How you, too, can copy Benjamin Franklin.

One thing I’ve been doing all year is keeping an elaborate Happiness-Project self-scoring chart.

I lifted the idea from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. He recounts how he identified thirteen virtues he wanted to cultivate, then made himself a chart with those virtues plotted against the days of the week. Each day, he’d score himself on whether he lived up to his goals.

I’ve made a similar scoring chart—a kind of calendar with all my resolutions, in which I can give myself a (good) or an X (bad)

We’re much more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete and measurable actions, with some kind of accountability. This approach makes it easier to take action, plus it makes progress more obvious—which acts as positive reinforcement.

So has keeping a score chart helped me stick to my resolutions? Absolutely.

Even without taking the process of score-keeping into account, just reading the list of my resolutions a few times a day helps keep them active in my thoughts. A phrase like, “Think of small treats for others” or “Show up!” or “Answer the phone with good cheer” floats into my mind at relevant moments.

Also, I think that rewarding myself for good behavior—even if the reward is nothing but a mark in a box—does make me more likely to stick to a habit. I crave the satisfaction of getting those checks! I’ve been trying to get over my need for recognition and praise, but it’s not easy, and that little bit of reinforcement makes a difference (even though I’m giving it to myself).

Keeping the charts has also helped me to understand myself better; I can see what resolutions I’m more likely to keep, and which ones I’m likely to break.

For example, I’ve found that I’m much better at doing something than refraining from doing something—for example, I find it much easier to make a thoughtful gesture than to keep from losing my temper. This self-knowledge has helped me figure out the best ways to tackle my bad habits.

Keeping a scoring chart improved my behavior, but I’m still quite far from perfect. I comfort myself with the words of Ben Franklin, who reflected of his chart: “on the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet as I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been had I not attempted it.”

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • If anyone else wants to try this, Franklin’s thirteen virtues are available at Also, a free online tool you can use to track your progress is available at

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  • kmccoll

    Forgive what may be advice: It strikes me that many of your posts are about your changing your manner of acting in the world generally as much as they are about testing happiness ideas. You may find it easier to change bad habits if you construct new habits to replace them with, a la the behaviorist method. For example, if I decide to read fewer blogs (a subtractive goal), I replace my blog bookmarks with more productive ones, like bookmarks that take me to my research sites. I still look at my bookmark list a lot, but it’s less diverting. Change the river by making new banks.
    Your blog is inspiring, which is why it’s still on my list. 🙂

  • Thanks so much for all this great information. The Joe’s Goals site is great, I want to go back and explore more. This could be the thing that I’ve been needing but never dreamed existed!
    And you’re right, I need to find out more about cognitive behavior therapy. I know a little bit, and think I may have stumbled across some similar strategies — but why reinvent the wheel? thanks for pointing me in that direction.
    Dave, I’ll email you.

  • Hello,
    I just discovered your blog via 52 Projects and when I read the opening lines below the title I was really excited, I’ve been on a similar journey, testing different approaches to attain happiness, I’m not a big self-help book reader, I’m more of a observe-people-who-are-happy type of person and ask myself how they can do it. Of the few books on the subject that I’ve read is The Dalai Lama, Bell Hooks All About love, Communion, and Pronoia the Antidote for Paranoia which regardless of it’s hippie tone has some really wonderful writing.
    The problem, or may I say, my problem is this, and I don’t want to sound like I’m looking for a personal advice, it would be nice if you could post about it sometime:
    I have a wonderful moment right now, as I’ve had most of my life, series of great moments, episodes, weeks, even years, I’ve been fortunate except for one thing, my head works overtime and for many years I have been creating in my mind horrible catastrophes of things that could happen, from a personal situation to even an earth shattering earthquake: Imagine the plane going down, imagine the bus turning over, imagine parents dying, imagine sister miscarriaging for second time and it is absolutely draining and I know that it just prevents me from enjoying my moment, this one, this perfect one but I CAN’T DO IT. So I sought professional help, many many times, but it doesn’t work, that habit persists stronger than ever and I really want to erradicate it. So of all the happiness theories, all spiritual excercises, religion, therapy and the rest I haven’t found a single one which analyses the catastrophic mind. I know it sounds ridiculous but to what extent must I endure it? I’m about to go on vacation and instead of looking forward to it, I’m sabotaging it by thinking about everything that kind go wrong and then, obviously to try to be happy about it is out of the question.
    I know, ridiculous.
    Sorry for this long comment, but like I said if you could mention it as part of the quest of the testing of happiness theories or recommend a book, I will read it. I’m 33 years old and to think that I’ve spent a good deal of my life with this twisted train of thought is creepy.

  • Luisa, it sounds like you have reflected a great deal on what aspect of your thinking is making it hard to be happy. Have you tried seeing a specialist in cognitive behavior therapy? As I understand it, that approach is very helpful with “catastrophizing” — the kind of “twisted” thinking that is troubling you. Also it may be that you would benefit from medication that would alleviate anxiety. But obviously this is advice you should get from a professional; you said you sought professional help, perhaps you should try again. Maybe you didn’t connect with the right person. Good luck. I’ll be thinking of you.

  • Gretchen, you are brilliant as always! I posted about your post!! Thanks for the inspiration : )

  • You write: “For example, I’ve found that I’m much better at doing something than refraining from doing something”
    This seems to reflect Seligman’s claim that we can make ourselves happier by focusing on and using our ‘signature strengths’ rather than our weaknesses.
    I’m just getting familiar with your blog, and am adding it to my pile of goldmines, as I, too, am after happiness…trying to make sense of the old Greeks without totally buying into their intellectualism (that happiness is being a philosopher, like them). The positive psychologists seem to be closer to (finding?) the truth…

  • Charles Verge

    It is comforting to hear someone else has used Benjamin Franklin’s method found in his autobiography.

  • Meghan

    Good morning Ms Rubin!
    I chose to read your book “The Happiness Project” for an interpersonal relationships class I am taking. I have been attempting to improve my life and ultimately be happier since I left domestic violence a year ago. I had hit a “plateau” and reading this book was perfect timing for me. I am working on starting my own happiness project with all the help from your amazing book and research you have done. I would like to know if there is anyway that you could send me a copy of your happiness project resolutions chart so I can see how you were able to track yours. I need to bring your book alive as an activity in my class also, and I plan to challenge my classmates and professor in making their own commandments and mini happiness projects by sharing my own start and by sharing some of what I have learned from you.
    Thank you so very much for writing this book and sharing your experiences!!! You have been invaluable to me and have helped me to continue on with my life improvement. For most of the book, I could actually see myself in your place (especially having three children of my own).
    Thank you again! You are an amazing woman and your family sounds amazing!

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