Schedule Time for Play.

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.

One of my favorite resolutions – but also kept with great difficulty – is to Schedule time for play. I often get teased about this resolution, because people think it sounds incongruous, and even silly, to schedule time for play. Play should be spontaneous, right? Aren’t we naturally alert for opportunities to have fun? Why put it on the schedule?

Well, that’s not how it works for me. Maybe it sounds odd to pencil “play” into my calendar like a dentist’s appointment, but what I’ve learned, from long experience, is that if I don’t schedule time for play, I don’t do it. Instead, I focus on working or crossing tasks off my to-do list, or I do the activity that’s most convenient, instead of what would be the most fun thing to do.

Writer Jean Stafford scoffed, “Happy people don’t need to have fun,” but in fact, studies show that the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you happy; you must strive to find sources of feeling good. Research 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.

One of my favorite forms of play is to read and to talk about books. Many of my resolutions are aimed at helping me to read more and read better (here are tips for reading more). As one way to schedule time for that play, I belong to three book groups. Having those regular meetings assures that I get that playtime in my calendar.

I’ve also scheduled time to play by undertaking a gigantic project with a friend – working title was the Black Lake Island project, now Four to Llewelyn’s Edge – in which we made a book of photos of our elaborately costumed children, to tell a story. This project is huge and wonderful, and is just about finished (I’ll post more about it soon).

Another reason to schedule time for play is that once you’ve scheduled it, you can look forward to it. Anticipation is one of the four stages of enjoying a happy event (anticipation, reveling, expression, and reflection), and one way to get more happiness bang for the buck is eagerly to anticipate something fun. I get a little jolt of happiness whenever I see book-group meeting on my calendar.

However, just as one of my Secrets of Adulthood is “Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happy,” having fun doesn’t always sound like fun, when I’m considering it. Sometimes I don’t look forward to things that will be fun.

For example, even though I almost never feel like going to the movies, and depend on my husband to push us to go, I end up having fun. If he didn’t put it on the schedule, I’d never do it, and I’d miss out.

Even though I don’t always feel like going to the trouble to put up holiday decorations, I end up having fun. This is a task that must be put on the schedule, or else the holiday can pass without decorations. A few years ago, I shudder to remember, we didn’t get a pumpkin for Halloween. We had other Halloween decorations, but we didn’t carve a jack-o-lantern. My daughters didn’t seem particularly upset, but that counts as Mommy malpractice in my book. Pumpkin-carving needed to go on the schedule!

If you don’t put play on the schedule, weeks, months, and even years can pass without doing something you’d love to do. Planning a fly-fishing weekend. Taking a short train trip to visit that new museum you’re dying to see. Using the intriguing kitchen gadget you picked up. By scheduling time for play, you make room in your life for fun.

* It’s Friday! If you want a little break, check out this video of a breakdancer in real time and slow motion.

* Did I happen to mention that The Happiness Project is a #1 New York Times bestseller? Oh right, I did. Yay! If you’re curious about the book, you can…
Order your copy!
Read sample chapters!
Watch the one-minute book trailer!
Listen to a few chapters of the audiobook
If you’re inspired to start your own happiness project, join the 2010 Happiness Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year.

Happiness Is…A Great Book Event in Toronto.

I had such a great time in Toronto – I’d never been to Toronto, or even Canada, before this trip. I met a lot of interesting people during the day, and last night the famous Heather Reisman of Indigo Books and I had a conversation at one of the wonderful Indigo bookstores.

Interesting note about Toronto: I saw a street sign that said, “Pedestrians obey your signals.” You don’t see this in New York City! We dart out the minute we see a break in traffic.

* 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 gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail [.com] — and don’t forget the “1”. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

“Marriage is About…Tea, Doctor’s Appointments, Trivia, Quirks.”

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, 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’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him or her, than by any other kind of argument.

The relationships among love, marriage, and expectations are some of the most complex and important issues within the subject of happiness, so I was very interested to read Lori Gottlieb’s book, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough — though she is quick to emphasize that the book is about finding true love by looking for the RIGHT Mr. Right, by focusing on what’s important in love rather than on things that don’t really matter.

