How to be happier.

Dec. 31 2009 1:52 PM

Farewell, Slate Readers! Come Visit Me at The Happiness Project Blog.

Well, today is the last day of 2009, so it’s my last day here on Slate . My year’s stint is up, and my book, The Happiness Project , has just been published, so it’s time to say farewell. It has been so much fun being part of Slate —this terrific site that I’ve read and loved since it started.

Throughout the year while I’ve posted on Slate , I’ve also cross-posted on my own longtime stand-alone site, also called The Happiness Project . My writing will no longer appear here, but if you want to keep reading about happiness, come to www.happiness-project.com . Same material.

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Have a very happy 2010!

* Want more information?
Order the book The Happiness Project .
Watch the one-minute book video .
Read sample chapters .
Join the discussion on the Facebook Page .
Follow me on Twitter, @gretchenrubin .
Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox

To request a copy of my personal Resolutions Chart , email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail [.com].
To get the free monthly newsletter , sign up here .
To get a starter kit to launch your own happiness-project group , sign up here .

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Dec. 31 2009 6:26 AM

Why Is It Hard to Know What You Find Fun? Why Does It Matter?

Why, I often wonder, is it so hard to Be Gretchen and to know what I find fun? I’d think that nothing would be more obvious to me than my own nature, but it’s a constant challenge to be myself.

Other people have told me that they also find it difficult to identify what they like to do, for work and fun. And I’ve identified one reason for that.

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Scientists, such as Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness, point out that we’re all more alike than we think. And that’s true. But I think it’s also true that we’re all more unalike than we think. (It's one of my Secrets of Adulthood: the opposite of a great truth is also true.)

This is true when it comes to fun (whether fun at leisure or at work). Many people assume that they find something fun because that activity is inherently fun. But nothing is inherently fun.

Examples:
A friend of mine was explaining what she did for work when she first moved to New York City. She sad, "I could only work part-time, so of course I tried to get a job at a florist shop." Why "of course"? It would never occur to me to try to work in a florist shop. I always wanted temping jobs.

My college roommate majored in English, then got a Ph.D. in anthropology. I asked her, "Why didn’t you take any anthropology courses as an undergrad?" She said, "I thought that was the stuff that everyone found interesting. It didn’t occur to me to study it."

A former colleague told me, "If I didn’t have the job I have, I’d love to be a travel agent. But of course, that’s just so fun." I told her, "If I were condemned to perpetual punishment, it would be as a travel agent."

My husband’s former boss, a real wine connoisseur, spent a long time trying to convince me that wine was a fascinating, enjoyable thing to study. I spent a long time trying to convince him that I didn’t really enjoy wine. He simply couldn't believe that a person might not like wine.

It can be easy to overlook our likes and dislikes, or take them for granted, because we assume, "Well, sure, everyone likes video games," "Everyone likes computer programming," "Everyone likes reading and writing," "Everyone likes getting the chance to speak in front of a large group," "Everyone loves music." But that’s not true! The phenomenon of homophily describes our tendency to spend time with people who are similar to us, which reinforces the notion that our likes and dislikes are widely held.

That’s why, if you’re trying to figure out what to do as a job or as a hobby, it helps to ask yourself, "What do I actually do , when I have some free time?" Really examine it. Be honest. Not what you think you should be doing, but what you actually do with yourself, and enjoy, and captures you interest. What's true for you is not true for everyone—and that's significant.

The opposite of a great truth is also true, so this can work in reverse, as well. For a long time, I assumed that no one loved children’s/young adult literature as much as I did . Once I acknowledged what I found fun, and started asking around, I quickly identified many people who shared my passion. So don’t assume that everyone shares your interest, or that no one shares your interest.

How about you? Have you had an insight about what you find fun—or not?

* Happier.com has lots of interesting material. I especially enjoy the discussion of happiness-related research.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 31,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail.com (don't forget the "1"). Just write "newsletter" in the subject line. It’s free.

Dec. 30 2009 6:27 AM

More Tips about Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions Than You Could Want

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: More tips about making and keeping resolutions than you could want.

In 2009, the top three resolutions made by Americans were:
- Losing weight (20 percent)
- Quitting smoking (16 percent)
- Spending less (12 percent)

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Did you make any of these resolutions on Jan. 1, 2009? Did you keep them? Many people make and break the same resolution year after year. (To take just one example, I've made and broken the resolution to "Entertain more" for years. See below.) In fact, about 80 percent of resolution-makers abandon their resolutions by mid-February.

