Want to a Quick, Easy Way to Preserve Happy Memories?

Many of my happiness-project activities are aimed at my resolution to Be a treasure house of happy memories. Studies show that thinking back on happy times elevates mood, and observing and preserving memories is one of the most satisfying ways of bringing order to life.

My mother started a memory-keeping tradition a few years ago that has proved to be a lot of fun.

She bought two matching lined journals, one for each granddaughter. At the end of every visit to Kansas City, my older daughter writes a paragraph about the highlights of our visit, and I write in my younger daughter’s book.

We’ve only been doing it since 2007, but already, we all enjoy looking back at the entries from past visits. It’s astounding how quickly even intense memories fade, and how effectively a brief note reminds us of highlights from the past – the time my daughter fell into the duck pond, the time my father set off the fire alarm when making pancakes, the time when my sister and her husband got locked in the bedroom.

(The fact that these mishaps are highlights proves the Secret of Adulthood that my mother taught me: “The times when things go wrong often make the best memories.” Good to keep in mind.)

It’s also interesting to see my older daughter’s handwriting change, and to see how my younger daughter has gone from adding her scribbles to my note to being able to write her name.

Now, is this tradition a bit of a pain? Yes, it is. We procrastinate every visit, and usually end up writing in the notebooks in the last ten minutes before we leave for the airport. But now we all know that we’ll be glad to have the record, later. My mother wisely keeps the bar low — all she asks for is four or five sentences. The perfect can be the enemy of the good, and if my mother pressed us for something more elaborate, or more neatly done, we might resist more energetically.

The one-sentence journal, the diary of days, and this trip journal are all quick, untaxing ways to keep memories vivid. I wouldn’t be able to keep a long, detailed journal, but I can keep up with these other methods.

Have you found any good strategies to help keep happy memories vivid?

* Danielle LaPorte of the excellent White Hot Truth (“because self-realization rocks”) was nice enough to do an interview with me. I wasn’t surprised when her questions were surprising and thought-provoking.

* If the idea of keeping a one-sentence journal appeals to you, remember, that’s one of the Tools in the Happiness Project Toolbox.

“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.

Make Your Bed.

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’ve written about the resolution to Make your bed before, and I’m bringing it up again. Why? To my astonishment, when I’ve asked people what happiness-project resolution has made a big difference in their happiness, many people cite the modest “Make your bed.”

Happiness is a lofty aim, and making your bed is such a prosaic activity. Why does it boost happiness so effectively?

From my own experience, and what people have told me, I think there are two reasons.

First, making your bed is a step that’s quick and easy, yet makes a big difference. Everything looks neater. It’s easier to find your shoes. Your bedroom is a more peaceful environment. For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

Second, sticking to any resolution – no matter what it is – brings satisfaction. You’ve decided to make some change, and you’ve stuck to it. Because making my bed is one of the first things I do in the morning, I start the day feeling efficient, productive, and disciplined.

(Now, some people say that, to the contrary, they revel in not making their beds. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is The opposite of a great truth is also true, and for some people, a useful resolution might be “Don’t make your bed.” One person wrote to me, “My mother was so rigid about keeping the house tidy when I was a child that now I get a huge satisfaction from not making my bed, not hanging up my coat, etc. It makes me feel free.” Some people thrive on a little chaos. Everyone’s happiness project is different.)

True, making your bed is a small gesture – but that’s one reason that it’s a good resolution. Sometimes the steps toward happiness seem insurmountable. Getting a job in a brutal work market, dealing with a troubled child, living with chronic pain – there are no easy solutions to these happiness challenges.

Especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed, picking one little task to improve your situation, and doing it regularly, can help you regain a sense of self-mastery. Making your bed is a good place to start, and tackling one easy daily step is a good way to energize yourself for tougher situations.

What about you? Does making your bed – or not making your bed – contribute in a small way to your happiness? Or have you found other manageable resolutions that have brought more happiness than you would’ve expected?

* I was mesmerized by this little video I saw on Gimundo — collaborative time-lapse painting.

* 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.

Eight Tips for Items to Carry When Traveling with Kids.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for what to carry when you travel with kids.

In general, I aim to travel light, but I’ve learned over the years that this generally isn’t a good strategy as a parent. If anything teaches you the happiness value of preparation, it’s parenthood. The right supplies can mean the difference between misery and good cheer.

