“Herein lies the real value of education. Advanced education may or may not make men and women more efficient; but it enriches personality, increases the wealth of the mind, and hence brings happiness.” –William Lyons Phelps
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I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.
For quite a while, I’ve been alarmed by how little I remember about my own past. As a consequence, I’ve become much more careful to take photos and videos regularly, as a kind of diary to keep my memories vivid.
Also, I wished that I could keep a proper journal, to maintain a colorful record of what’s happening in my life, but that would just be too much work.
Instead, I came up with the idea of keeping a “one-sentence journal.”
Now, each night, I write one sentence (well, actually, usually it’s three or four sentences, and I type them into the computer) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man and the girls.
It’s a good place to record those kids-say-the-darndest-things moments. I always think that I’ll never forget, but I do. Until my mother reminded me, I’d forgotten about the time when, as we were driving on the Bruckner Expressway, after I said to the Big Man, “Have we ever driven on this road when the drawbridge has been raised?” the Big Girl piped up, “If that’s the drawbridge, where’s the castle?”
My hope is that, years from now, when I’m trying to remember what life was like at this point, I can look back at my one-sentence journal.
I started it on August 1. After the completion of each year of the journal, I plan to publish it as a book on my favorite site, Lulu.com. That way, I’ll have a keepsake hardcopy version.
It’s a very satisfying project: it’s manageable, so it doesn’t make me feel burdened; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress, the “growth” so important to happiness; it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I’m much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events), which boosts my happiness; and it gives me a reason to pause thinking lovingly about the members of my family.
This sign is posted all over my neighborhood. The truly charming thing about it is that the sign’s words are printed in green, and there’s a faint green shamrock behind the words. Think of it: someone in the city bureaucracy actually took the time and effort to print the words in green. That’s the spirit!
This is one of the things that I love most about New York City—the sense that things are astir, that people are excited about some happening of which I know nothing.
I never thought much about St. Patrick’s Day in NYC until a few years ago, when I happened to walk down Second Avenue on the afternoon of the parade. It was jammed with people, with green and shamrocks and Irish flags everywhere. How had I never seen this before?
Last year, when I served on a jury, the policeman who was on the witness stand and the judge both wore green ties on March 17.
It’s like Fashion Week, or when the United Nations meets, or Chinese New Year, or when Wagner’s Ring cycle is at the Metropolitan Opera House. These events don’t matter to me, but I love the feeling that something exciting is happening nearby. One day, who knows, maybe I’ll decide to show up, too.
Zoikes, there’s a lot of great material at Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog. Talk about a happiness project — she actually MOVED cities, from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin — because the happiness research indicated that she’d be happier there.
I guess the pleasure of seeing the signs for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade wasn’t quite enough to keep her here.
Her explanation of why she moved, and the happiness data she drew on, is fascinating.
Most people would like to lose a few pounds, but no one likes to diet. Here are some tips that I’ve been following to cut calories out of my diet without feeling deprived.
1. I eat as many fruits and non-starchy vegetables as I want. No limits.
2. I put tempting food in an inconvenient spot. Research shows that people are far more likely to eat food if it’s easily accessible. In one study, a cafeteria with an ice-cream cooler opened its glass lid on some days, and left it closed on other days. Nothing else changed — but when the lid was already open, 30% of diners bought ice cream, and when it was closed, only 14% bought ice cream. And the only difference was whether they had to open the lid!
3. I use smaller plates and utensils—sounds ridiculous, but research shows that these affect portion size. I often use the Little Girl’s plastic Cinderella plates (though I can’t say I’ve gone as far as to use her little fork and spoon).
4. When I’m filling my plate, I put all the food I plan to eat on my plate at once, and I don’t allow myself seconds. This has made a huge difference in the way I eat. My previous habit was to take three lady-like helpings that probably added up to much more than one enormous serving.
5. I used to pick off other people’s plates constantly. No more. One bite of a grilled-cheese sandwich has 68 calories. Four French fries have 42 calories. A bite here, and a bite there, and I’ve eaten more calories than if I’d ordered dessert.
These are fairly easy, mild ways to cut calories. Next Wednesday, I’m going to list the more Spartan and controversial rules I follow.
If you like this approach—eating in a way that means you don’t have to diet—there are three excellent books that together make a great eating plan: Brian Wansink’s Mindless Eating, Lisa Young’s The Portion Teller, and Rolls and Barnett’s Volumetrics.
Ririan Project is a blog with a lot of great material on “personal development.” I dislike that phrase, and every substitute I could think of, but can’t come up with anything better. Lots of numbered tip list for fans of tip lists (like me).
My first commandment (see left-hand column) is “Be Gretchen.” One revelation of my happiness project has been getting the dimmest sense of what this precept actually means, and why it’s so challenging to follow.
Here’s my current difficulty.
Last week, I gave my fantastic (and long-suffering) agent a sample chapter for THE HAPPINESS PROJECT book proposal. She told me she laughed when she read it, because my approach was so absolutely characteristic.
This is what happens when I “Be Gretchen” with my writing: I take a vast subject that fascinates me (power/money/fame/sex; Churchill; JFK; happiness – all actually aspects of my one overriding interest, human nature); I amass a huge amount of research; I think about the subject obsessively; and I try to find a cunning structure that will allow me to pack in as much wheat as possible, while eliminating every bit of chaff. Chaff that some people find important, like transitions, scene-setting, reflections, background information, etc.
I remember that when I was trying to sell Power Money Fame Sex, some publishing person told me my writing “had too many ideas.” Which reminded me of that scene in the movie Amadeus when Salieri tells Mozart that his music has “too many notes.” (I found this a very comforting comparison.)
But I’ve come to understand what that person meant. So many books are a 35-page essay crammed into a 200-page book; my problem is just the opposite. Too much material; at the same time, not enough material.
So, knowing this about myself, how do I harness my natural strengths, but also shore up my weaknesses? How can I “Be Gretchen” – but an improved Gretchen? Of course, this isn’t just a question that concerns the writing about my happiness project, but the very purpose of undertaking the project.
W. H. Auden observed, “Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”
It turns out that happiness is a lot of work.