But one thing I’ve learned from my happiness project: keeping resolutions is a key to happiness. If you want to make a positive change in your life, you need to figure out what to resolve, and how to keep that resolution.

Because resolution-keeping has been so important to my own happiness project, I’ve written about it several times. So, to give you a boost as you launch your 2010 New Year’s resolutions, here are some of my favorite discussions about resolutions:

The resolutions NOT to make for your New Year’s resolutions .
(You’ll see that the person interviewed is clearly a "yes" resolver, as discussed in the second post above – in fact, it was her comment here that got me thinking about the distinction between "yes resolvers" and "no resolvers.")

Six tips to hold yourself accountable for keeping your resolutions .
Accountability is the essential element for keeping resolutions.

How you, too, can copy Benjamin Franklin .
Benjamin Franklin inspired the design of my Resolutions Chart, which turned out to be a key part of my happiness project. (If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, email me at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com -- write "resolutions chart" in the subject line.)

The movie "Twilight" inspires me to do a better job with some of my resolutions .
I have to admit, this is one of my all-time favorite posts that I've written.

Don’t try to keep that resolution .
In which I give up my longstanding resolution to "Entertain more."

Don’t try to keep that resolution—Part II .
In which I realize that giving up the resolution to "Entertain more" actually allowed me to plan a party.

Feeling fired up for your 2010 resolutions? Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge , to make 2010 a happier year. Sign up here .

Also, check out the tools on the Happiness Project Toolbox . They’re designed to help you track your own happiness project.

Being happier can seem like an elusive, complicated goal, but by taking little steps, you can change your life for the happier. I am still amazed by what a difference my happiness project has made in my happiness.

* I just can't resist posting a link to this review of my book on Communicatrix . As a writer, it's tremendously gratifying to read the response from a reader who understands EXACTLY what you were trying to do!

* As I'm checking now, I'm no. 40 on the Amazon Top 100 Bestsellers list! Hooray!

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 31,000 people get it)
—  Buy the book  
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Dec. 29 2009 6:07 PM

Highlights From the Happiness Project

is the author of the new book,

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, an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy. On her popular blog she recounts her adventures and insights as she grapples with the challenge of being happier. Aristotle, Samuel Johnson, Oprah, Benjamin Franklin, the Dalai Lama, Martin Seligman ... she considers it all.

She's also the author of the best-selling Forty Ways To Look at Winston Churchill , Forty Ways To Look at JFK , Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide , and Profane Waste (with artist Dana Hoey). Rubin began her career in law and was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor when she realized she really wanted to be a writer.

Here are some highlights from her blog, the Happiness Project:

A Secret to Happiness? Don't Get Organized.
When facing a bursting closet or a cluttered office, don't make the mistake of saying to yourself, "I need to get organized."

Eight Ways To Tell If You're Being Boring
Watch for the warning signs that show that you're being a bore.

The Movie Twilight Inspires Me to Do A Better Job With Some of My Resolutions
Inspired by watching the romance in Twilight , Gretchen reflects on memories of falling in love with her husband-and redoubles her efforts to keep her resolutions related to love.

Bad Habits: Swear Off Them Altogether? Or Indulge Occasionally?
If you're trying to resist temptation, take this test to determine whether you do better when you go cold-turkey, or when you indulge moderately.

Exercise Tips from a Recovering Couch Potato
Try some of these nine strategies if you have trouble sticking to an exercise regimen.

Can You Curse During a Gratitude Meditation?
Comedian Louis CK's hilarious rant that "Everything's amazing, nobody's happy" is a (slightly unconventional) gratitude meditation.

Quiz: Are You Drifting?
When you "drift," you make a decision by not deciding, or you make a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don't take responsibility. We often deny that we're drifting, so take this quiz to see if you're at risk.

Happiness Myth: It's Selfish To Try To Be Happier
Contrary to popular belief, happy people aren't self-centered and complacent; in fact, they're more concerned with helping others than are less-happy people.

How To Respond to Your Happiness Emergency-Stat!
Having a really lousy day? These nine strategies will help you boost your mood right now .

