a choice. Often, some "rising above it" is required, or some rigorous re-framing of a perspective. But you can intentionally shift your psycho-spiritual gears into a genuine state of happiness.

The most profound thing I've figured out about happiness, is that it's the clearest indicator of deep wellness. I'm much less broody and moody than I was when I was in my twenties (one would hope so, right?) So happiness is, like, hipper to me than now than it used to be. I used to think that cheery, regularly happy people were too "lite," too...in denial of something. But I get now that happiness is the result of our core vitality and resilience. Peace is my new cool.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Other than staying up too late? Which I do. All the time.

Well, I'm pretty righteous when it comes to customer service—the cell phone rep, the waiter, the gum-poppin' cashier...I get inordinately peeved with lame service and get myself into a tizzy about how half the world needs to pull up their socks and be more polite. I could definitely lighten up and send some loving kindness instead of prickly posturing.

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? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
Motto: My true nature is joy.
Quote: Turn as the earth and moon, circling what they love.—Rumi
Book: The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo

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?
Happiness boosters: One of my dearest friends runs triathlons. She tells me the endorphins are like a bliss drug—and she proves that by being incredibly positive most of the time. I won't be doing any triathlons soon, but I can personally attest, as can my athletic and yoga-practicing friends, that moving your body is the surest way to feel better.

Happiness detractors: My heart breaks for people who obsess about the past. Chronically replaying how you got wronged is putting a fat wedge between you and true fulfillment. Face forward.

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?
During some excruciatingly difficult times in my life, it came down to this declaration / mantra: I will do whatever it takes to be happy. That resolve and devotion opened my life up so much wider. The expansion wasn't entirely comfortable, of course. It meant I had to walk away from some things (brutal). It meant I had to find my edges, go to places I'd avoided, examine if my dreams were still the right size for my soul.

The learning brought me so much sweetness. I found new things—new theories, foods, cities, yoga poses, ideas, friends, new ways of seeing old friends, that brought me to new depths of happiness.

I made happiness the sacred priority. It worked.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Always, every day, constantly. (Except when I'm happy being miserable.) I try not to work on being happy, as much as I try listen for it. It's usually there, chillin' out in my psyche, waiting for me to stop and takes its cues.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t—or vice versa?
I can hardly believe it, but our new guinea pigs are joy-balls. I had a strict no-rodent policy, but my eight-year-old son ran an impressive birthday campaign (I promise I'll love the guinea pigs forever and ever!) and we now have "Jack Black" and "Bruno Mars" in the house. They're smart. And soft. (Two of my favorite qualities in people.) We adore them.

As for things that I think would bring me great happiness, but wind up being less than incredible...I consistently convince myself that a new pair of shoes will revolutionize my entire life. The high of high heels is fleeting—but I'm committed to keep trying. Like I said, I will do whatever it takes to be happy.

* Come join the happiness conversation on Facebook. Lots of interesting discussion there.




Happiness...at the United Nations.

Unitednations

*** Aargh! I just realized that I forgot to post this. Well, here it is, a few days late. ***

I spent part of my day over at the United Nations, at a conference on "Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm" hosted by Bhutan, the country which has championed the idea of using "Gross National Happiness" in place of "Gross National Product" to measure national progress. There's a growing emphasis, throughout the world, in considering new ways for governments to measure and foster the well-being of citizens.

(I got a kick from seeing that the March 28 New York Times article about the conference had the headline The U.N. Happiness Project. Yes, happiness projects for all!)

Because I spend most of my time thinking about how individuals can boost their happiness, I found it very interesting to hear discussion focusing on the role of government, and to think about what indicators should be considered. How do you gauge the happiness and well-being of a country? What issues do you take into account? It's a very tricky question.

On a less high-minded note, I got a real kick out of being at the U.N. It's an impressive institution. I sat at one of those long desks with a simultaneous-translation headset, so I could listen to the speeches being given in eight different languages. I felt quite official.

* I always enjoy a visit to Greatist—"Choose better. Be a greatist."




Five Myths About Fighting the Blues.

Blues BrothersEvery Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 5 myths about fighting the blues.

We all have a few tricks for beating the blues—things we do when we’re feeling down. It turns out, however, that several popular strategies don’t actually work very well in the long term. Beware if you're tempted to try any of the following (all of which I often, and unsuccessfully, have tried):

1. Comforting yourself with a “treat.” Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few beers…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself—will it really make you feel better? It might make you feel worse. In particular, beware of…

2. Letting yourself off the hook. I’ve found that I sometimes get a real happiness boost from giving something up, quitting something, or breaking a bad habit. When you’re feeling down, you might be tempted to let yourself off the hook, to think, “I’ll allow myself to skip my run today, I need a break" or "I'm not going to put away the dirty dishes, I deserve a day off." In fact, sticking to a resolution will boost your sense of self-esteem and self-control. So not letting yourself off the hook might do more to boost your happiness.

3. Turning off your phone. Studies show that extroverts and introverts alike get a mood boost from connecting with other people. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re feeling unhappy, you’re better off making pleasant plans with friends or family. Restorative solitude can boost happiness, but that's not the same thing as shutting yourself away from other people because you don't feel like dealing.

4. Aggressively expressing your negative emotions. Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that vociferously expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger often only aggravates it; as Plutarch observed, “Anger, while in its beginning, often can be ended by silence, or neglect.” I’ve certainly found this to be true; once I get going, I can whip myself into a fury. Once I'm in a more composed state of mind, I can express my reasons for anger, resentment, or other concerns in a straightforward, calm way, which is far more constructive.