For the book jacket, I wrote:
“Marry Him shows women how to find true happiness when seeking love–by giving them a new way to look at the world. Gottlieb manages to be hilarious yet thought-provoking, light-hearted yet profound on the questions of: Why do we fall in love? What qualities really matter in a marriage? For what reasons do we make the decisions that affect our whole lives? Like provocative relationship classics such as The Rules and He’s Just Not That Into You, Marry Him will set people talking for years.”

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about romantic happiness that you didn’t know when you were younger?
Lori: Like most young people, when I was dating, I had no idea what was really going to make for a happy long-term relationship, much less marriage. Even in my late twenties and early thirties, I was still so misguided by our cultural ideals of what “true love” was supposed to look like. It wasn’t until I found myself 40 and unhappily single, that I started to look at my friends’ happy marriages to men who were outstanding husbands and fathers, but who might not knock your socks off if you met them out in the dating world. And suddenly, I realized that I could have had that kind of happy marriage, had I not repeatedly overlooked potential mates for all kinds of silly reasons.

In fact, now when I look at my friends’ marriages, with their routine day-to-dayness, they actually seem far more romantic than any dating relationship might be. Dating seems romantic, but for the most part it’s an extended audition. Marriage seems boring, but for the most part it’s a state of comfort and acceptance. Dating is about grand romantic gestures that mean little over the long term. Marriage is about small acts of kindness that bond you over a lifetime. It’s quietly romantic. He makes her tea. She goes to the doctor’s appointment with him. They listen to each other’s daily trivia. They put up with each other’s quirks. They’re there for each other.

That’s happiness. I didn’t realize that happiness was so simple. Like many single women today, I confused romance with love, and that left me with a lot of unrealistic expectations.

In researching your book, is there anything you’ve found women do that repeatedly that gets in the way of their happiness?
Absolutely! If you look at surveys, most single women very much want to get married and have a family eventually, yet they find themselves going from relationship to relationship, or from blind date to blind date, or surfing Match.com, and they’re miserable riding this exhausting rollercoaster. But they can’t get off it. They complain that there are “no good men” out there, when really, there are plenty of good men out there, but they can’t see them because they have a fixed idea in their head of The One. And anyone who isn’t their “type” is immediately eliminated.

It might not even be conscious. Very few people think they have “a list” of qualities they want in a guy, but when a friend told me to write down what I was looking for, it took all of three minutes to list nearly 50 things characteristics I was seeking –as specific as hobbies and hair color! So even if I’d never written a list, I’d clearly kept a mental file. No wonder it was so hard to find my dream guy – I’d actually dreamed him up.

The problem with a list, I realized, is that it’s hard to translate the bullet points into a real, live human being. The fact is, you can’t make a list that doesn’t either oversimplify or take things out of context. For instance, even if you make a list of qualities you want, they aren’t all weighted equally (is height as important as honesty?), and with many qualities you want, it’s not like people have them or they don’t. Often, they have some degree of that quality—like sense of humor or financial stability—which may not be exactly what you had in mind when you wrote it down.

Lists are also confusing because they’re about qualities a man has independently – they don’t account for the qualities he’ll have inside a relationship. He may be the right age, have the right sense of humor, and have the right job, but what is he going to be like when he’s with you? How are you going to feel when you’re with him? Will you get along well? None of this can be quantified on paper.

So I think this fixed image of “our type” gets in our way. It’s not about the preconceived image of Mr. Right. It’s about recognizing the right guy for you when you actually meet him.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
I interviewed a psychologist for MARRY HIM named Barry Schwartz. He’s a professor at Swarthmore and he also wrote a terrific book called THE PARADOX OF CHOICE. We had a long conversation about how having so many choices actually makes people depressed. You’d think it would be liberating — who doesn’t want to have options? — but actually, having so many makes us dizzy with indecision. And when we do make a choice, we second-guess ourselves because we compare it to all the other options that we didn’t choose. The same applies to having so many choices in a potential spouse.

So Schwartz said to me, about the way we choose spouses these days, “You have to remember that good enough is good enough.” And that mantra has helped me and many women I know enjoy the men we meet much more, and also make much better choices out in the dating world.