Can You Predict If Someone Will Be Happy in the Future?
Sizing up the temperament of a potential boss, roommate, or spouse? The best way to predict whether a person will be happy is to know whether that person has been happy in the past.

Happiness Myth: Money Can't Buy Happiness
Money, spent wisely , can buy a lot of things that contribute mightily to happiness. Some of the best things in life aren't free.

Embrace the Paradoxes of a Happiness Project
Niels Bohr wrote, "The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true." Here, Gretchen outlines some of the paradoxes of a happiness project.

Quiz-Are You an Overbuyer or an Underbuyer?
Do you fit the description of an "overbuyer" or an "underbuyer"? These categories will help you identify strategies to be happier with your spending.

Life's Cruel Truth: You Get More of What You Already Have
We all contribute to the atmosphere in which we live, so we get more of what we have. Friendly people meet with friendliness; irritable people find themselves surrounded by irritable people.

Practice a NON-Random Act of Kindness
Practicing non-random acts of kindness, it turns out, brings more happiness than random acts of kindness-especially for recipients.

Eleven Myths of De-Cluttering
For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. Don't let these de-cluttering myths get in the way of keeping your surroundings clutter-free.

Five Mistakes I Make in My Marriage
Gretchen confesses to five mistakes she makes in her marriage-and explains how she tries to do better.

Why Might Small, Comfortable Changes Work Better than Radical Steps?
To bring about change in your life, it's often more effective to focus on small, manageable steps rather than setting ambitious goals.

Bob Dylan Helps Me Recognize a Paradox of Happiness
Bob Dylan's observation about his wife, "she's always had her own built-in happiness," highlights one of the paradoxes of happiness.

Dec. 29 2009 6:27 AM

Today My Book Hits the Shelves

I can’t believe that I’m writing these words, at last: today is the publication day for my book . As of today, it’s out in the world, available for sale at bookstores near you. It seems like so long ago that I sat on that crowded bus, on a rainy afternoon, and wondered, "What do I really want from life? Well, I want to be happy ." Then I admonished myself, "In that case, I really should start a happiness project." And I did.

In his book Happier , Tal Ben-Shahar describes the arrival fallacy , the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy. (Other fallacies include the floating world fallacy , the belief that immediate pleasure, cut off from future purpose, can bring happiness, and the nihilism fallacy , the belief that it’s not possible to become happier.) The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because, though you may anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate.

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First of all, by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. Also, arrival often brings more work and responsibility. Having a baby. Getting a promotion. Buying a house. You look forward to reaching these destinations, but having reached them, they bring emotions other than sheer happiness, as well. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals another, yet more challenging goal.

The challenge, therefore, is to take pleasure in the atmosphere of growth , in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present. The unpoetic name for this very powerful source of happiness is "pre-goal attainment positive affect." One thing about working on my happiness project: it has given me a huge amount of pre-goal attainment positive affect.

But the arrival fallacy doesn’t mean that pursuing goals isn’t a route to happiness. To the contrary. The goal is necessary, just as is the process toward the goal. Nietzche explained it well: "The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable."

Whatever happens with this book, for good or for ill, I had a vision for what I wanted to do, and I did it . I’ve loved every minute of thinking and writing about happiness, and indeed, the subject feels inexhaustible, and I’ll keep writing about happiness for the foreseeable future. I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to spend the time the way I did, and to write the book that I got to write, and now it’s done.

And that makes me very happy.

Some highlights so far:
Today show scheduled for January 8
Starred review in Publishers Weekly
Named one of the "10 Must-Read Books" for 2010 by Oprah’s Book Club
Marketplace radio interview air-date TBA
Woman’s Day year-long Happiness Project
Amazon Top 100—I hit no. 80!

* Through the wonders of the internet, I got to know Alexandra Levit, and our books are being published on the very same day!—which gives you a fellow-feeling akin to being from the same hometown. Her book, New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career , is a great resource for anyone who is thinking about making a career change—switching careers is a major undertaking in any happiness project, but an extremely important one, if needed.

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.

Dec. 28 2009 6:39 AM

Decide Now To Make 2010 a Happier Year

It’s the last week of 2009, and the new year begins on Friday—a great time to make some resolutions. About forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions; there’s something about that fresh year stretching out in the future that makes it an auspicious time to attempt a change.

