How to be happier.

Dec. 18 2009 6:40 AM

Jump!

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.

My feet rarely leave the ground. For exercise, I use the stationery bike, the Stairmaster, yoga, and weight-training. I walk everywhere. I almost never run up the stairs or hop over puddles.

I think I need more jumping in my life.

A friend told me that she started doing five jumping-jacks each morning, to jar herself awake, and I’ve resolved to add that as a New Year’s resolution – just before I sit down at my computer each morning. That will be a good way to get a few jumps in before my day starts.

Jumping seems energetic, healthy, cheerful, fun. As I waited outside the door of my daughter’s nursery school class the other day, I saw one mother give a little skip as she walked down the hallway -- and I was struck by the exuberant charm of that little unconscious gesture.

Philippe Halsman , a photographer responsible for more than a hundred Life covers, was famous for his "jump pictures." He asked people like Richard Nixon, John Steinbeck, and the Duchess of Windsor to jump for their portraits. It is exhilarating to look at these photographs; they radiate energy.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from my happiness project is my Third Commandment, to Act the way I want to feel . If I’m jumping and skipping, I’m going to feel more energetic and light-hearted.

Have you found any easy ways to make yourself a lift? I'm very curious to see if jumping is an effective strategy. Now that I think about it, jumping-jacks may be a little bit too...calisthenics-ish. Maybe I should just jump.

* There's a lot of helpful information, delivered in a light, fun way, on Get Rich Slowly , "personal finance that makes cents."

* A thoughtful reader wrote to encourage me to check out the "Difference Engine" at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View when I'm out there for my book tour. Reading this fascinating

made me even more eager to see the exhibit. (I love that poetic name: Difference Engine.)

* Free bonus materials : Pre-orders give a big boost to a book, so to thank readers for pre-ordering, I've put together some bonus materials. After you pre-order, just email me at gretchenrubin1[at]gmail.com and write "I've pre-ordered," and I'll send them to you. Honor system. Materials include:
-- The Happiness Project Manifesto : a quick summary of some of the most important observations about happiness
-- Top Tips : tips that people have found particularly helpful
-- Resolutions Chart : my own personal Resolutions Chart, for your consideration, with a template to use for your happiness project.
Not sure you want to read the book? Check out the sample chapters . Or read Bob Sutton's review or Adam Gilbert's review !

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Dec. 17 2009 9:34 AM

I'm Extremely Happy Because...

I'm extremely happy because my sister had her baby last night! A boy.

My sister lives in Los Angeles, a long way from New York, but fortunately I'll be out there very soon for my book tour, and because of the schedule, I get to stay in L.A. for three days. I can't wait to see the baby -- and to see my sister and brother-in-law as parents.

I'm so thrilled, and relieved, and excited. Zoikes! It's going to be hard to think about anything else today.

* Through Bob Sutton , I just discovered the great blog of Marina Park , who writes from her perspective as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Northern California. She ranges over a lot of topics, great stuff.

* My book, The Happiness Project , comes out on December 29. If you're inclined to buy the book, pre-orders give a huge boost to a book, because they give the book momentum in the eyes of the media and booksellers. I love those pre-orders! Here's the pre-order link . To thank people who pre-order, I've prepared free bonus materials . If you do pre-order, just email me at gretchenrubin1[at]gmail.com (don't forget the "1") and write "pre-ordered" in the subject line.

If you're not sure whether you want the book, here are sample chapters and a zippy one-minute book video and seven reasons why reading the book is different from reading the blog .

Dec. 16 2009 6:23 AM

Five Tips for Planning Effective New Year’s Resolutions.

Forty-four percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, and I know I always do. I’m more inclined to make resolutions than ever, in fact, because if my happiness project has convinced me of anything, it has convinced me that resolutions – made right – can make a huge difference in boosting happiness.

So how do you resolve well? This is trickier than it sounds. Here are some tips for making your resolutions as effective as possible. Remember, right now, you’re in the planning stage. Don’t feel like you have to do anything yet! Just start thinking about what would make 2010 a happier year.

1. Ask: " What would make me happier? " It might having more of something good – more fun with friends, more time for a hobby. It might be less of something bad – less yelling at your kids, less nagging of your spouse. It might be fixing something that doesn’t feel right – more time spent volunteering, more time doing something to make someone else happier.

