Tag Archives: happiness

“We Feel More Satisfied…If We Have Stirred Up Our Minds.”

“A man does not work only for the sake of producing, but to set a value on his time. We feel more satisfied with ourselves and with our day if we have stirred up our minds and made a good start, or have finished a piece of work.”
–Eugene Delacroix

* Good stuff at Work Happy Now!

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 27,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.

Why Might Small, Comfortable Changes Work Better than Radical Steps?

I just read a short, interesting book by Robert Maurer, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.

I’m surprised I hadn’t known about kaizen before. The Japanese term kaizen is an approach of using small steps of continuous improvement to bring about change. Instead of pursuing radical changes – which are ambitious, difficult, and often don’t succeed – you take small, comfortable steps. Maurer points out that although kaizen developed in a business setting, it also applies to individuals.

His example: after telling his patient Julie about the importance of taking time for herself and getting exercise, instead of giving the standard (and unrealistic) advice that she spend thirty minutes a day on aerobically challenging exercise, he said “How about if you just march in place in front of the television, each day, for one minute?”

When she returned for her next visit, she reported that she had kept with that routine (which wasn’t hard!). This didn’t add up to much exercise, but it gave her a more optimistic, energetic frame of mind, and she was willing to take on more. Within a few months, she was doing full aerobic workouts.

When a goal is too intimidating – “How can I switch careers from law to writing?” “How can I have a baby as a single mother?” “How can I start my own business?” “How can I lose sixty pounds and get in shape?” – you don’t even want to think about it. Pushing yourself to think of the smallest possible steps toward that goal keeps it from being too scary.

Also, if you ask yourself a specific question often enough, you’re bound to come up with some useful answers.

Maurer suggests a few kaizen questions to prompt ideas:
— If health were my first priority, what would I be doing differently today?
— How could I incorporate a few more minutes of exercise into my daily routine?
— What’s the smallest step I can take to be more efficient?
— What can I do in five minutes a day to reduce my credit-card debt?
— How could I find one source of information about adult education classes in my city?
— Whom could I ask for help? [Yes! Ask for help! Why is it so easy to overlook this extremely effective strategy?]
— What’s one small, loving act I can do today for a friend, acquaintance, or stranger?

For my own happiness project, I’ve found that these kinds of questions have helped me focus on concrete actions. Instead of asking, “How can I get more joy out of life?” I asked, “What’s one thing I can do for ten minutes each day that would give me a bit of joy?” Instead of asking, “How can I be a better parent?” I asked, “What’s one thing I can change about our mornings to make them more pleasant for everyone?” It’s hard to think of an answer to the first question; it’s easier to think of an answer to the second question.

That’s why with my happiness project, I focus so much on my resolutions. These concrete, manageable steps, attempted every day, are what have made me happier since I started my project. (If you need help keeping resolutions, here are twelve tips.)

* If you’re looking for a way to make small, concrete, comfortable changes, try using the Happiness Project Toolbox.

Put on Your Shoes.

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. (I’m actually posting this on Thursday this week, because I’ll be away from my computer on Friday.)

One of my favorite advocates for the strategy of working for happiness by taking manageable, concrete steps every day is the FlyLady. “Baby steps, baby steps” is her mantra.

The FlyLady (Marla Cilley) writes for a very particular audience, with a big emphasis on household chores and clutter. But her principles – and many of her suggestions – apply everywhere.

One of my favorites is her admonition to Put on your shoes. In Sink Reflections, she writes, “You act differently when you have clothes and shoes on….With shoes on those feet of yours, your mind says, ‘OK, it’s time to go to work.’ You have no excuse for not taking the trash out or putting that box of give-away stuff into the car. You are literally ready for anything.”

When I was in law school, my roommate told me about a study that showed that graduate students who put on their shoes each morning were markedly more efficient than those who padded around in their stocking feet. That was years ago, and I haven’t been able to find the study – and she may not have reported it accurately. (Does anyone know the reference?) Nevertheless, I’ve never forgotten it.

It’s absolutely true for me. I’m far more productive and energetic when I have my shoes on – and this is true even for getting writing done, when I’m sitting down.

Of course, for many people, wearing shoes is non-optional (so you get a gold star for keeping this resolution every day!) Also, like all great truths, the opposite is also true – so for some people, not wearing shoes may be the better choice. My father-in-law, for example, goes around in his stocking feet, even at work. The key is to know yourself.

I’ve heard that wearing shoes in the house tracks in a tremendous amount of dirt, so that from a clutter-clearing standpoint, you’re better off leaving your shoes at the door. A lot of my friends have trained their children to take off their shoes in the house, and adults keep their shoes on.

But I know for myself, and judging by my unscientific poll of a lot of people I know, putting on shoes makes you feel ready for action. If you’re a shoes-optional freelancer, telecommuter, homemaker, or part-timer, consider wearing your shoes when you’re trying to be productive.