5. Staying in your pajamas all day. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my happiness research is that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. As improbable as this sounds, it really works. Sometimes it can be fun to hang out in your sweats all day, but if you’re feeling lethargic, powerless, or directionless, not getting dressed may make you feel worse. Put on your clothes—including your shoes—so you feel prepared for whatever the day might offer. While you’re at it, make your bed. Yes, making your bed, as insignificant as it seems, can give a real happiness boost.

Have you ever tried to cheer yourself up using a strategy that just made you feel worse, in the end? Or what are more effective ways to beat the blues?

* If you enjoy checking out the latest scientific research, Science Daily is a great place to look.

* If you're looking for a good book, please consider The Happiness Project (can't resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.




"How Can I Make My Morning Easier?"

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: "How can I make my morning easier?"

Download How Can I Make My Mornings Easier


If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
10 tips to beat clutter...in less than 5 minutes.
7 tips for keeping school-day mornings calm and cheerful.
9 helpful yet realistic tips for personal productivity.

How about you? Have you found any good ways to make your mornings run smoothly? We can all use all the suggestions we can get!

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.

* This morning, I had fun having breakfast with Eric Handler of Positively Positive—"Your attitude + your choices = your life."

* 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.




To Do: Take a Vacation.

Carmirror

Good-bye! I'm off for a week's vacation. Do you ever feel as if it's more work to take a holiday than it would be just to stay home in your usual routine? I'm in that stage right now, but I know I'll be happy once vacation starts.

As I'm getting ready to leave, I'm reminding myself of my Secrets of Adulthood, family vacation pack:

  • Less is more.
  • Start early if possible.
  • When packing an item that might leak, put it in a plastic bag.
  • Don’t let anyone get too hungry. Especially me.
  • Cheerfulness is contagious, and crabbiness is even more contagious.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Carry tissues.
  • Remind kids to visit the bathroom—don’t wait for the thought to occur to them.
  • Never choose the buffet option.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • There’s joy in routine, but an occasional disruption makes routine all the sweeter.
  • Make it easy to do right, and hard to go wrong.
  • Quit while we’re ahead.
  • Make each of my children helpless with laughter at least once each day.
  • Doing a little work makes goofing off more fun.
  • The things that go wrong often make the best memories.
  • Leave plenty of room in the suitcase.
  • As Eisenhower observed, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”
  • The point is to have fun.

What am I overlooking? What are your Secrets of Adulthood for family vacations?

Are you thinking, "But, oh, Gretchen, what will I do without reading a daily post about happiness?" Don't worry! To read more about happiness in the coming week, you can read the paperback of The Happiness Project (can't resist mentioning: it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for a year, that's right, a year).




"There Are In Fact Very Few Activities Which Cannot Be Classed Either As Work Or Play."

Orwell

“But what is work and what is not work? Is it work to dig, to carpenter, to plant trees, to fell trees, to ride, to fish, to hunt, to feed chickens, to play the piano, to take photographs, to build a house, to cook, to sew, to trim hats, to mend motor bicycles? All of these things are work to somebody, and all of them are play to somebody. There are in fact very few activities which cannot be classed either as work or play according as you choose to regard them.”
-- George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier

* Are you reading The Happiness Project in your book group? Email me at [email protected] if you'd like the 1-page discussion guide. Or if you're reading it in your spirituality book group, Bible study group, or the like, email me at [email protected] for the 1-page spirituality discussion guide.




"Take Yourself Less Seriously—and Take Yourself More Seriously."

Further Secrets of Adulthood:

SofAtakeyourselfseriously


On the To-Do List: Watch for Moments of Transcendence.

Flowerinsidewalk

In books, movies, plays, television, my favorite scenes are often moments of transcendence—when, in the muddle of existence, characters somehow manage to break through everything to engage with each other, and with higher values.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of moments like this from Gilead, The Wire, Friends, Steel Magnolias, the play Bug which has haunted me for years...such moments are the principal subject of Flannery O'Connor.

I also look for them in real life.

For instance, a few weeks ago, I was talking to a bunch of first-year medical students about happiness—mostly, I was pestering them to get enough sleep. At one point, an older doctor jumped into the conversation. "Remember," he said to them earnestly, "you're going to be doctors. That work is really going to bring you a lot of happiness."

This comment lifted the conversation to a new level. Not that I think everyone should be a doctor, but it's true: being a doctor is a rare privilege. To be able to help heal people, and to relieve pain.

This moment reminded me of other times when I felt a moment of transcendence related to people's work. For instance, the way I felt the first time I saw Justice O'Connor wearing her judicial robes. Justice O'Connor is very friendly and kind, but she's a formidable person even at her most casual. Even so, when I saw her wearing those robes, I saw her transformed; I think I actually took a step backward. To be charged to do justice is a very solemn thing, and seeing her in her robes conveyed that point, more powerfully than you might expect.

And I remember when I stopped by the studio of a friend who is a brilliant painter. His studio was everything you'd imagine: skylight, canvases everywhere, plaster models, coffee cans filled with brushes, all of it.

"Wait, I just have to finish one thing," he told me, and he added a few more strokes of paint to a landscape he was working on.

I looked around at everything, so beautiful. "Jacob, you are lucky," I said, in a fierce voice.

"I know," he said. "I know."

In the rush of our daily routines, it's so easy to miss moments of transcendence. In art, they are masterfully presented, with language and emphasis that set them apart like jewels. In ordinary life, they rush by. I try to remind myself to look for them every day.

How about you? How do you remind yourself to look for moments of transcendence in the midst of everyday life?

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.

* A thoughtful reader sent me the link to Young House Love by Sherry Petersik and John Petersik, because The Happiness Project got a lovely mention in the most recent post. I went to check it out, and spent waaaaay too much time there.

* Yay! The Happiness Project has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 53 straight weeks. Yes, more than a year! What, you haven't read it yet? Want to learn more?
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.




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.

Now in Paperback


Buy the book
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