2. Ask: " What is a concrete action that would bring about change? " One common problem is that people make abstract resolutions, which are hard to keep. "Be more optimistic," "Find more joy in life," "Enjoy now," are resolutions that are hard to measure and therefore difficult to keep. Instead, look for a specific, measurable action. "Distract myself with fun music when I’m feeling gloomy," "Watch at least one movie each week," "Buy a lovely plant for my desk" are resolutions that will carry you toward those abstract goals.

3. Ask: " Am I a 'yes’ resolver or a 'no’ resolver ?" Some people resent negative resolutions. They dislike hearing "don’t" or "stop" or adding to their list of chores. If this describes you, try to find positive resolutions: "Take that dance class," "Have lunch with a friend once a week." Or maybe you respond well to "no." That’s my situation. A lot of my resolutions are aimed at getting me to stop doing something or to do something I don’t really want to do. Don't expect praise or appreciation . Follow the one-minute rule . There’s no right way to make a resolution, but it’s important to know what works for you . As always, the secret is to know your own nature.

4. Ask: " Am I starting small enough? " Many people make super-ambitious resolutions and then drop them, feeling defeated, before January is over. Start small! We tend to over-estimate what we can do over a short time and under-estimate what we can do over a long time, if we make consistent, small steps. If you’re going to resolve to start exercising (one of the most popular resolutions), don’t resolve to go to the gym for an hour every day before work. Start by going for a ten-minute walk at lunch or marching in place once a day during the commercial breaks in your favorite TV show. Little accomplishments provide energy for bigger challenges. Push yourself too hard and you may screech to a halt.

5. Ask: " How am I going to hold myself accountable ?" Accountability is the secret to sticking to resolutions. That’s why groups like AA and Weight Watchers are effective, and there are many ways to hold yourself accountable. I keep my Resolutions Chart (if you’d like to see my chart, for inspiration, email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin.com --just write "resolution chart" in the subject line). Or you could track your resolutions online using the tools at the Happiness Project Toolbox . Or you could form a goals group – or even a happiness-project group! (For a starter kit for starting a happiness-project group, click here .) Accountability is why #2 is so important. If your resolution is too vague, it’s hard to measure whether you’ve been keeping it. A resolution to "Eat healthier" is harder to track than "Eat salad for lunch three times a week."

Have you found any strategies that have helped you successfully keep resolutions in the past?

* I always find a lot of posts worth checking out on Lisa Belkin's New York Times blog, Motherlode .

* 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. 15 2009 6:26 AM

Does Everyone Need a Theme Song? Come On, Get Happy.

Because I literally cannot resist this call to happiness, here is the "Come On, Get Happy" theme song from The Partridge Family television show. I sat grinning away as I listened to it.

If you need it, here’s the

.

And speaking of getting happier, join the 2010 Happiness Challenge ! Start your own happiness project and make 2010 a happier year.

To help people stick with their happiness projects, I’ve set up a sign-up sheet so you can add your name to the 2010 Year of Happiness challenge. It’s worth taking a second actually to sign up; studies show that doing an action, like signing this pledge , will help you hold yourself accountable for your resolutions.

The areas of focus will be:
• January-- Energy
• February-- Love
• March-- Work
• April-- Money
• May-- Mindfulness
• June-- Order
• July-- Spirit
• August-- Fun
• September-- Parenthood
• October-- Friends
• November-- Attitude
• December-- Boot Camp Perfect

Of course, these categories are just my suggestions. You might choose to focus on very different areas for your happiness project.

January 1 is always a good time to make a resolution – 44% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions – so by adding your name now, you’re committed to taking action when January 1 rolls around. You might also consider using the online tools over at the Happiness Project Toolbox (bonus: you can see what other people are doing, which is fascinating.)

Also, check out the great material at Woman’s Day Happiness Project page . I particularly enjoyed this recent post on Gym Culture, Some Observations .

Make 2010 a happier year. Come on, get happy.

* The book The Happiness Project is coming out on December 29, so you can...
Pre-order ! (if you 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 !

Dec. 14 2009 6:27 AM

In Which Holiday Decorating Reminds Me of Several Happiness Lessons

I recently put up our holiday decorations, and as I was doing it, I was reminded of several important happiness lessons.