If you’re traveling with a baby, of course you need a whole different set of supplies. My children are out of that stage now, and now I never go on a trip without at least most of these items:

1. A bag of almonds. These are for me as much as for my children.

2. A bottle of water. (Usually I’m violently opposed to bottled water, but I now concede that it’s good to have a bottle when you travel.)

3. Novelty candy. By this, I mean a candy that’s odd (e.g., Pop Rocks, candy spray) or takes a long time to eat (candy necklace) or fun in some way (Pez). I save this to whip out if my kids get crabby. Chocolate or anything that can melt is a risky choice.

4. Coloring book and markers, but REMEMBER to make sure that the markers aren’t all dried out. Just learned this the hard way. (Spend out! Don’t put a dud marker back in the box. A metaphor for life.)

5. Books.

6. Wipes. Not just for babies anymore.

7. Camera. Remember to charge it. Learned that the hard way, too.

8. We finally caved and bought a portable DVD player. This is a great invention. I actually finished Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth on the plane while my daughters were transfixed by My Neighbor Totoro.

Irrelevant note to entrepreneurs out there: I think the scratch-n-sniff market has been sorely overlooked. Growing up, my sister had a collection of scratch-n-sniff stickers, and we still have fun going through her big pile. The Sweet Smell of Christmas is one of our favorite picture books. Happiness is a great scratch-n-sniff!

* 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.

Identify the Problem: I Need a Desk.

One of the biggest surprises of my happiness project has been the extraordinary effectiveness of my Eighth Commandment: Identify the problem.

As strange as it sounds, I’ve learned that often I’ll suffer an unhappy situation without asking myself what the true problem is, or taking any real steps to try to solve it. Instead, I suffer a vague sense of discomfort, without being prompted into action.

My solution to this? To press myself to identify the problem. It’s a lot easier to solve a problem once I know what it is.

For example, I love coming home to Kansas City. We have a million things to do while we’re here, always the same list: Worlds of Fun, Winstead’s, Arthur Bryant’s, Rainy Day Books, Kaleidoscope, Topsy’s, etc. But often I need to do a little work, too (like post to my blog). My work as a writer has changed. I used to write on my laptop, on my own schedule, with no one to answer to for two or three years at a stretch. Now I feel a more constant need to report for duty. I love my new tasks (blog, Twitter, Facebook, monthly newsletter, etc.), but they demand a different rhythm of work.

For the past few years, when in Kansas City, I found myself feeling anxious and uncomfortable about this need to work.

For this visit, I took the crucial step. While on the plane, I asked myself, “What’s the problem?” It turns out that the problem isn’t that I can’t manage to take a break from family togetherness or that it ruins my fun to do a little work amid a vacation (in fact, I’ve found, a little work can make vacation more fun).

When I thought about it, I realized the problem was that in my parents’ place, there’s no desk. They have a lot of beautiful furniture, but nothing desk-like. They keep their own laptop on a shelf in the kitchen, and when they need to it, they put it on the kitchen table. Right in the middle of the action. The constant distractions and interruptions kept me on edge. Even when no one was wandering through the kitchen, it felt as though someone would pop in at any minute. It’s hard for me to concentrate in these circumstances.

Having identified the problem, I took a second crucial step. About an hour after the girls and I arrived in Kansas City, I mentioned to my mother, “You know what would make the guest room a lot more user-friendly? A desk.” I didn’t want to seem critical or fault-finding, but it was true that a desk would make a big difference.

My mother said, “Well, I haven’t seen a desk that would be right for that room, but I need a card table anyway, so I’ll go ahead and get it so you can use it.” Within six hours of my comment, my mother had picked up a card table at Target (the platonic ideal of a card table, exactly how you picture it and for $29), and now I’m typing on it, tucked away in a quiet corner.

Identify the problem! Why is this so hard? It’s a bit counter-intuitive that thinking about a source of unhappiness can actually be a happiness booster. It seems more likely that I’d do better to put up with a vague sense of uneasiness rather than shine a spotlight on it. And probably in some situations, that is better. But so often, I’ve found, “Identifying the problem” shows a possible way to solve it.

Now if I could only get my wireless mouse to connect…

* Did I mention that my book is available for pre-order? Yes, I’m pretty sure I did. But here I go again! Order early and often.