Do you worry about your weight? My latest resolution: “Eat very right.”

I made a new resolution, just for the month of September: “Eat very right.” I’ve already made other resolutions related to eating, but this month, I’m pushing it further.

I gave up fake food a while back, which was a major step forward, but my eating habits still have a lot of room for improving the healthfulness of my diet.

Also, although I REFUSE to go on a proper diet, I’d love to lose a few pounds. I’m about three pounds over where I’d like to be – not my “ideal” weight, which is probably unrealistically low — but the weight at which I stop fussing much about my weight.

In his book What You Can Change & What You Can’t, Martin Seligman observes: “All thin-ideal cultures…have roughly twice as much depression in women as men. (Women diet twice as much as men…) [In] cultures without the thin ideal…the amount of depression in women and men…is the same. This suggests that around the world, the thin ideal and dieting…cause[s] women to be more depressed than men.”

He points out that two root causes of depression are failure and helplessness – and dieting makes you feel both. Plus, almost no diet works for long. Most weight comes back.

For me, it’s definitely true that, right or wrong, my weight has a big influence on how happy I feel. When I feel unhappy about my weight, it really weighs me down. Whether or not this should be true, it is true.

So…there are two solutions. The first is to change my attitude. If I accept my body as it is, I won’t fret about it. I’ve tried to adopt a modified version of this, by trying to feel more grateful for being healthy, pain-free, and pretty darn close to my ideal weight. I should be happy about my body, not unhappy.

The other solution is to lose weight so that I’m at the point where my weight doesn’t bother me. I’m extremely fortunate that I’m pretty close to that point. I would just have to lose a few pounds to get it off my mind.

I’m trying the multi-prong attack: revel in my body as it is; eat more healthfully; and also try to lose a few pounds.

My rules for the month:

1. No Tasti D-Lite. This is the biggest sacrifice and most dramatic change. Tasti D-Lite is a kind of frozen yogurt that I LOOOOVE. It’s allegedly low-calorie, but it’s probably not. Also (this is embarrassing) I usually get a cone of Tasti D-Lite twice a day, and having three in one day isn’t at all unheard of. This is really my one big indulgence. I almost never eat dessert, or drink alcohol, or eat red meat, or eat cheese…but for September, I’m giving up Tasti D-Lite, as well.

2. No bread unless it’s part of a meal. So I can have bread as part of a tuna sandwich, but I shouldn’t just take a slice of bread out of the package and eat it (which I do often) or eat bread from a restaurant bread basket.

3. No bites of candy, cookies, cake, etc.

4. No worrying about portions—I can eat as much as I want of fruits, vegetables, and healthy protein.

5. Keep a food journal. This has been one of my resolutions before, but I just wasn’t able to make myself remember to do it. This month, I’m going to try again. Studies show that dieters who keep meticulous food journals do a much better job of losing weight.

One concern I have: what if I follow all these rules – which, although I’m not on a “diet,” definitely have me feeling aware of what I’m eating and giving up things I’d like to eat – but I don’t lose any weight? I’d have eaten more healthfully, which is good – but I do want the benefit of the weight loss. So am I wrong to follow #4? Is it a waste of self-control to monitor my eating like this, without getting the pay-off of weight loss?

Really, though, I should think about following these rules for the rest of my life, so I don’t want to get caught up in the madness of “dieting.” I’m much thinner now than I was many years ago, and the way I lost that weight was by making big changes in my eating habits, keeping them over the long term, and losing the weight imperceptibly slowly. This is not an easy way to lose weight, but it’s probably the best way if you want to keep your weight off.

Now, some people are probably thinking, “Wow, Gretchen is waaaaaay too obsessed with her weight.” I am preoccupied with my weight, that’s true. Some people have told me that I should spend more energy trying not to let it bother me, and less energy on trying to keep my weight down. But the fact is — I’m happier when I’m at a lower weight, and it takes some concentration to stay there. So what’s the right approach? What do you think?

