Quiz: Are You Drifting?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Are you drifting?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the problem of “drift” – the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don’t take responsibility.

The responses I got – comments on my blog, in my email, and on the Facebook Page – showed me that a lot of people have also suffered from drift.

One of the problems of drift is that we try to deny we’re drifting. Take this quiz: how many of these statements apply to you, in your current situation? The more checks you make, the greater your risk for being adrift.

__ I often have the peculiar feeling that I’m living someone else’s life.
__ I often think, “This situation can’t go on,” but then it does go on.
__ I spend a lot of time daydreaming about a completely different life as an escape from what I’m doing now.
__ I find myself getting very angry if someone challenges the values that I think I’m working toward. (E.g., working like crazy as a fifth-year associate at a law firm, and furious if someone argues that money and security aren’t important.)
__ I complain about my situation, but I don’t spend much time trying to figure out ways to make it better. In fact…
__ I fantasize that some catastrophe or upheaval will blow up my situation. I’ll break my leg or get transferred to another city.
__ I find myself having disproportionate reactions. (For example, I have a friend who wasn’t admitting to herself that she wanted to be an actor, and she decided to give it a shot after she started crying when someone started talking about acting.)
__ I feel like other people or processes are moving events forward, and I’m just passively carried along.
__ I find myself doing or getting something because the people around me are doing it or want it.
__ There is something in my life about which I used to be passionate, but now I never allow myself to indulge in it. In fact, it makes me uncomfortable even thinking about it.
__ I’ve justified certain actions on my part by assuring myself, “I might as well,” “It can’t hurt,” “This might be useful,” “This will keep my options open,” “I can always decide later,” “I can always change my mind,” “Nothing is forever,” “How bad can it be?”

According to the First Splendid Truth, to be happier, you need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

Of these four elements, “feeling right” is the hardest to explain. “Feeling right” is feeling like you’re leading the life you’re meant to live; that you’re living up to your expectations for yourself; that you feel comfortable with the life you’ve chosen.

Feeling right might mean being in the right career. One reason I left law was that I was haunted by the feeling that I was…on a tangent, off-center. I can’t describe it any other way. There I was, clerking for Justice O’Connor, and I was haunted by a feeling that it was all a digression. From what, to what? That’s what I had to figure out.

Some people don’t “feel right” because they don’t have the family situation they want, or the financial situation they expected. Or they’re not spending their time on something that’s important to them. My Manhattan-raised college roommate didn’t “feel right” about living in the Midwest; she tried and tried, but her life there just didn’t feel right.

I think “feeling right” is especially susceptible to outside pressures. We drift into certain decisions because other people approve of them. Your sense of what is right for you becomes clouded by what other people think is right. You drift into medical school because your parents will be pleased. You drift into marriage because all your friends are getting married. You drift into a job because someone offers you that job. You want the respect of the people around you, or you want to avoid a fight or a bout of insecurity, so you take the path of least resistance. That’s drift.

The word “drift” has overtones of laziness or ease. Not true! Drift is often disguised by a huge amount of effort and perseverance. Just because you’re working hard is no guarantee that you’re not drifting. For me, law school was drift, and it was hard every step of the way, from the LSAT to the New York Bar exam. In the end, I’m happy I did go to law school — and that’s another tricky thing about drift. Sometimes drift does make you happy. But don’t count on it.

One of my drift-related Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” And here’s a new one: “Approval from the people we admire is sweet, but it’s not enough to be the foundation of a happy life.”

It comes back, as always, to a fundamental truth about happiness, and my First Commandment: Be Gretchen. (Feel free to substitute your own name.) In order to be happy, I have to know myself and build my life around my own nature.

Have you found yourself drifting? How did you start, how did you end it — or not?

* Another happiness-project group is starting up! This one is in the San Francisco Bay area. If you’re interested, go to the Facebook Group for more information – and please forward the link to anyone in San Francisco who might want to join.

* 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.

“Loud, Angry Music; Conferences; and a New Baby.”