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?
Well, that’s what the whole book is about – all the things we’re doing or not doing that get in the way of our happiness. I spoke to dozens of experts ranging from sociologists to historians to behavioral economists, and I learned a lot that surprised me. Turns out the people who are happiest in life are happy with “good enough” and don’t compare their significant others to other men they meet out in the world. They also don’t have a sense of entitlement or an unrealistic view of their own appeal. It’s part of the American mindset to want “the best.” We all want a “10” but we have to remember that nobody’s a “10” – ourselves included. It helps to remember that somebody has to put up with all of our own quirks and flaws and less-than-appealing qualities and instead of judging someone else’s flaws, happy people are grateful that they’ve found a person who has decided to spend his life with them, despite all the compromises he’s going to have to make, too!

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Definitely! Without giving away the book’s ending, I’ll just say that there’s reason there’s a short, bald guy wearing a bow-tie on the book’s cover. In fact, many happily married people I spoke to said that they wouldn’t have picked their spouses from an online dating profile because they never expected to end up with the kind of person they fell in love with.

One person I interviewed is Susan Page. She’s become a well-known relationship expert after having been a campus minister at Columbia University and Director of Women’s Programs at the University of California, Berkeley, where she helped found the nation’s first university-based human sexuality program.

She told me that she’d always envisioned herself marrying a highly educated professional, but she ended up marrying a potter. And if was through her husband’s work as a potter that Page came up with an analogy she finds relevant to relationships.

“In America,” she said, “when a potter makes a pot, they put a glaze on it and put it in the kiln and know exactly what it’s supposed to look like when it comes out. When the Japanese make a pot, they put it in a wood- fire kiln that could be any temperature, and when they take the pot out, it’s not always exactly like they thought it was supposed to look like. And they say, ‘Oh, wow, this is what the fire did to the pot and it’s gorgeous!’ They believe that there’s no beauty in perfection.

“So instead of knowing what the person across from you is supposed to be like, ask yourself the pot question, ‘What is it, and is it beautiful?’ rather than thinking, ‘It’s not this and it should look like this.’ The question you have to ask is, ‘Do I like it?’ instead of ‘How does it compare to what I thought I wanted?’ People can surprise you.”

In my own dating life, I’ve certainly found that people can surprise you that way.

* When I was on my book tour, some folks told me about a great site, ThankfulFor — a way to keep a personal, and collective, gratitude journal. I love when technology can help us be more mindful of transcendent goals.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 36,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail.com (don’t forget the “1”). Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.

Nineteen Tips for Cheering Yourself Up — from 200 Years Ago.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 19 tips for cheering yourself up — from two hundred years ago.

I’ve posted this list before, but I love it, so am supplying it again. I read it in a biography of the English writer Sydney Smith, in Hesketh Pearson’s The Smith of Smiths. In 1820, Smith wrote a letter to an unhappy friend, Lady Morpeth, in which he offered her tips for cheering up.

I have my own variety of tips lists for cheering up, and I was interested to hear what someone from two centuries ago would recommend. Most of Smith’s suggestions are as sound now as they were almost 200 years ago — “attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you” for example, is thoroughly modern. A few, though, are amusingly odd. It might be tougher today to work “good blazing fires” into everyday life.

My favorites are #1, 3, 6, 13, 15, 16, and 17.

“1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.”

What rings true for you?

* I get the free monthly email newsletter from Ben Dean’s Coaching Toward Happiness, and from it, have gotten some great happiness-related information and reading recommendations.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth 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 (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 37,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

In a Happiness-Project Group Near Westchester? NY Times Reporter Is Interested…

Are you in a happiness-project group in the New York City/Westchester area?

A New York Times reporter is investigating for a possible article and would be interested in getting in touch with you, if so. If you’d be willing to speak about your experience, please email me at grubin@gretchenrubin.com, and I’ll pass along your email address. I really appreciate it.

I’m in a happiness-project group myself — one started by someone else! I love it!

* If you’re intrigued by the idea of people meeting to talk about their happiness projects, you can sign up here or email me at grubin@gretchenrubin.com to get a copy of the starter kit.