If you want a boost in keeping your resolutions, or you want some ideas for useful resolutions to try, please consider joining the 2010 Happiness Challenge , to make 2010 a happier year. (Many people will be glad to see 2009 fade into the past!)

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I created a sign-up sheet, so you can add your name to the pledge. It’s worth taking a minute to sign up; studies show that taking an action, like signing a pledge, will help you hold yourself accountable for your resolutions.

Each month, I’ll propose an area of life to tackle for your happiness project. Each week, I’ll suggest one or two simple, manageable resolutions to consider (in fact, you may find some of them laughably manageable -- but they all worked to boost my happiness). Of course, every happiness project is different, and I’m just throwing out some ideas. Your happiness project will look very different from mine.

Categories:
• January— Energy
• February— Love
• March— Work
• April— Money
• May— Mindfulness
• June— Order
• July— Spirit
• August— Fun
• September— Family
• October— Friends
• November— Attitude
• December— Boot Camp Perfect

A few thousand people have joined the petition already— add your name ! Make 2010 a happier year.

One thing I’ve learned from my happiness project—and it’s an uncomfortable truth—is that novelty and challenge bring happiness . In fact, the reason I started this blog was to force myself to do something novel and challenging, and it has indeed brought me huge happiness.

My latest new challenge is to do a video series. So, for the 2010 Happiness Challenge, each week I’ll be making a two-minute video, in which I talk about the proposed resolution. This feels quite novel and challenging—which is to say, I feel intimidated, frustrated and uncomfortable when I’m working on the videos.

But happiness theory predicts that with time, as I get the hang of making videos, they’ll contribute to my happiness. We’ll see! Whether or not they contribute to my happiness, I hope that the videos will help give you ideas and encouragement for your own happiness project. I'll unveil the first video on January 1.

As part of the 2010 Happiness Challenge, you can also check out the Happiness Project section on WomansDay.com. Lots of great stuff there.

Now, maybe you don’t believe that "happiness" actually exists, or you argue not that it’s possible to be "happy." Even so—do you think it’s possible to be happier ? That’s what the 2010 Challenge is meant to do. Make you a bit happier.

* I always enjoy cruising around Awake at the Wheel , Jonathan Fields's blog on "tips, strategies, and conversations at the crossroads of work, life, entrepreneurship and play."

* Tomorrow The Happiness Project officially goes on sale (!) and you can...
Pre-order ! (if you do pre-order, here’s how to get your bonus materials )
Check out the book tour info !
Read sample chapters !
Watch the one-minute book trailer !
Read about how reading the book differs from reading the blog !

Dec. 26 2009 8:16 PM

"Like a Boy Playing on the Seashore"

"I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."—Sir Isaac Newton

* I'm very excited for my friend Therese Borchard—her excellent book, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes , is about to hit the shelves. I met Therese online through her highly regarded Beliefnet blog, Beyond Blue ("a spiritual journey to mental health"), and when she came to New York City, we actually got to meet in person. I read an advance copy of her book, and it's extraordinary. It's an honest discussion of what she's gone through—manic-depression, alcoholism, plus some other challenges -- but Therese manages to be funny even while she's discussing all this and how she dealt with it.

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* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.

Dec. 23 2009 6:40 AM

Ten Tips for an Emergency Energy Boost

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Ten tips for an emergency energy boost.

When your energy level is low, everything feels like a chore -- even things would ordinarily make you happy. Holiday time can be draining, with lots of shopping, cooking, traveling, decorating, meeting, greeting, etc. to deal with. Or even if you're not doing these things, other people are, so something like a simple trip to the grocery store becomes a lot more difficult.

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There are many things we should on a regular basis to keep our energy levels high, like exercising and getting enough sleep . But what if you need more energy right now ? And you don't want to wait for the reward for your good habits to kick in?

Try one of these strategies:

1. Go outside into the sunlight . Light deprivation is one reason people feel tired. Research suggests that light stimulates brain chemicals that improve mood. For an extra boost, get your sunlight first thing in the morning. And while you’re outside…

2. Go for a brisk walk . Even a ten-minute walk can give you a surge of energy and decreased tension.

3. Act with energy . We think we ACT because of the way we FEEL, but often we FEEL because of the way we ACT. Trick yourself into feeling energetic by moving more quickly, pacing while you talk on the phone, and putting more energy into your voice.

