Six Tips For Boosting Your Sense of Self-Respect.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for boosting your sense of self-respect.

Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you didn’t get the promotion you were hoping for. Maybe your sweetheart broke up with you. People say “Don’t take it personally” and “Don’t let it get to you,” but that’s very hard to do.

If you’re feeling disheartened, what are some strategies for making yourself feel better about yourself? It’s pretty clear that repeating “I’m the greatest!” or winning a trophy along with every other second-grade soccer player isn’t a good way to build healthy self-esteem.

At the same time, it’s a rare person who isn’t sometimes – or often – plagued with painful self-doubt. When you’re feeling lousy about yourself, what can you do to feel better?

Here’s the secret. To build your self-respect…do something worthy of your respect. To like yourself better…do something that makes you likable. It’s tempting to think that support and encouragement from other people will reassure you, but A) often that doesn’t work and B) often you can’t winkle other people into giving you a pep talk.

Here are some strategies to try:

1. Do a good deed. This is as selfish as it is selfless; you’ll benefit as much as the person you’re helping. I had a friend who went through a period of tremendous rejection: she was fired from her job, she didn’t get into the graduate program to which she’d applied, and her boyfriend broke up with her. Everything worked out fine in the end, and I asked her how she got through such a tough time. She said, “I was practically addicted to doing good deeds for other people. It was the only way I could make myself feel like I wasn’t a total loser.” Along the same lines…

2. Make small gestures of good citizenship. Bring your old magazines to the gym so other people can read them. Offer directions to someone who looks lost. Sign up to be an organ donor. My current favorite: picking up trash that other people have left on the subway.

3. Keep a resolution. Not only will you benefit from exercising or cleaning out your garage, you’ll also get a boost from the mere fact that you made a commitment and stuck to it.

4. Become an expert. There’s great satisfaction in mastery. Pick a subject that interests you, and dig in deep: the American Revolution, Photoshop, knife techniques. This can be hard, because learning something new can also make you feel frustrated and stupid, but if you push through, you’ll give yourself a huge boost. Be sure to pick something that honestly engages you: become an expert on The Sopranos , if that sounds enticing, but don’t decide to learn about wine just because you think other people will be impressed. You’re much less likely to stick with it, so you won’t benefit as much.

5. Boost your energy. Studies show that when you’re feeling energetic, you’re much more likely to feel good about yourself. Most important: get enough sleep. If you need an emergency energy fix, take a quick ten-minute walk (outside, if possible, where sunlight will also stimulate your brain), listen to some great music, or talk to a friend.

6. Challenge yourself physically. This strategy doesn’t work for me, but I know that many people feel great after para-sailing, white-water rafting, bungee-jumping, or roller-coaster-riding. For the less daring, a great run, bike ride, or spinning class can do the trick.

I’ve written about Wordle before, but I can’t resist mentioning it again. It’s a toy for generating beautiful word clouds — and is just so fun and fabulous. I keep meaning to figure out how to use Wordle to make gifts, seems like there must be a way.

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. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

A Psychological Term I Love (and Am Guilty of): “Unconscious Overclaiming.”

One of the fun things about law school—and you thought there wasn’t anything fun about law school!—was the new vocabulary we all picked up. A new word lets you have a new idea.

I remember that after I learned the concept of “acting in reliance,” suddenly, I saw people acting in reliance all over the place. (For example, when my friend John signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment because Michael promised to room with him, he’d acted in reliance, and so when Michael wanted to move in with his girlfriend instead, John was entitled to hold him to his word.)

I’ve picked up a useful term from psychology: “unconscious overclaiming.” It’s certainly something I’m guilty of.

“Uunconscious overclaiming” is the phenomenon in which we unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills relative to other people’s. In one study, for example, when students in a work group each estimated their contribution to the team, the total was 139 percent.

This makes sense, because we’re far more aware of what we do than what other people do. I complain about the time I spend paying bills, but I overlook the time my husband spends dealing with our car. Also, we tend to concentrate our efforts in the areas that we think are important, so we think our contributions are the more valuable. You might think that getting the weekly reports finished on time is very important, while your co-worker emphasizes prepping for a presentation.

It’s easy to see how overclaiming can lead you to an inflated sense of your contribution, and from there, to resentment. Now that I’ve learned about unconscious overclaiming, when I find myself thinking, “I’m the only one around here who bothers to…” or “Why do I always have to be the one who…?” I try to remind myself of all the tasks I don’t do.

Unconscious overclaiming is related to the “Lake Wobegon fallacy,” which describes the fact that we all fancy ourselves above average. (It’s named for Garrison Keillor’s imaginary town of Lake Wobegon, where “all the children are above average.”) Studies show that most people think they’re above average in fairness, luck, popularity, investing ability, and many other traits. In one survey, 80% of respondents put themselves in the top 30% of all drivers.

I love the mere word “overclaiming.” It’s perfect for what it describes.

A thoughtful reader send me the link to a great post, What I’ve Learned: Julia Child. I have my True Rules series; this is a list of True Rules from Julia Child.

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. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Happiness is a fresh clean SLATE–now I’m blogging for Slate!

Today is a very HAPPY day for me, because I’m starting to blog for Slate. Check it out! Here’s what I posted there today, as an introduction:

Welcome to my blog about how to be happier.

My name is Gretchen Rubin, and I’m working on a book, The Happiness Project, an account of the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and tips from popular culture about how to be happy – from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Oprah.

I started this project because one April morning, looking out the rain-spattered window of a bus, I asked myself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” and I thought, “Well, I want to be happy.”

I realized with a jolt that I never thought about happiness, or whether I was happy, or what I could do to be happier. “I should have a happiness project!” I thought. So I started one.

A “happiness project” is an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions.

This blog, which I’ve been writing since 2006, recounts my adventures as I pursue my happiness project—what I try, what I learn. Your project would look different from mine, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit.

“But,” you might think, “if everyone’s happiness project is different, why should I bother to read about yours?” Here’s why: During my study of happiness, I’ve been surprised by how often I learn more from one person’s idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. I’ve learned more from Ben Franklin’s happiness project (yes, he had one) than from any other kind of argument.

Some people think that wanting to be happier is a selfish, self-absorbed goal – but I disagree. Robert Louis Stevenson got it right: “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy,” he wrote. Research shows that happy people are more altruistic, more productive, more helpful, more likeable, more creative, more resilient, more interested in the problems of others, friendlier, and healthier. Happy people make better friends, colleagues, and citizens. And maybe betters bloggers, too.

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. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Yipeee! No more duplicate email updates — I hope.

If you’re one of the Feedblitz readers who has been getting multiple identical emails, a solution is nigh. The wonderfully attentive folks at Typepad have found a solution for the duplicate emails you’ve been getting, if you’ve signed up for email updates through Feedblitz.
Apparently, they promised a pizza to the engineer who diagnosed the problem. Now the bug has been identified, it just has to be fixed. So hang in there! An end is in sight.
Thanks so much for your patience.

 "Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think. When you re-read your journal you find out that your latest discovery is something you already found out five years ago. Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and the same experiences."

— Journal of Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, July 10, 1949

* *  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. No need to write anything more than "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.