1. I love my husband, just as he is . One of the challenges of a happiness project is accepting your own nature—and also your sweetheart’s nature. I wish my husband got a big kick out of holiday decorating, but he doesn’t. There it is. I can’t bully him into wanting to hang ornaments, and I’m happier (and he’s happier) if I don’t try. Relatedly …

2. Given that my husband doesn’t really care about holiday decorating, don’t nag him about helping me . I remind myself that I do holiday decorating because I like it. It’s not so much work that I can’t do it myself, with some help from my daughters, and I truly enjoy it more when I don’t expect or ask him to help. It’s just not worth nagging over it.

3. Spend out ! This is my Seventh Personal Commandment , and one that’s always a challenge for me. "Spend out" reminds me to put things to use, not to save things to no purpose. Several years ago, my mother, who loves holiday decorating, gave me a big box of fun stuff. As I was decorating one of our table-top goose-feather trees, I saw two boxes of little shiny red balls—vintage, still in their old boxes. I thought, "Oh, I don’t want to open these boxes of balls from my mother, I want to save them." Then I saw a box of mini-lights that would fit on the little tree. "Oh, I shouldn’t use those either." Then I remembered – spend out! What am I saving these things for? Some special occasion—but what's more special than now ? They’re meant to be used, so use them! Leaving them sealed in a box is wasteful.

4. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is " No deposit, no return ." The holidays are only as much fun as I allow them to be. If I don’t take the trouble to do fun things like keep traditions, take time for projects, and goof around, then I’m not going to find the holidays much fun. Or to put it another way...

5. Enjoy this season and this time of life . In the bustle of every day, and in my desire to get things crossed off my to-do list, sometimes activities like holiday decorating, wrapping presents, or making our special recipe for sweet potatoes can feel like chores. I constantly remind myself to enjoy this season and this time of life. This is a wonderful season of the year, and a wonderful season in the life of my family. One of my daughters still believes in Santa Claus, the other daughter is still ecstatic over a $6 pair of earrings. They’re both excited about spending a day decorating gingerbread houses. It’s my Third Splendid Truth : The days are long, but the years are short . (If you’ve never watched my one-minute video, The Years Are Short , you might enjoy it.)

Adding to my family's holiday spirit, I'm sure, was the fact that I restrained myself from lecturing them all about these little lessons as they occurred to me. Family members can happily stand only so much talk about happiness.

* I was thrilled to see that my blogland friend Pamela Slim's excellent book, Escape from Cubicle Nation (also a terrific blog —"from corporate prisoner to thriving entrepreneur") make it to two lists for Best Small Business Books for 2009. Great stuff, great to see it get recognized.

* The book The Happiness Project is coming out on December 29, so you can ...
Pre-order ! (if you 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 !
If you're inspired to start your own happiness project, join the 2010 Happiness Challenge , to make 2010 a happier year.
Pre-orders give a huge boost to a book, so if you're inclined to pre-order, I really do appreciate it very much.

Dec. 13 2009 8:56 AM

"Do Not Spoil What You Have By Desiring What You Have Not..."

"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for."
--Epicurus

* I'm a longtime fan of Ben Casnocha's blog , but I just discovered his Business Rules of Thumb Wiki . This is a wonderful compilation of rules -- what I call, in my own terminology "true rules" and " Secrets of Adulthood ." It's a fantastic, thoughtful list.

* If you live in NYC, DC, Boston, Chicago, KC, Denver, LA, SF, or Seattle -- come to a book event for The Happiness Project ! Tour info here .
-- Pre-order the book.
--Read sample chapters .
--Get free bonus materials if you pre-order : email me at gretchenrubin1[at]gmail.com and write "I've pre-ordered" in the subject line. More info here .
--Watch the brand-new, fun one-minute book trailer !

Dec. 11 2009 3:45 AM

Don’t Try to Keep That Resolution, Part II

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.

Several weeks ago, I posted about why I’d decided to give up my oft-repeated, but never kept, resolution to "Entertain more."

I decided that I needed to let go of this resolution. Even though I knew that in the long run, it would make me happier to have friends over, I realized I was feeling too overwhelmed to keep that resolution; it was weighing me down without prompting me to action; and I needed to let myself off the hook.