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging for RealSimple.com is all the great people I’ve met – both the folks who work at RealSimple.com and the other bloggers who write for Simply Stated.

At a lunch at Real Simple, I was very excited to get to meet Tamar Weinberg, an expert in social media and viral marketing who is a ubiquitous on-line figure. As always, when I meet someone whom I know from blogland, it was a bit of a shock to see her in person. There she was, a real live human being! And she looked so much like her photo! Plus she was pregnant, which was such a real-life thing to do.

Tamar has a book that is just hitting the shelves, The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web. It’s an outstanding resource for anyone who wants to make sense of the potential of the “social web” – blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Digg, Flickr, Facebook, etc. These worlds are changing so fast; it’s hard to keep up, even when you’re very engaged.

I was interested to see what Tamar had to say about happiness: how would an intense workaholic handle having a new baby, and not only that, having that baby just two months before her first book is coming out? A challenging situation.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Tamar: I can’t say there’s anything specific that makes me happier. I just gave birth to a baby boy 8 weeks ago — he’s my first — and I’m totally enjoying being with him and bonding with him. But besides just being with my baby, I love the work I do in the social media marketing and community management realm. I’ve had these late night revelations that keep me up all night writing my thoughts down on paper and getting totally excited to kick-start my day.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Even if something really gets you down, you can pull through it and be stronger than ever.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I find myself believing that I could do more than what’s allowable and physically doable in a 24-hour period. I wish that days were fifty hours long.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful? Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
Not in particular. But I’m reading blogs every day and always find inspiration in others’ words.

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).

Usually, loud angry music works for me (nope, happy music won’t do!). I haven’t felt blue since my son was born but I imagine that he’ll be able to pull me out of it.

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 family adds to happiness and detracts from happiness. 😉 (I mean that in the utmost serious but jovial way!)

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?
Being around people I care about always makes me happy. I also don’t mind a change of scenery. In the business front, it’s always been great to attend conferences where I can network with new people and spend time with old colleagues.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I really should. As with everything, there’s room for improvement. And having a new 24/7 role isn’t entirely stress-free!

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Honestly, I approached parenthood with incredible fear and anxiety. I am now so happy to be a mother.

* A new happiness-project group is launching in the Chicago area! If you live around there and are interested in joining, click here for more information. (I love the photo chosen to illustrate the intro page.)

* If you want to work on your happiness project by yourself (instead of, or in addition to, being part of a group), check out the Happiness Project Toolbox. Tons of fun, if I say so myself.

Bob Dylan Helps Me Recognize A Paradox of Happiness.

As I’ve thought about happiness, I’ve been struck by the many paradoxes of happiness. I want to Be Gretchen and accept myself, and I also want to perfect my nature. I want to think about myself, so I can forget myself. I want to lighten up, but also take myself more seriously.

I’ve discovered another paradox of happiness, and it’s one of the most important: I want to create my own independent happiness, apart from other people, so I can connect with other people.

This paradox started to become clear to me as I reflected on a haunting passage from Bob Dylan’s strange, brilliant memoir, Chronicles: Volume One. He wrote: “I looked at the menu, then I looked at my wife. The one thing about her that I always loved was that she was never one of those people who thinks that someone else is the answer to their happiness. Me or anybody else. She’s always had her own built-in happiness.”

This is what I’m striving for – to have my own “built-in happiness.” An emotional self-sufficiency. Not to depend on other people to boost me up, or to let them drag me down.

However, it’s true that ancient philosophers and modern scientists agree that a key – perhaps the key – to happiness is strong relationships. Other people matter to our happiness. If you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.” Having strong relationships lengthens life (even more than quitting smoking!) and cuts the risk of depression. Even a brief interaction with another person tends to boost your mood – this is true for introverts as well as extroverts.

And when we’re with other people, we affect each other’s happiness. Emotional contagion describes the fact that we “catch” good moods and bad moods from each other (unfortunately, bad moods are more contagious than good moods). Married people are very affected by each other’s happiness; a thirty percent increase in one spouse’s happiness boosts the other spouse’s happiness, while a drop in one spouse’s happiness drags down the other.