What do you think? Does wearing shoes affect your energy or productivity?

* I haven’t posted this link before, because it makes me feel sheepish and also like a big self-promoter, but I have to say a huge THANK YOU to the brilliant Colleen Wainwright, a/k/a the Communicatrix, for her amazingly generous post about The Happiness Project book. It’s hard to know what to say when someone does something so nice for you.

Chanting, Kissing, and Reading.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my research, 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 feel a bond with writer Amy Ferris because we both had our big happiness realizations while driving – well, she was driving on Route 80, and I was riding the cross-town bus on 79th Street, but that’s the New York City equivalent of driving. You might not expect that sitting in traffic would make fertile ground for an epiphany, but one can strike you wherever you are.

Her new book, Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis hits the bookshelves today. It’s a humorous but also serious look at all the worries that dogged her during her midlife crisis (a non-sports-car version of a midlife crisis). She’s done a lot of thinking about happiness, so I was very interested to hear what she had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Amy: I chant (I’m a Buddhist) every day, twice a day — for the past 37 years. That makes me happy. Very comforted, connected…at ease. I also love and treasure my girlfriends, I don’t think there is anything better than having great great girlfriends. (And yes, I have some really wonderful best boy friends…)

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That happiness is not a destination. It’s not somewhere I’m going. It’s a choice. I choose to be happy — or at least try to – every day.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Yeah. I act impulsively, and out of fear, thinking if I don’t do something, say something, fix something RIGHT NOW, this minute…it — whatever IT is — will go away, disappear.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
I read plenty. I read Pema Chödrön often, and I love reminding myself that kindness is so much better than being nice. I try to always always be kind. And I remind myself often that every pain, every struggle, every disappointment and sadness I feel or have felt is so that I can inspire, encourage and help another person overcome theirs. I feel very strongly about using my life, every bit of it, to help another person awaken to greatness. I hope my book does that. [Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis.] I hope it helps women awaken to their own greatness, power, beauty. I hope it inspires women to fall madly in love with themselves.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity?
Two things: I seek out the biggest greatest best hug and warm kiss from Ken, my husband; and I take a long hot bubble bath. And I read. I read a lot.

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?

My husband gardens, and that brings him great joy and ease and comfort. He loves gardening and creating gorgeous stone beds, and he teaches me, through his very simple actions, that patience (which I have very little of) is a huge factor in both happiness and being at ease with yourself. And, on the flip side, I hear a lot of people complaining about their lives — what they don’t have — which I think always keeps them at arm’s length from feeling true joy.

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?
I was very unhappy during some early years of menopause: hormones raging, career changes, my mom was sick, I was having huge bouts of doubting my self, my faith … but one day, while driving on Route 80… odd as it may seem — I had what felt like a major epiphany (sitting in traffic can be a good thing, although, truthfully, not my favorite place to be sitting) — that I needed to really start trusting my own life, really stop trying to control the outcome of my life, my intentions, and place trust – REAL TRUE TRUST, not the “battering trust” as I call it — in the universe — and in others. To stop being so fearful of “letting go” (which I have to say I often confused with letting go of someone, or something…rather than letting go of the fear and doubt and worry connected to the desire, the goal, the dream…)

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?

I work on being happy every single day. And sometimes what I do if I’m feeling really blue, instead of retreating and being self-indulgent, I pick up the phone and call someone — a friend, a neighbor, a colleague — who I know is struggling, or going through a tough time, and I offer a shoulder, or a hand, along with a really good book for them to read, or a really good movie for them to see…

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Oh yes, yes, there was this guy — many, many, many years ago — I was so frickin’ in love with him, he was so good looking and sexy and unattainable — and I thought if only if only IF ONLY he would notice me, ask me out. I was just so crazy nuts about him, and thought, this guy, this guy is it. He’s the “it” guy. And then finally he did ask me, and I was, as you can imagine, in frickin’ heaven, I tried on every piece of clothing in my closet, and then the date, then the night…and as I sat there, drinking my Kir Royale, sitting across from my “dream guy” — I thought, “Holy shit, he was so boring, so self-absorbed (not a surprise) with not an ounce of humor in his oh, so, gorgeous buff body”…and I realized in that moment that this was what mediocre looks like, and that I could do so much better than this. And then, not long after, I met and married Ken. Who, by the way, has given new definition to the meaning of marrying well.

* It was interesting to talk to Amanda Berlin at Forbes.com for her piece on How to be happy at a rotten job.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 26,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.

“True Contentment is a Thing as Active as Agriculture.”

“True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.”
— G.K. Chesterton

* If you’re considering starting your own happiness project, check out the Happiness Project Toolbox. It’s fun, it’s addictive, and it pulls together some of the tools that will help.