Eight Strategies to Boost Your Happiness.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day or List Day.
This Wednesday: 8 strategies to help you boost your happiness.

This is an exciting week for me! First, my book became available for pre-order. For the first time, the book feels real.

Second, and even more thrilling, the Happiness Project Toolbox is finally ready for prime time. Yes, it’s ready! I’ve been working on this companion site for so long; it’s hard to believe it’s actually going out in the world at last.

What is the Happiness Project Toolbox? As I was working on my happiness project, I invented several methods that helped me to boost my happiness. My One-Sentence Journal, my Personal Commandments, my Secrets of Adulthood, and of course – most important of all – my Resolutions Chart.

I remember exactly where I was when I got the idea for the Toolbox. I was walking up Lexington Avenue, between 77th Street and 78th Street, when I thought, “Wow, it would be great to have a site where people could chart their resolutions.” About ten steps later, I thought, “But a site like that should also allow people to keep their one-sentence journals, or post their happiness hacks.” Then it hit me. A Happiness Project Toolbox! I was so struck by the idea that I literally stopped in my tracks – I remember that the woman behind me ran into me and shot me a very annoyed look as she passed.

It was easy to have the idea; hard to turn it into reality. As with so many things in life, if I’d known how challenging it would be, I might not have attempted it. But now that it’s ready, I’m so happy I did it.

Novelty and challenge bring happiness; they also bring frustration and anxiety. In this case, despite periods of frustration and anxiety, I also had a tremendous amount of fun – in large part because of the brilliant, creative people at The Chopping Block, the web design firm who built the site. They love the project, too – they wrote, “The Happiness Project Toolbox is easily among the best projects in our twelve-year history. We’re excited about the potential for building of a large community audience.

They had a lot of good ideas to add, and also helped me figure out if some of my ideas were possible. For example, I’ve always been mesmerized by PostSecret, and I’m fascinated whenever people post on my blog with their own Personal Commandments, etc. (for example, I think often of one commenter’s Personal Commandment, “Choose the bigger life“), so one of my favorite Toolbox features is the ability to see other people’s posts — unless they choose to keep entries private, of course. It’s super-addictive to read other people’s Personal Commandments, browse through their Inspiration Boards, learn from their Happiness Hacks…utterly absorbing. (Use the bar across the top to see other people’s entries.)

The Happiness Project Toolbox offers eight free Tools:
Resolutions: record and track your resolutions.
Group Resolutions: challenge several people to a group resolution.
One-Sentence Journal: keep a journal on any subject you like (my online one-sentence journal is “What I’m reading today”).
Personal Commandments: identify principles to guide your life.
Secrets of Adulthood: record what you’ve learned so far.
Happiness Hacks: share your hacks about clutter, exercise, mindfulness, etc.
Lists Tool: keep any list — to-do, favorite things, things-to-do-before-I-die, etc.
Inspiration Board: pull together your favorite books, quotations, images, and websites.

The amazing Super-Fans group got the first look at the Toolbox. Thanks again, Super-Fans, for your enthusiasm and your efforts! The Super-Fans were great about alerting me to problems. When I sent out the link, I thought the site was perfect, but of course, when hundreds of people tested it, they discovered a lot of bugs. Now it should be working very well indeed.

However, there still may be some issues to iron out. I’d really appreciate it if you let me know if you have a problem (or praise). It would be a huge help, though, if instead of emailing me directly, you post to this discussion on the Facebook Page. That way, the web designers can see your comment and address it, without me needing to act as a go-between. It’s helpful to know what browser (and version) you use, and whether you’re on PC or Mac.

I had a great time designing the Happiness Project Toolbox. Check it out! I hope it will help you reflect on your values, keep your resolutions, and pull together material that inspires you. And I hope it’s fun! Please pass the link on to anyone else you think would enjoy it.

* If you’d like to work on your happiness project, but are more drawn to the idea of doing it with other people instead of using the Toolbox, sign up here for a starter kit for launching a group for people doing happiness projects. Groups have started from L.A. to Enid, Oklahoma, to Boston.

Running, Conversation, Commitment, and a Blue Sweater.