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I was very pleased to be included in this terrific list of top Personal Development blogs. And I was also pleased to see many of my blogland pals there with me, each with an excellent blog: Jonathan Fields, Zen Habits, Life Clever, Life Hacker, Pick the Brain, Dumb Little Man, Alex Shalman, and several others.

But alas for human nature! Seeing myself on the list made me happy, then I became preoccupied with the question – how do I move myself higher on the list? If you could spare a few minutes to email folks who might be interested in The Happiness Project, to send them the link, I’d appreciate it very much.

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I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Happiness quotation from Virginia Woolf.

Many scenes have come & gone unwritten, since it is today the 4th Sept, a cold grey blowy day, made memorable by the sight of a kingfisher, & by my sense, waking early, of being again visited by “the spirit of delight.” “Rarely rarely comest thou, spirit of delight.” That was I singing this time last year; & sang so poignantly that I have never forgotten it, or my vision of a fin rising on a wide blank sea. No biographer could possibly guess this important fact about my life in the late summer of 1926: yet biographers pretend they know people.
— Virginia Woolf, Diaries, September 4, 1927

This quotation is perhaps only glancingly related to the general topic of happiness, but it’s very significant to my personal happiness. First, because September 4 is my wedding anniversary, it has special meaning; and also because when I was writing my second book, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, and thinking constantly about the nature of biography, these lines had enormous influence on me. In fact, I used this quotation, along with my favorite quotation from Winston Churchill, to introduce the book.

It makes me happy to reread that paragraph, and to revisit what I was thinking about then.

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I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Happiness Project: Use a milestone moment.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should 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’m a big believer in using milestone moments as cues for evaluation and reflection. Even though it’s a bit of a cliché, I’ve seen many examples — including in my own life — when people were prompted to make positive changes because they’d hit a milestone like a major birthday, marriage, the death of a parent, the birth of a child, loss of a job, or the accomplishment of a career marker like getting tenure or making partner.

These major milestones don’t usually happen very often, so lesser, more familiar milestones – though less attention-getting – can also act as a helpful prompt to reflection.

Yesterday was my wedding anniversary. The Big Man is one of the very most important elements to my happiness, but he’s also one of the elements that’s easiest to take for granted. (And to complain about.) I try to use our anniversary as a cue to think about how grateful I am for him.

I do the same thing with my children’s birthdays. With the tumult of party invitations, ordering the ice-cream cake, and hunting down Tinkerbell paper plates, it’s very easy for me not to reflect on the more important things. I have to remind myself of what really matters, of what we’re really celebrating.

So for your Happiness Project, be on the watch for milestones. Transitions of any kind can be a helpful prompt to a more thoughtful and grateful frame of mind.

On a darker note, on the subject of wedding anniversaries, it occured to me that a great (if slightly grim) tradition would be to use our anniversary as a prompt to do an annual review of our situation, should the worst befall. Are our wills up-to-date? Do the Big Man and I have access to the financial information that the other person routinely handles? Etc. (For example, I know offhand that the Big Man has no idea where I keep the tax documents or the kids’ birth certificates. I should probably mention that.)

Every couple would have different concerns, but questions might include pensions, insurance, debts, guardianship of children, what the plan might be if income level or childcare arrangements had to change dramatically.

One of my Happiness-Project resolutions is “Read memoirs of catastrophe,” and I’ve read lots of accounts of cancer, sudden death, and other disasters. One common theme is how horrible and difficult it is to deal with cold logistics at a time of shock and grief. Being organized and knowledgeable would be a comfort.

Repeating this review once a year, in the normal course, would keep it from seeming morbid – instead, it would be an ordinary expression of family responsibility.

We could call it Unthinkable Day, or Be-Prepared Day, or Hourglass Day…having this review take place on an otherwise happy occasion might make it seem less gloomy.

The days are long, but the years are short.

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I got a big kick out of this Mindset display, which I discovered courtesy of the ever-fabulous Communicatrix, Colleen Wainwright.