4. Listen to your favorite zippy song. Hearing stimulating music gives an instant lift.

5. Talk to an energetic friend . Not only do we gain energy from interacting with other people, we also – in what’s called "emotional contagion" -- "catch" their emotions. Instead of infecting others with your draggy mood, try to lift yourself by catching the energy of a boisterous friend.

6. Tackle an item on your to-do list . Maybe you need to drive to an out-of-the-way store; or add the last, difficult touches to a homemade gift; or make a phone call to a difficult relative. You'll be amazed by the huge rush of energy you get when it's crossed off your list. If you're having trouble, try doing it first thing in the morning. The night before, decide what you're going to do, then get up and do it .

7. Clean up . For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. If you feel overwhelmed and listless, try tidying up. No heavy scrubbing, just tidy the surfaces. Making your surroundings more pleasant will help to give you energy -- plus, making visible improvements is a booster, too.

8. Jump! Yes, jump up and down a few times. I just started doing this, and it's amazing how energizing it is.

9. Note of caution: people often try to use food to boost their low energy . This obviously helps if you're actually hungry (and in my house, we constantly monitor people's hunger levels, because we all get so crabby when we're hungry), but if you're not hungry, eating ice cream out of the container -- tempting as it is -- won't really help.

10. Cut yourself, and other people, some slack . Didn't do holiday cards this year? Didn't cook the usual feast? Let it go. Holiday traditions are wonderful, but they can also be the source of anger, disappointment, and guilt -- aimed at ourselves and other people. A few years ago, at Halloween time, I somehow neglected to get us a pumpkin ! This counts as Mommy malpractice in my book. But you know what? It was okay.

"Energy is eternal delight," William Blake wrote, and it’s surprising how much sheer energy level can affect the quality of the happiness of a day.

What am I forgetting? Have you found any good strategies for a quick mood boost?

* In case you need to make a quick homemade holiday gift or card, or just want a moment of fun, check out Wordle . "Beautiful word clouds" -- so fun!

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
-- Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
-- Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
-- Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 30,000 people get it)
-- Pre-order the book for your friends (or yourself) -- here's an e-card to let them know it's coming
-- Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
-- Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Dec. 21 2009 6:35 AM

More Paradoxes of Happiness: I Desire To Not Want

One of my Secrets of Adulthood (cribbed from Niels Bohr) is "The opposite of a great truth is also true." As I’ve worked on my happiness project, I’ve recognized many paradoxes .

In Marc Lesser’s book Less: Accomplishing More by Doing Less , I read a fascinating list of such paradoxes by Chade-Meng Tan, a Google engineer whose title is "Jolly Good Fellow."

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I was quite struck by his list – and also by the number of times that my resolutions and paradoxes overlapped with his.

His list, with my comments:

I strive hard to be lazy. I resolve to Force myself to wander .
I’m selfishly compassionate. This reminds me of the Second Splendid Truth !
I desire to not want. Oh, I recognize that one.
Sometimes, I’m not myself.
Often, I’m not here, where I am. I have a big problem with this one, mindfulness.
I actively engage in nonactivity. I resolve to Schedule time to play .
I feel spiritual about my earthly desires. I loooove this one.
I sometimes fail at failing. I have to remind myself to Enjoy the fun of failure .
I make careless mistakes carefully.
Sometimes, my mind is full of nothing.
My own arrogance humbles me.
I’ve become a famous unknown.
I sometimes pity the more fortunate.

Have you found any paradoxes in your happiness project?

* I get a big kick out of the Art of Manliness blog, especially because I don't actually worry about my manliness. (When I read a site like the hilarious How Not to Act Old , I end up thinking about my wardrobe, my slang, my music, etc.)

* Seems like I had something I wanted to mention...hmmm, what was it? Oh, right, MY BOOK IS COMING OUT IN A WEEK! Yipes. As a thank-you, if you pre-order , I'll send you a pack of bonus materials -- just email me at gretchenrubin1[at]gmail.com , and I'll send it to you. More info here .

Dec. 20 2009 7:59 AM

"Energy Is Eternal Delight"

"Energy is eternal delight."—William Blake

* The folks at Drinking Diaries did an interview with me about the relationship between drinking and happiness. Very thought-provoking questions.

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* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.

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