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 was very happy to get the chance to meet Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder/CEO of the Acumen Fund, a non-profit venture fund that uses philanthropic capital to build businesses that serve the poor in the developing world. It’s a very interesting strategy for making a difference in the world – “Patient Capital,” which means — rather than giving money to worthy causes or focusing on markets only — strategically investing in building enterprises (e.g., providing water, housing, energy) that make poor people’s lives better. So far, Acumen has invested about $40 million in forty enterprises in South Asia and East Africa, which has meant more than 25,000 jobs and services delivered to tens of millions low-income people.

She recently wrote a terrific book, The Blue Sweater, that tells the story of how she left banking to start work as a “social investor.”

The Second Splendid Truth holds that:
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Jacqueline struck me as a very happy person – and partly, she says, that happiness comes from knowing that she’s doing work that is meant to boost other people’s happiness, by giving them lives of greater health, security, and opportunity.

I was very interested to hear more of her thoughts about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Jacqueline: I love to run in the early mornings, especially with a friend or sibling. I love watching places wake up. I love experiencing nature (even a small part when I’m in the city). I love starting the day with stories and laughter. I love sitting on the floor with women in low-income communities and listening to their stories.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
That life is never perfect, and that it is often in its imperfection that we discover life’s greatest beauty.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
Commit to something bigger than yourself. For commitment will set you free.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Running, of course, or a long conversation with a good friend or family member.

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?
People who live in the future rather than the present often seem to find happiness elusive. I remember a story my mother told me about being a young mother visiting my father who was on a furlough from Viet Nam in Hawaii. She met four older women who were sitting around a table by the pool, sipping cocktails. The women had each made big plans with their husbands to go on Hawaiian vacations “when they retired.” All of the husbands had died before the vacations were taken and so the four women decided to go together anyway, though all regretted having put their dreams off to a day that never happened.

At Acumen, I’m often approached by young people who want to express dissatisfaction in their careers and dream of changing the world. At the same time, they feel they can’t do it until they’ve “repaid their debt, earned enough money to have real freedom, gained all the skills they need.” People, of course, can’t make change until they are ready to do so. But the happiest people on earth are following their true passions, and that always entails taking risks, being uncomfortable and making sacrifices. And those risks and sacrifices only become more difficult as we get older….

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I work on being all I can be and surrounding myself with people who also feel that way, who want to live out loud and give back somehow to the world; and that makes me happy.

*
How fabulous! I just discovered Future Me, a site that allows you to send an email to yourself in the future. One of my favorite ways of making decisions is to think about what, in five years, I’ll have wished that I’d done. One fascinating feature of the site is the ability to eavesdrop on what other people have emailed to themselves — and that reminds me of the fabulous site…Wait! Can’t say until tomorrow. Stay tuned.

*
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.

Is My Book Just a Figment of My Imagination?

For a long time, my book felt very…imaginary. Yes, I had a draft in my laptop. Yes, I sent long documents to my editor. But was anything really going to be published as a book? I’ve felt this way with all my books — it always seems like a miracle when a real, actual book is in my hands.

Well, now I’m experiencing the next-best thing to grabbing hold of my physical book. The Happiness Project exists on Amazon! There’s a link, you can pre-order it now (and please do). I’m taking a minute to Embrace a milestone moment.

Now, this link doesn’t boast anything fancy. You can’t see the cover, because I don’t have cover art yet. You can’t see any fun facts – like “statistically improbable phrases” or “number of words” or “fog index” – because the book doesn’t actually exist in the system anywhere. But that link, primitive as it is, is there. The book feels real.

Also, if you’ve been awake nights wondering what my subtitle should be – I know I’ve laid awake nights, thinking about the subtitle – now all is revealed.

Blatant self-promotion alert: If you’re thinking about buying my book, please consider pre-ordering it. A book gets a big boost from pre-orders, because that early support shows that people really are enthusiastic. It’s early, I know, because the book won’t actually be available for several months. But I’ve ordered my copy! And that made me very happy.

* In the news this weekend, I saw that Steve Jobs received a liver transplant — and someone told me that Natasha Richardson’s family donated her organs. Have you signed up to be an organ donor? Or told your family that you’d like to be a donor, if that situation arose? If you support the idea of donation, live your values. Putting your values in action is always a happiness booster.

* 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.

Where Do You Turn in a Time of Indecision and Desolation?