The funny thing is that about two days after I decided to give up that resolution, I invited my two (yes, two) children & young-adult literature reading groups over for a holiday party! Now, was this a coincidence? Nope.

This is what happened: the minute I went on the record saying "I can’t handle trying to invite people over right now, I’m not going to do it," I let go of the fantasy of being the perfect party-giver, and then I could give a party. When I invited my friends over (by email, by the way, not with a mailed invitation), I stressed that the evening would be extremely casual and that I couldn’t manage a "real" party. They didn’t care! The party was last night, and in the end, I managed to do a good job. We all had a great time, I was a reasonably good hostess, my house looked nice, and I didn’t make myself crazy beforehand. (This despite the fact that my husband had to go out of town that week, so he couldn't help.)

One of my Secrets of Adulthood (cribbed from Voltaire) is "Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good." My mother sets a high bar for me to consider—she does everything, including parties, absolutely beautifully. She enjoys doing it, but for me, it’s stressful. When I think about trying to have a holiday party the way she’d do it, I can’t cope. Telling myself that I wasn’t "really" entertaining let me do it in my own way, at a level that I could handle.

So if you’re having trouble keeping a resolution, consider pursuing it in a less "perfect" form; settle for the "good." If you can’t make yourself go to the gym, try to go for a walk around the block. If you can’t tackle your crowded garage, clean out one corner. If you don't have time to volunteer for the adult-literacy program, you can sign up to be an organ donor .

A nice thing about settling for "good" when "perfect" is too daunting is that achieving a small thing often gives you the energy to attempt a bigger thing. Having such a good time giving my un-party makes me more enthusiastic to do it again.

If you feel inspired to try to keep some resolutions—either small ones or big ones, good or perfect – consider joining in 2010 Happiness Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year. Each month I'll suggest a theme (e.g., Energy, Work, Family) and resolutions to help you boost your happiness. Learn more —sign up!

* I've been a fan of Bob Sutton's books (especially The No A**hole Rule ) and his blog Work Matters for a long time, so I sent him an advance copy of The Happiness Project . I was HAPPY beyond description to read his incredibly kind response, and I can't resist linking to it here: The Happiness Project--I Hate Self-Help Books But Love This One .

* In the category of goofy yet compelling, check out this short video of people recreating the London skyline out of fruits and vegetables.

* Free bonus materials: Pre-orders give a big boost to a book, so to thank readers for pre-ordering, I've put together some bonus materials. After you pre-order , just email me at gretchenrubin1[at]gmail.com and write "I've pre-ordered," and I'll send them to you. Honor system. (Don't worry if you pre-ordered a while back, just email anyway.) Materials include:
-- The Happiness Project Manifesto : a quick summary of some of the most important observations about happiness (Bob Sutton's fascinating 15 Things I Believe helped inspire me to write a manifesto)
-- Top Tips : tips that people have found particularly helpful
-- Resolutions Chart : my own personal Resolutions Chart, for you to consider as an example. The last page is blank, so you can use it as a template for your happiness project.

Dec. 10 2009 6:41 AM

Two Things that Make Me Happy Today.

As I approach the publication day of my book (oh, did I forget to mention it? December 29 ), two things have made me happy.

First, I’m scheduled to go on the Today show on Friday, January 8. Very exciting! I did the Today show for my first book, Power Money Fame Sex (which is sort of the opposite of The Happiness Project ). It was such an out-of-body experience that I have absolutely no recollection of talking to Matt Lauer. I’m thrilled to get the chance to talk about my book there. (And it's still far enough in the future that I don't feel nervous yet.)

Second, at long last, my book trailer is ready to be seen! It’s hard to believe how much work it takes to do a one-minute video – mostly done by my brilliant video person, Maria Giacchino at My Little Jacket . Check it out:

Here's the link if you need it.

As always, although I worried about tackling a new thing, working on the trailer ended up being a lot of fun. I spent time with an interesting new person; I learned something about book trailers; I got the chance to exercise my creativity in a different way. Novelty and challenge are, well, challenging, but in the end, they lead to happiness.

If seeing the trailer inspires you to buy the book, here’s the pre-order link , and here are sample chapters .

Or if it inspires you to start your own happiness project, you can sign up to join the 2010 Happiness Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year.

