Five Great “Don’ts” of a Happiness Project.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Five great “don’ts” of a happiness project.

Several people have said to me, “When you’re making a resolution, it’s better not to say ‘No’ or ‘Don’t’ to yourself. You should keep it positive. Find ways to say ‘yes’!”

I think there’s some merit to thinking about resolutions this way – but I don’t agree completely. First of all, sometimes it feels good to say “No” to yourself. For instance, I resolved No more drinking (mostly), and that resolution has made me much happier. (If you’re giving something up, you might want to take the “Are you a moderator or an abstainer?” quiz.)

Also, sometimes following a “Don’t” can make you very happy. Here are the five great don’ts of my happiness project – admittedly, some of them are fairly controversial:

1. Don’t get organized.

2. Don’t use my self-control.

3. Don’t treat myself.

4. Don’t practice random acts of kindness.

5. Don’t try to keep that resolution.

My personal favorite is “Don’t get organized.” What do you think? Have you made a “don’t” resolution that has made you happier?

* A reader sent me the link to a very interesting post on the great blog The Simple Dollar: 15 things more important than money.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Wednesday! This is the 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
Pre-order the book for a friend
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.
(Note that various links in the comment box, just below, make some of these steps easier.)

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I agree with you. Sometimes I think the emphasis on making everything a positive statement is overrated, and I’m all for whatever works for each person, because everyone’s unique. When I look at your list, I think of a famous “don’t” I’ve called upon many times: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! “Don’t sweat the small stuff” is a great “don’t.”

  • Glad you brought up the random acts of kindness. I’m actually going to be writing about that next week!

  • Interesting points. Not sure I could agree with all of them, but if they work for you that’s great. That is exactly what I have learned in my life: find out what works for me and worry about others.

    That automatically raises questions. Should I not read anything at all that the other people write? No. Should I stick only what works only? No. The point is to read others ideas and test them and see if they work for you as opposed to just accepting them blindly.

    I like your approach because it makes me think from a different perspective. So definitely thank you. I have a similar rule for my self. It is not related to happiness, but saying no has definitely made my way happier because you reject and eliminate things that do not work for you. Saying no is a way to get respect from others and be your own unique self.

    Saying no requires courage and being not afraid to stand out because you will. Your suggestions for being happy are great, I believe, for people who are too organized, too harsh on themselves. Yet follow those suggestions to the point, could have some bad consequences. Unless I am wrong.

    Thanks for sharing!


  • good post! it’s nice to read some “don’ts” for once…usually you are told to always frame things positively, but i think the negative (as in “do not do” rather than negative=bad) can be equally useful!

    happy word-of-mouth-wednesday, i will link you in my post tonight…

  • pamwalter

    My favorite one is “Don’t make resolutions that sound good but that I know I’m not going to keep.”

    • gretchenrubin

      I know. Somehow making a resolution makes you initially feel as though
      you’re making progress, but then ends up making you feel worse —
      ineffective and irresolute.

  • Jason

    You start Gretchen with: “Several people have said to me, “When you’re making a resolution, it’s better not to say ‘No’ or ‘Don’t’ to yourself. You should keep it positive. Find ways to say ‘yes’!””
    This reminds me of the republican way of making laws. Don’t say against abortion but for family.

    People feel uncomfortable saying no. Here’s another one then, Don’t not say no:

  • I agree. I have recently figured out how bad caffeine is for me so I have resolved not to drink caffeinated beverages. No caffeine means I sleep better, get fewer headaches and am less irritable. So a “no” resolution definitely works for me.

    I’d also love to give up wine, but that one is so much more difficult!

    We have to agree to differ on the being organized though. I get so much happiness from getting things sorted and straight.

  • I have repeatedly tried to stop saying the word hell, sometimes it was a new year’s resolution and others just a personal resolution. I have never been completely successful and had to give up the resolution because I would be so hard on myself if I slipped.

    I agree with you- sometimes you need to go from a different angle or just stop trying.

  • Hey Gretchen,

    Don’t try to control people and situations.

    It’s impossible, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying. Instead, just let them be what they are. Go with the flow, and simply focus on what you want out of them.

    Rather than trying to create some ideal environment around you everywhere you go, accept wherever you are and whoever you are around for what they are. Then focus on what YOU want, and utilize the people and situation to get it.

    You’ll be happy, because you’re getting what you desire. And you won’t go bald pulling your hair out of frustration trying to mold the unmoldable.

    Here’s to NOT doing sometimes in order to be happy,

  • Great don’ts!

    Off-topic, but this made me think of you:

  • Guest

  • davidrenaejennings

    Setting boundaries can be a very good thing. I must admit that I am one of those people who respond better to a goal or a new behavior that is stated in a positive way. I find that in steering my car as well as my life I do better focusing on where I want the vehicle to go rather than what I might be trying to avoid, ie. the potholes of life.

    • gretchenrubin

      You make an excellent point — here, as with all matters happiness-related,
      the important thing is to know YOURSELF and what’s true for YOU. I found for
      myself that the way I framed a resolution can make a big difference in how
      well I can stick to it — even if the underlying behavior is more or less
      the same.

      If you know you do better by focusing on the positive, then that’s a very
      useful thing to know about yourself.

  • The one I repeat to myself regularly and that I would add to your list is: Don’t seek perfection.
    It definitely made carving pumpkins for the first time in years way more fun for me!

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a great one! I phrase it as “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of
      the good.” Absolutely, that should be number 6!!!

  • These types of resolutions have a quality of duality that you like in your happiness project. Both the statement and the converse have merit. These sorts of don’ts are great because they do not have much down side. The common element is they’re all saying, ‘don’t overdo it.’ If you were suddenly inspired to clean out a drawer in the bathroom and it made you happy, you wouldn’t say to yourself, “Darn it, Gretchen! I thought I told you not to get organized!”

  • Zyada

    Having positively worded resolutions is not really about the touchy-feely “everything should be happy!” mentality; it is rather about the fact that our brains do not process negatives very well. For instance, the phrase “Don’t think about elephants” may lead you to think of nothing but elephants. However, much like disciplining children, sometimes you can only address the negative.

    I also think that some phrases like “Don’t sweat the small stuff” have been around long enough that the entire phrase has a meaning that is one single concept, rather than a series of words that have to be processed individually.

  • Lindsey

    I think the secret to happiness is the Serenity Prayer:

    God, grant me the courage to accept the things I cannot change,
    the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

    • Pattya404

      I say that prayer just about every day..

  • Hmm, you might be onto something here. My resolutions usually are about NOT doing certain things. I guess I am going to change that and see what happens. Thanks 😀

  • Mcohen05

    yes, I have learned this lesson back in  the “80’s. That when you tell a child “Don’t touch that” , their mind HEARS- TOUCH THAT. So the same goes with what you want to stop, put it into a pos. I correct people all the time LOL thanks

  • Francook

    I am confused. your book says to do those 5 things, get organized etc.