Happiness Project: Enjoy the process.

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. The Happiness Project is more than a book or a blog – it’s a way of life.

One of my favorite of my Twelve Commandments is “Enjoy the process.” I got this commandment from my father, because he’s reminded me to “Enjoy the process” so many times during my life. (His other main admonition: “Patience.”)

On our family trip to Denmark, I found a new application for this commandment. As we headed off to the airport, I announced to everyone, particularly myself, “Our trip starts NOW. Every part of this trip is part of the fun. We don’t need to fuss about spending a lot of time in the airport before we get on board, or traveling by car once we get to Denmark. The airport is part of the fun, and the car ride will be part of the fun. The time spent waiting in line to go on the canal tour is just as important as the canal tour itself.”

And actually, this really helped. By re-framing these marginal, disfavored parts of the trip, so that they were no longer inconveniences, but actually part of the action, I prevented myself from getting aggravated. Treating the Newark airport like a tourist attraction was surprisingly easy.

Now, would I have been able to keep up this attitude if our flight had been delayed for five hours? Or if the Big Girl started throwing up on the airplane, as she once memorably did? I doubt it. But during the normal course of events, it worked to make the usual wait times much nicer.

*
There was a fascinating post about idea capture over at the terrific site LifeDev today.

*
New to the Happiness Project? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed: Subscribe to this blog’s feed.
Or sign up to get email updates in the box at the top righthand corner.

Vacation time: Six tips for enjoying a vacation that I learned on my recent trip.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for enjoying a vacation that I learned on my recent trip.

One of my goals for my Happiness Project is to do a better job of learning from experience. How can I do things better, next time? Also, one of my Twelve Commandments is to “Identify the problem,” so I’m trying to be more mindful as I have experiences, so I can take steps to make myself happier, in the moment.

Here are some tips from my recent family trip to Denmark:

1. Start packing early. I made the odious task of packing for myself and my two daughters easier by starting a week in advance (the Big Man packed at 10 pm the night before we left). I brought the big suitcase into my bedroom, and whenever I thought of something (sunscreen, passports, adapter) I put it in. However, if you start packing early, you must…

2. Keep a list. I didn’t, and that was a mistake. Because I was packing over the course of the week, by the end, I’d forgotten what I’d already put in. Had I packed the bathing suits, or not? In the end, I forgot to pack any socks for myself. I’d thought about doing it so many times, but I’d never actually done it. So make a list and check things off. This is a good idea, anyway.

3. Spend money where it helps. I was in utter bliss because I bought a new large backpack to use as my plane bag, which, because I was traveling with my kids, weighed about 100 pounds. Several years ago, my mother gave me a large, attractive bag to use as a plane bag, and I’ve used it ever since. But on my last trip, I realized: I would much prefer to use a backpack, that I could wear comfortably on my back, than to carry a heavy bag that pulls on one shoulder. I looked a bit silly, but I didn’t care.

4. Pack almonds. Several months ago, on a family trip with my in-laws, I realized that my periodic bouts of crabbiness were related to hunger. I seem to get hungry much more often than most adults, and I’m also a very picky eater. For this trip, I packed a bag of almonds, and it made a huge difference in being able to maintain my mood. Almonds made a great travel snack, because they’re light, don’t crumble, don’t stain, don’t need preparation, and are filling and nutritious. The one downside: it’s tempting to eat the entire bag at one sitting. I had to use some self-control to keep the bag going for the whole trip.

5. Return a day early. When I was growing up, we always returned from trips at the last minute, to eke out as much time as possible at whatever place we were visiting. But my in-laws plan their trips differently, and I’ve converted to their approach: they build in a re-entry day. On this trip, we came back on Saturday, so we had a day to sleep late, do errands, catch up on mail and email, re-stock the fridge, etc. The re-entry day made the trip shorter, but it made the overall vacation experience more enjoyable. It’s no fun to go away for a relaxing week, but then find yourself stressed out again a few hours after you’re back at home.

6. Unpack right away. The Big Man is adamant about this. The last thing I felt like doing when we arrived home from a week away was to tackle the unpacking, but he was right, we both felt much better when we’d put that task behind us. It made it a lot easier to unwind and enjoy being home.

What else? What have you learned about how to approach trips so that they’re more fun?

*
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.

What I learned on my summer vacation – lesson #2

Lesson #2 was “Let it go.”

I’m a person who likes to have a schedule. I’m never tardy (in fact, the Big Man and I are almost pathologically prompt; even when we try to be fashionably late, we end up places right on time).

