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.

Happiness Project: What Barry Manilow taught me, or, be willing to be enthusiastic.

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’ve been thinking a lot lately about enthusiasm. Enthusiasim—the aptitude for enjoyment—is a key to happiness. But the thing is, it’s cooler not to be too enthusiastic. There’s a goofiness to enthusiasm, an innocence, a readiness to be pleased. It take energy, humility, and engagement.

On the other hand, taking refuge in irony, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui, is less taxing. Making cutting remarks shows your discernment and your sophistication.

It’s also less risky. I think back to one evening, when, as part of a surprise birthday party for one of my best friends, we went to a Barry Manilow concert, because my friend loves Barry Manilow. Afterward, I reflected that it showed considerable strength of character for my friend to be such an avowed Barry Manilow fan. After all, Barry Manilow is…well, Barry Manilow. It would be so much safer to mock his music, or to enjoy it in an ironic, campy way, than to admire it whole-heartedly as she did. Enthusiasm is a form of social courage.

Plus, her enthusiasm rubbed off on everyone who was with her. “Emotional contagion” is the psychological phenomenon by which we “infect” each other with our moods. The fact that my friend was so happy to be at the concert lifted all of us up. (Remember the Second Splendid Truth: One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.)

I’ve been trying to embrace this kind of zest.

Also, I’ve noticed that irony and world-weariness allow people a level of detachment from their choices: fast food, American Idol, a country-club membership. Enthusiasm implies an acceptance of that activity or possession; a discontented or detached air allows a person both to embrace and to disavow something.

I know someone who is constantly making fun of people who follow celebrity gossip. At the same time, it’s obvious from the disdainful remarks she makes that she herself follows celebrity gossip very closely. I know this because I don’t follow celebrity gossip, and I usually have no idea what she’s talking about. I have to bit my tongue not to quote Samuel Johnson’s observation of Alexander Pope, “Pope’s scorn of the Great is too often repeated to be real; no man thinks much of that which he despises.”

It seems to me that the happier course would be to allow herself to be enthusiastic, and enjoy celebrity gossip—or to stop spending any time on it, or wearying others with her objections.

For my own part, I know that once I enthusiastically embraced my passion for children’s literature, I dramatically boosted the happiness I got from it. Expressing my enthusiasm increased my feelings of enthusiasm – which fed directly into feelings of happiness.

So let yourself be enthuasistic! Admit that some goofy song is your favorite. Or whatever it might be.

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.

Forcing myself to wander, following my interests.

One of my resolutions is to “Force myself to wander,” and another, related resolution is to “Follow my interests.” Too often, I worry about staying on track and being efficient — so these resolutions are meant to push me to take the time to explore and to try experiments that don’t always work.

Well, I just spent quite a looooooong time on David Drummond’s blog. As I’ve worked on my Happiness Project, and tried to pay better attention to my off-topic interests, I’ve realized that I am extremely interested in the issue of book-cover design. Well, once I started on this site, I couldn’t stop.

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.

Clutter-busting: Eight tips for preparing for a real (or virtual) move.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for preparing for a real (or virtual) move.

Knowing my preoccupation with clutter-clearing, a friend emailed me a few days ago: “I am starting the great purge of our belongings in preparation for moving. What mantras should I be using?

Good question! Moving is a fantastic opportunity to tackle clutter. And even if you’re not thinking about moving, you might want to try the “virtual move” – you look at what you have, and ask yourself, “If I were moving, would I bother to wrap this in bubblewrap and stick it in a box? Or would I chuck it or give it away?”

Whether you’re really moving, or virtually moving, here are some questions to ask yourself, as you consider whether some particular piece of stuff is worth keeping. Remember, you have to be HONEST!

1. Do I actually use this?

2. If I get rid of this, and it turns out I need it, how hard will it be to replace?

3. How many of this object do I really need? E.g., how many coffee mugs do you actually use? Beware of what’s called the “maximum-use imperative” — the fact that people will often buy or keep something to accommodate a use that they need only rarely (like a dining room table big enough to seat the whole family, who visits once every two years). Also, although you may be tempted to keep every usable rubber band or every packet of ketchup that comes into your house, if you’re never going to use them up, get rid of the excess.

4. Does this work properly? If not, get it fixed, give it away, or throw it away.

5. At this moment, do I know how to operate this thing?

6. Am I keeping a gift out of sentiment or politeness, even though I don’t really like or need it?

7. Am I keeping something as a memento? That’s ok, but pick your mementos wisely. Try to pick things that don’t take up too much room. You don’t need lots of mementos from the same period of time. You can take a picture of something if you just want the visual cue, but don’t really want to use the thing — this is especially useful when the memento is large, say, your father’s desk.

Most important…
8. When in doubt, throw it out! (or give it away).

Tip: I find it’s much easier for me to get rid of things when I can envision that my things will be better used by someone else. So, as you prepare for your real or virtual move, take the time to identify destinations for your stuff. Do you know a family who could use your hand-me-downs? A thrift store that accepts used toys? Would you post a notice so that someone who wanted something could come take it? Etc.

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

Happiness interview with Guy Kawasaki.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies. There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument.

Guy Kawasaki wears innumerable hats – among other things, he has been an entrepreneur, investment banker, venture capitalist, and general visionary. He’s written eight books – my favorite is The Art of the Start – and recently founded an extremely useful, addictive website, How to Change the World. I’m sure he’s doing a lot more things that I don’t even know about, even though I follow him on Twitter.

He’s a person who conveys tremendous passion and enthusiasm about his interests and his work, so I was curious to see what he had to say about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Guy: Playing hockey. Nothing is more absorbing to me, so that I forget about everything else. It’s blissful for me, and I’m not even good. Maybe if I were good, I wouldn’t be absorbed and then it wouldn’t be as happy playing it.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn¹t know when you were 18 years old?
Guy: One can be happy driving a beat-up minivan. I really thought one would have to drive a Porsche to be happy when I was 18.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Guy: Answering email.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Guy: No, not really. I’m too busy answering email to remind myself of mantras.

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Guy: I very seldom feel blue. Honestly. I have a great family, a rewarding and fun career, and my health is pretty good. What’s to feel blue about?

Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Guy: The problem I see is that many people get upset when they cannot control everything. My logic is that you do the best you can and let it rip. If you don’t succeed, you just need to live another day to fight another battle.

Gretchen: Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy, and if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
Guy: The only sustained period when I was truly unhappy was when my wife and I were separated about twenty years ago. Those were the most painful days of my life. Luckily, we worked things out.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Guy: I really don’t work on being happy. I work on episodes of joy and try to string as many of these together. Allow me to backtrack: “Happiness” is over-rated in the sense that one can achieve a state where everything is great. That’s impossible.

What I try to do is short bursts of joy–like scoring a goal, playing with my children, being with my wife, launching companies. Between these episodes, there are times of pain, boredom, and frustration, but to expect that one can every achieve a time of nothing but good stuff is sure to lead to an unhappy life. How’s that for irony?

Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t–or vice versa?
Guy: My biggest discovery is that my children bring the greatest joy to me. Nothing comes close. I never knew that prior to having children. I feel for people who have never had children.

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.