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I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

A wedding anniversary — a good opportunity for gratitude.

Today is our wedding anniversary – fourteen years. We didn’t realize it when we picked that day to be married, September 4, 1994, but that date has a very helpful mnemonic: 9/4/94. Almost as memorable as my friend’s anniversary; she got married on 7/7/07. I highly recommend having some kind of memory-kicking device; without it, I’m sure we’d never remember our anniversary.

(When we married, it became much easier to remember our parents’ wedding anniversaries, because both sets of parents got married on the same day. Which was one of those little details that made the Big Man and me seem fated for each other. And it wasn’t some popular wedding date, like June 6 – the parents’ double anniversary is March 27.)

The Big Man and I don’t do anything particular to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and we don’t exchange gifts, but even so, I use the date to remind me to stop, to remember our wonderful wedding weekend (for which my mother worked like a dog for a year), and to think about how happy I am to be married to the person to whom I’m married.

The Big Man and I had known each other for less than a year when we got engaged, and we got married a year after that, and I felt like I knew him sooooo well. Surprise! Turns out that I didn’t know him nearly as well as I thought.

But I was wiser and luckier than I knew, and being married has just revealed more of his virtuous and lovable qualities. Phew.

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I saw an interesting post on Be Three, a piece on Weighing Your Options: Fit vs. Fat, about the importance of fitness – more than pounds. More incentives to stick to exercise!

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Do something nice: Six tips for good deeds that take less than five minutes.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for good deeds that take less than five minutes.

“Do good, feel good” is one of the great truths of happiness — but you may be thinking, “Sure, good deeds would make me happy, but I barely have time to get through the essentials of my day. I don’t have time to do any good deeds!”

Wrong. Here are some ways that you can help other people—and make yourself feel great, at the same time—in under five minutes.

1. Be friendly. I’ve decided that there are five degrees of social interactions with strangers: hostile, rude, neutral, polite, and friendly. I find it very difficult to be downright friendly to strangers, but I always find myself energized and cheered by a friendly interaction. It only takes an extra minute to exchange a few pleasant words, but it makes a real difference.

2. Say “yes.” If you can, and if you should, say “yes.”

3. Say “no.” My sister, who is a TV-writer in Hollywood, once told me, “’Yes’ comes right away; ‘no’ never comes.” Meaning, for example, that when she’s pitched an idea, if she doesn’t hear “yes” right away, it means they don’t like the idea. I’ve found this precept to be widely true. In many circumstances, we find it hard to say “no” — partly because it will hurt someone’s feelings, partly because it closes a possibility that could otherwise remain open. But waiting to hear “no” saps people’s energy by keeping them hoping for an answer they aren’t going to get. If someone is waiting for your “No,” put them out of their misery.

4. Sign up on the national organ-donor registry. This takes no time at all, and the consequences could be HUGE! Tell your family that you signed up, too. Remember, the one minute that someone takes, right now, to sign up on the registry might save YOUR life six months from now. And vice versa.

5. Lead them not into temptation. It can feel generous, friendly, and fun-loving to urge people to take another piece of cake, to drink another glass of wine, or to make an extra purchase, or to urge them to give themselves a break by skipping the gym, skipping class, or quitting smoking next week instead of today. But when you see people truly trying to resist temptation, encourage them to stick to their resolutions. The Big Man and I always encourage each other to go to the gym. It can feel a little Spartan, but in the end, we’re both much cheerier when we’ve exercised.

6. Do someone else’s chore. Don’t you sometimes wish that someone would do one of your little jobs? If nothing else, to show an awareness of the fact that you faithfully do it, day after day? Emptying the diaper pail or starting the office coffee-pot, even though it’s not “your” job, helps people feel appreciated and cared for. One of my Twelve Commandments is to “Spend out,” which reminds me not to keep score, not to focus so much on everything coming out even – like chores.

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If you’re interested in personal finance and entrepreneurship, check out Ramit Sethi’s blog, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. Lots of interesting material there, delivered with a real flair.

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