* My friend Helen Coster published a hilarious piece in McSweeney's: A former investment banker analyst falls back on Plan B . I was laughing out loud.

Dec. 9 2009 6:16 AM

Four Tips for Using the Abstainer/Moderator Split in the Face of Holiday Temptations

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 4 tips for using the abstainer/moderator split to fight holiday temptations.

Ah, the holidays. If you’re a person who is trying to withstand temptations, it can be very tough. Everywhere you go, you face cookies, candy, booze, and snacks and treats of every kind. While some people can whole-heartedly can enjoy all this, many of us waver between wanting to try everything and wanting to resist everything.

A successful strategy to facing this temptation may depend on whether you’re a moderator or an abstainer when trying to resist temptation.

You’re a

moderator

if you …


— find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure—and strengthens your resolve


— get panicky at the thought of "never" getting or doing something

You’re an abstainer if you …
— have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
— aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits
(Of course, in the case of things like nicotine and alcohol, abstention is necessary.)

I’m an abstainer, without a doubt. Like Samuel Johnson, who wrote, " Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult ," I find it much easier to give things up altogether than to indulge in moderation. And that’s a very useful thing to know about myself.

Take Halloween candy, for example. I love candy, especially bite-sized candy. I knew that Halloween would be a huge temptation for me, and that I’d likely end up eating a lot of candy and feeling very guilty about it—and that wasn’t going to make me happy.

So I decided, "No Halloween candy! Not one piece !" And that was far easier for me to do than to eat just four or five pieces. And I was much happier having no candy than I would have been if I’d been stealing candy from my children’s stashes every time they were out of the kitchen – which is absolutely what I would otherwise have done. I’m doing the same thing with Christmas candy.

If you’re a moderator, however, that strategy wouldn’t work for you. You’d probably be better off thinking, "I can have a few pieces of my favorite kind of candy," and focusing on enjoying those pieces. You can really revel in whatever it is that you’re permitting yourself, and by putting a limit on your consumption, you may find yourself enjoying it more.

So, to apply the moderator/abstainer model to yourself when facing holiday temptations, try this:

1. Decide if you’re a moderator or an abstainer.
2. Decide what temptation you’d like to resist.
3. Set a time period. "I will not eat a single cookie until January 4" or "I will eat one or two cookies at every holiday event I attend, and I’ll enjoy them, but I’ll stop at two." "I won’t have any eggnog" or "I'll have one glass of eggnog, on Christmas Eve, when we visit my parents."
4. As you approach your tempting situation, imagine yourself living up to your rule. Imagine yourself skipping the cookies; or imagine yourself taking just two cookies. Think about how pleased you’ll be that you stuck to your guidelines for yourself.

In my experience, moderators and abstainers are hard on each other. Moderators always say things to me like, "You should have a little fun!" "It’s not reasonable to be so hard on yourself!" "You’re too rigid about what you eat, you worry too much about your weight, it’s not healthy."

And I have the urge to say to moderators: "You’re not sticking to your resolutions!" "Why don’t you just give up that [whatever it is] altogether?"

Either strategy can help us resist temptation; as with so many aspects of the pursuit of happiness, the secret is to know yourself , and to act according with your own nature. For me, although some people might think it seems cramped and joyless not to eat any Halloween candy, I know I'm happier if I skip it.

On a related note: it can seem festive and friendly to urge people to break their diets, to indulge in an extra glass of wine, or to treat themselves in some way. "I can’t believe you’re not going to try this dessert, I made it myself!" "Just one won’t hurt!" "You deserve it!" "This is a party, relax, live a little!" But the kind thing to do, in almost every situation, is to try to help people stick to their resolutions. Of course, bullying them if you think they’re over-indulging isn’t kind, either.

How about you? Do you recognize yourself as an abstainer or a moderator? Have you found any good strategies for coping with holiday temptation?

* I met Karl Staib at a conference last year, and I really love checking out his site, Work Happy Now .

* 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. 8 2009 6:38 AM

"Toast, Tea, and To-Do Lists"

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him or her, than by any other kind of argument.

Given my own topic, of course I couldn’t resist clicking when I saw a blog called The Happiest Mom – "Happy. Mother. You really can use both words in the same sentence." I was particularly intrigued by her explanation: " The Happiest Mom isn’t about being the happiest mom in the world—it’s about being the happiest mom YOU can be."