But more and more, I’ve been trying to resist emotional contagion, and also the impulse to allow someone or something – most often, my husband, my children, or my work – to have a big impact on my happiness. I try to carry my own atmosphere of happiness with me. As Goethe said, “I am the decisive element…It is my daily mood that makes the weather.”

This paradox leads me back, yet again, to the Second Splendid Truth:

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.

By working to maintain my own “built-in happiness,” I’ll be better able to help the people around me to be happy. My happiness will lift them up. Plus I won’t be a happiness vampire who sucks happy energy from other people or who craves a life-blood of praise, affirmation, or reassurance to support my happiness. (Ah, my struggle to rise above gold stars continues.)

But to have my own “built-in happiness” is a challenge. Have you found any good ways to keep yourself emotionally self-sufficient, without isolating yourself?

* This is FABULOUS: a reporter for the TucsonCitizen.com is launching a Tucscon happiness-project group on that website. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

* Speaking of happiness-project groups, if you’d like to start a group, sign up here to get your starter-kit.

“I Am Sorry I Went to Paris. Or Am I Sorry?”

“I am not much given to playing ‘If I had’ of ‘If I hadn’t,’ much preferring to stay with ‘It would have happened anyway.’ But that last is usually a lie, and I am not one to kid myself. I am sorry I went to Paris, because when I returned I was full of myself and starved for more of me. Or am I sorry? I do not know. I am mixed up. But I do know that there have been many years when I wished I could have walked into that little group at the airport, never to emerge again. I see them – the husband who looked like Montgomery Clift in his Harrods’ raincoat, the nurse in her white uniform, the little girl dancing in her hair ribbons, and the baby bulwarked in her diapers – and they haunt me, still there, still waiting at Kennedy.”
— Mary Cantwell, Manhattan, When I Was Young

* 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.

Happiness Lesson from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

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.

This Friday’s resolution: Cultivate friends of different ages.

I’ve read so much happiness research that now I often remember some fact or study without being able to figure out where I read it.

I’m pretty sure that I read about a study that showed that people who have friends of different ages tend to be happier than people who have friends of the same age, but I can’t find the cite. So I will just say from the authority of my own experience: it boosts happiness to have friends of different ages.

Take Tuesday night, midnight. I went to the very first U.S. showing of the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I’m a huge raving Harry Potter fan, but I also have two little kids, and I don’t often spend an evening in a way that keeps me out until 4:00 a.m. Most of my friends are about my age, in fairly similar circumstances in how they conduct their lives, and they keep the same schedule.

But I have some younger, child-free, zestful friends, who think that going to a midnight show is fun, that getting in line at the movie theater at 6:30 p.m. is fun, that eating a picnic dinner in the theater lobby while you’re waiting for a midnight movie is fun. And it is fun!

Making time for fun makes people happier. Adrian Gostick’s very interesting book, The Levity Effect, reviews research that shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life; people who have fun are twenty times more likely to feel happy.

Also, people who have novel experiences are happier than those who stay in a routine. If my friends hadn’t planned the outing to the midnight showing, I never would have gone on my own. Having younger friends, who have fun in different ways from me, gave me a great night.

Same thing with older friends. People of different ages have different experiences, different schedules, different bases of knowledge, and different tastes. By having friends of different ages, you broaden the range of your life.

Of course, you can’t just announce, “Now I’m going to make friends of different ages” and make some. Friendship doesn’t work like that. (Here are some tips for making friends.) But it’s something to think about, as you make time for friendship in your day; remember not to let your circle gradually narrow down until you only see people who are in step with you – even though it’s usually most convenient to spend time with those people, because at the very least, you share the same bedtime.

Have you found that having friends of different ages – or different in other ways, as well, not just in age – has boosted your happiness?

* Speaking of fun, for little fun, here’s a video of — well, of someone doing hand tricks. It’s more fun than it sounds.

* If you’re interested in doing your own happiness project, check out the Happiness Project Toolbox.