“In times of storm and tempest, of indecision and desolation, a book already known and loved makes better reading than something new and untried…nothing is so warming and companionable.” –Elizabeth Goudge

It’s one of my Secrets of Adulthood: the best reading is re-reading.

* Over on Gimundo, I saw a little piece about miracle fruit — I’d read before about this berry, which makes sour things taste sweet. I’m so curious to try it; something to put on my life to-do list.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 23,000 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.

Do You Shield Your Joyous Ones?

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.

For my children’s literature reading group, I just re-read The Diary of Anne Frank. Goodness. I was fourteen years old the last time I read it, and it’s very different reading it as an adult. If you haven’t read it recently, or ever, you really should read it.

The Diary of Anne Frank got me thinking about many things, most of them too huge to fit into a blog post.

But I was also very struck by one particular point, one small happiness-related aspect of their experience: how the eight people in hiding were so affected by each other’s moods. This isn’t surprising, but the diary powerfully captures this emotional contagion phenomenon.

Despite some difficulties, Anne mostly comes across as a cheery, energetic person with a ready sense of humor, and it seems that the others drew on that cheerful energy, even while they often criticized and nagged her. I was reminded of a resolution I’ve written about before, the resolution to “Shield my joyous ones.”

A prayer attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo includes the line, Shield your joyous ones:
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ;
rest your weary ones; bless your dying ones;
soothe your suffering ones; pity your afflicted ones;
shield your joyous ones.
And all for your love’s sake.

At first, it struck me as odd that among prayers for the “dying” and “suffering” is a prayer for the “joyous.” Why worry about the joyous ones?

Once I started to reflect about my “joyous ones,” I began to appreciate the people I know who are joyous. As part of my happiness project, I try to keep resolutions like Give positive reviews, Leave things unsaid, Let it go, and Sing in the morning – and trying to keep those resolutions has made me understand much better how much effort it takes to be consistently good-tempered and positive.

For example, I remember that one day when we were visiting Kansas City, my father came home from work and my mother told him, “We’re having pizza for dinner.” As she knew he would, my father answered, “Wonderful! Wonderful! Do you want me to go pick it up?”

We all knew that my father would have answered that way even if he didn’t want pizza for dinner, and even if the last thing he felt like doing was heading back out the door — and that kind of consistent enthusiasm contributes a lot to everyone’s happiness.

And if that kind of behavior makes a difference under the conditions of ordinary life, and is challenging to maintain in ordinary life, it’s hard to imagine both how difficult it would be, and how elevating it would be, to behave that way in the extreme fear and privation of the Secret Annex.

We non-joyous types suck energy and cheer from the joyous ones. We rely on them to buoy us with their good spirit and to cushion our agitation and anxiety.

At the same time, because of a dark element in human nature, we’re sometimes provoked to try to shake the joyous ones out of their fog of illusion. Instead of shielding their joy, we blast it. For example, it’s easy to make fun of joyous ones’ enthusiasms. Why is this? I have no idea. But that impulse is there.

In his outstanding biography, Samuel Johnson, W. Jackson Bate describes how upset the temperamental Samuel Johnson became when his joyous, enthusiastic supporter, Hester Thrale, turned her attention away from him.

It is a common mistake on the part of cooler, self-contained natures to assume that those who have a giving and ebullient character are what they are only because they cannot help it—that they are fed from a spring that will never stop rather than a reservoir that can be exhausted. Hence the feeling of stark disbelief or unpleasant shock on the part of others when the reservoir of effort and energy—for it turns out to be a reservoir—is almost gone….the principal reward for those who give lavishly rather than meagerly is the expectation that they remain true to form and continue to give.

We depend on the joyous ones, and we need to remember that their joy isn’t inexhaustible or unconquerable. Now I’m making a real effort to use my own good cheer to support and protect the enthusiasts I know.

Now, obviously, this isn’t the most important lesson from The Diary of Anne Frank. But it’s one lesson.

Shield your joyous ones.

Do you know joyous ones – or are you one? Do you find that people often feed off that energy, yet also try to squash it?

* One of my most hilarious friends has started a blog, which is now one of my favorites: RealDelia, about “finding yourself in adulthood.”

* To join the discussion about happiness on Facebook, join the Facebook Page.