On our trip, however, the schedule didn’t run like clockwork. Part of it was the large number of children involved (between six and ten at different times, ranging from 9 years to 18 months). Someone once told me that if you’re trying to go from place to another, add ten minutes for each additional child – which would mean that if it would take the Big Man and I together ten minutes to leave for dinner, I should leave thirty minutes. I’m not sure that this formula actually works precisely, but the presence of so many kids definitely meant that took more effort to get going.

Also, people have different notions of what it means to say, “Let’s eat at 6:30.”

I found myself getting alternately anxious and annoyed when we found ourselves running late, or we didn’t leave at the particular time we’d discussed, or when we seemed to be milling about without direction. Time zone change or not, I got panicky when I realized that both my children were still awake at 11:00 at night.

Before long, however, my happiness-project training kicked in. I told myself, “We’re not in any rush,” “We have plenty of time,” “We’re having fun.” I reminded myself of some of my Twelve Commandments: “Let it go [the strict schedule]” and “Lighten up” and “Enjoy the process.”

I realized that fussing about it wouldn’t make a difference, except to dim other people’s fun in the trip. Including my own. Once I let go of my tendency to stick to a strict schedule, I felt much happier.

*
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.

What I learned on my summer vacation — lesson #1

I’m back at home and back at my laptop, now, after a week’s vacation in Denmark with my family. Along with another family, who also has two young daughters (their son was away at camp), we went to visit some Danish friends and their kids.

One daring move on my part was to leave my laptop behind, which I’ve never done before. I take my laptop everywhere; it is the foundation of my work and my play, and – I discovered when I decided to leave it behind – it is my “comfort object,” like a baby’s special blankey. I felt a little lost without it.

But although at times my fingers started itching to type, I think it did make my vacation better to be without my computer.

If I’d had my laptop, I would have constantly been thinking about whether I could pull away from our current activities to log in a little keyboard time. It would have made it harder to be “in the moment” (a phrase I dislike, but for which I can’t think of a good substitute). We wanted our family vacation to be a lot of intense family togetherness, and working on a laptop would have been a distraction. As it was, I did find myself trying to find to sneak away to read Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa (I’d forgotten that she was Danish until I started reading on the airplane) or G. K. Chesterton’s Autobiography. But it’s easier to jump in and out of reading than it is to jump in and out of writing.

I also think it refreshed my mind to turn off my own personal word processing capacity. A huge part of my day, every day, is spent on writing and taking notes – which is extremely lucky for me, because these are the things I like to do most of all. Nevertheless, it was good to have a break.

I can’t tell if it spurred my creativity, but it definitely boosted my enjoyment of these familiar activities. There’s nothing like deprivation to sharpen pleasure.

Also, just on the mundane physical level, it was a relief not to have to worry about taking care of my laptop. I drag it around with me everywhere, and in my usual life, I don’t worry about it much, but given the rigors of traveling, I’m sure I would have spent a lot of time fussing about whether it was in the rain, being crushed, getting lost, or whatever. It was more relaxing not to have that concern.

Before I left, I wondered if I’d be eager to take a lot of happiness notes in Denmark, because it is the country that scores #1 in world happiness rankings.

However, I didn’t make a single astute observation to account for why Denmark ranks so high. It’s a lovely country, and we had a terrific time, and everyone we met was extremely nice – but I didn’t notice any factors beyond what other commentators have pointed out.

*
I had a lot of fun cruising around the excellent blog, Peculiar Beauty. It’s not the kind of thing that will interest everyone, but I loved the wry yet enthusiastic tone, and actually found myself laughing out loud at times.

*
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.

I’m offf for a week to the happiest country in the world.

Since I started this blog more than two years ago, I’ve never taken a break for more than a day or two. But this afternoon I’m leaving on a family vacation, and have made the momentous decision NOT TO TAKE MY LAPTOP.

I’m actually feeling a little separation anxiety!

We’re going to visit some friends who live in Denmark, which, by utter coincidence, happens to be ranked the #1 happiest country in the world, according to recent studies. So although I won’t be posting to my blog, I will be doing continual happiness research.

I love having my laptop with me at all times, and I feel a constant need to write, but it is definitely an inclination that pulls me away from my family. I’m constantly sneaking off to add just one note to this or that document. In fact, at this very minute, everyone is making pancakes, and I’m typing this.

So I decided that for this vacation, I’d leave the laptop behind so that I could enter into the moment better. I will report back in a week.

*
Check out my new one-minute internet movie, Secrets of Adulthood.