Meagan Francis is a writer and also the mother of five children—zoikes! She blogs mostly about the intersection of happiness and motherhood, and I was curious to hear what she had to say about happiness in general.

One thing I really admire about her writing is her ability to step back to think about everyday life from a more transcendent perspective – for example, her post about seeing the movie Revolutionary Road and thinking about " the conventional life ." Ah, the appeal of living in a yurt – even if you don’t want to live in a yurt! I know it well.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Meagan: My morning cup of tea. I'm a habit-oriented person, which can be great or awful depending what the habit is! But once I've created a pleasurable routine I just love sticking to it. For the last three years I've started every morning with two slices of peanut butter toast and a cup of tea, and when I first wake up and don't want to roll out of bed, it makes me so happy to know I have that to look forward to. It's not so much that tea and toast are the highlights of my day (that would be kind of sad, wouldn't it?), but it's something I can consistently look forward to that starts my day off with a bit of joy.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I think you really have to know yourself to be happy, and that was what I lacked at 18. I didn't really understand myself well enough to make sure my needs were taken care of. I've written before about how I thought of myself as this kind of lazy, blowing-in-the-wind free spirit who just needed to take it easy and avoid pressure to be happy.

Then in my mid-20s I discovered that, actually, I'm pretty ambitious, energetic, and action-oriented. I am much happier while in motion than I was lounging around. And I need a to-do list and some kind of routine or I'm just miserable and unproductive. I wish I'd figured that out in college!

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)
We have this in common! I love reading the books of my youth--it's like slipping into a cozy old robe, and also helps me recapture a bit of the magic I felt when I was little and reading a great book was like stepping into an exciting new world. Particular happy favorites for me are the Trixie Belden series (Jeepers--how could you help but be happy while reading about the misadventures of such wholesome, kind kids?), the Anne of Green Gables series (such scope for imagination in them...) and the Little House books, especially the chapters with long descriptions of the foods they ate and their simple prairie Christmases. Ahhh...

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 think that a lot of people spend a lot of time focusing on how they would be happier if X (they were out of debt or had a better house or their spouse would start picking up his own socks). But I've come to realize that once you reach whatever that milestone is you thought would make you happy--you get out of debt, you move into a nicer home, your spouse magically starts picking up his socks or you kick him out!--you feel a momentary thrill and then, quicker than you might think, you go back to about the same level of happiness you were before (sometimes, there's even a sense of letdown).

That's not to say you shouldn't try to improve your life, or that those improvements can't help you find happiness more easily. But if we're putting all hopes for happiness on something unusual or great happening to us, what if it doesn't happen? Or what if it does, and it's not as big a thrill as we thought it would be? I think we have to look at it in reverse: make up our minds that we're going to have a happy life, then try to create a reality to match. Sometimes, things just won't work out the way we'd hoped, but if we aren't too reliant on those outside forces to "make" us happy, we'll be able to ride through the disappointments and stresses more quickly and smoothly.

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?
Pretty much every time I have been chronically unhappy, it was because I was convinced somebody else was "making" me that way. Because once you give up control over your own happiness, you're just blowing with the wind, influenced by other people's actions and moods. Plus, you can start to stubbornly cling to your anger and resentment about the way others are "making" you miserable, until you get to the point where you almost want everyone around you to act like jerks, just so you can be right about what jerks they really are.

The surest predictor of happiness, for me, is not to let other people's actions knock me off course. Of course I sometimes get upset or angry or sad when dealing with other people--that's just human. But I can't give them either the credit or the blame for my essential happiness--it's not fair, and it's not really accurate. In the end, it's all up to me, baby.

* A fellow Yale-Law-School-turned-writer-and-blogger wrote me, because we took similar career paths. But wow, is her book and blog world different from mine! It was so much fun to visit a site that I never would have come across during my usual internet travels. La Carmina writes about "wild Japanese fashion, with a focus on Gothic Lolita Rococo Punk." Which are things, I must admit, I didn't know existed. As she might say, "crazy wacky cute yummy time!"

* The book The Happiness Project is coming out on December 29 –
Pre-order ! (if you do pre-order, here’s how you get your bonus materials )
Book tour info !
Sample chapters !
Join the challenge: Make 2010 a Happier Year !

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