Happiness Lesson from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could 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.

This Friday’s resolution: Cultivate friends of different ages.

I’ve read so much happiness research that now I often remember some fact or study without being able to figure out where I read it.

I’m pretty sure that I read about a study that showed that people who have friends of different ages tend to be happier than people who have friends of the same age, but I can’t find the cite. So I will just say from the authority of my own experience: it boosts happiness to have friends of different ages.

Take Tuesday night, midnight. I went to the very first U.S. showing of the movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

I’m a huge raving Harry Potter fan, but I also have two little kids, and I don’t often spend an evening in a way that keeps me out until 4:00 a.m. Most of my friends are about my age, in fairly similar circumstances in how they conduct their lives, and they keep the same schedule.

But I have some younger, child-free, zestful friends, who think that going to a midnight show is fun, that getting in line at the movie theater at 6:30 p.m. is fun, that eating a picnic dinner in the theater lobby while you’re waiting for a midnight movie is fun. And it is fun!

Making time for fun makes people happier. Adrian Gostick’s very interesting book, The Levity Effect, reviews research that shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life; people who have fun are twenty times more likely to feel happy.

Also, people who have novel experiences are happier than those who stay in a routine. If my friends hadn’t planned the outing to the midnight showing, I never would have gone on my own. Having younger friends, who have fun in different ways from me, gave me a great night.

Same thing with older friends. People of different ages have different experiences, different schedules, different bases of knowledge, and different tastes. By having friends of different ages, you broaden the range of your life.

Of course, you can’t just announce, “Now I’m going to make friends of different ages” and make some. Friendship doesn’t work like that. (Here are some tips for making friends.) But it’s something to think about, as you make time for friendship in your day; remember not to let your circle gradually narrow down until you only see people who are in step with you – even though it’s usually most convenient to spend time with those people, because at the very least, you share the same bedtime.

Have you found that having friends of different ages – or different in other ways, as well, not just in age – has boosted your happiness?

* Speaking of fun, for little fun, here’s a video of — well, of someone doing hand tricks. It’s more fun than it sounds.

* If you’re interested in doing your own happiness project, check out the Happiness Project Toolbox.

How To Be Happier – in Four Easy Lessons.

I realized that I’ve never done a post about my Four Splendid Truths, although I think about them all the time.

I named these realizations the “Four Splendid Truths” because I was reading a lot about Buddhism when I started to come up with the list.

I get a tremendous kick out of the numbered lists that pop up throughout Buddhism: the Triple Refuge, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the eight auspicious symbols: parasol, golden fish, treasure vase, lotus, conch shell, endless knot, victory banner, and dharma wheel. (After I formulated the First Splendid Truth, I just had to assume that I’d end up with more than one.)

Each one of these truths sounds fairly obvious and straightforward, but each was the product of tremendous thought. Take the Second Splendid Truth – it’s hard to exaggerate the clarity I gained when I managed to identify it. Here they are:

First Splendid Truth
To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

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.

Third Splendid Truth
The days are long, but the years are short. (click the link to see my one-minute movie)

Fourth Splendid Truth
You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
corollary: You’re happy if you think you’re happy.
[Many argue the opposite case. John Stuart Mill, for example, wrote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.” I disagree.]

Now I’m trying to come up with my personal eight auspicious symbols for happiness. Let’s see — bluebird, ruby slippers, dice, blood, roses…hmmm. I will have to keep thinking about that.

* Ah, I love the blog Zen Habits.

* If you like the blog, you’ll love the book! Pre-order The Happiness Project.

“Persistence Is Its Own Reward,” or, Water That Flower.

I’ve started a feature — the True Rules series. These are concrete lessons that come out of people’s specific experiences. Whether you agree with these rules or not, they’re fun to consider.

When I was visiting the brilliant Debbie Stier at HarperStudio, which is part of the house that is publishing my book (oh, wait, did I mention I have a book coming out?), president and publisher Bob Miller stopped by her office.

I was filming Debbie giving her True Rule, Rock the Boat, and Bob immediately got in the spirit of the endeavor and agreed to give me his True Rule, too.

If you can’t watch the video, Bob says, “My True Rule is that persistence is its own reward. Somehow, the more you stay with something, the more you accumulate wisdom and meaning in whatever it is you’re doing. Just by watering that flower, you get really attached to that flower.”

* Of all the blogs I read, 0ne of my very favorite is Unclutterer, and I loved this post about Having it all — key points for a happy life.

* Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox! You can post your own resolutions and insights about happiness — and read what other people have posted. Addictive.

Is Being Materialistic As Prevalent as People Say?

One thing I hear quite often is “It’s awful, people are so materialistic. They think that buying things can make them happy, but it can’t.”

Well, that statement contains more than one idea. The first is “Money can’t buy happiness.” True, money can’t buy happiness, but spent wisely, it can contribute mightily to a happy life.

The other idea is that people are too materialistic – meaning, I think, that people place too much value on owning things and showing them off to others in order to make an impression.

I’ve been mulling over that proposition. One of the subjects that has fascinated me for a very long time is the relationship of people to objects. I went through a long obsession with potlatch. I wrote a book, Profane Waste, examining why people would destroy their own possessions. I’ve read a lot of books about subjects like conspicuous consumption and self-identity through brands. I’m interested in anything to do with the symbolic meaning of particular objects (the Greek herm, for example), which is one reason I love Jung’s work.

So I’ve always been interested in this topic. But it seems to me that a lot of behavior that people consider “materialistic” is actually motivated not by a wish to boost self-esteem through stuff or to show off possessions to other people – in a “Keep up with the Joneses” kind of way – but by other reasons.

For example, take the guy who always buys the latest tech gadget – not from a desire to show that he can afford the most expensive new device, but to feed his fascination with technology, and perhaps also to maintain his reputation as a maven, the person to whom everyone can go for advice.

Take the couple who constantly renovate their house by adding a deck, adding a garden, putting in a new kitchen – not to show off to the neighbors, but as a way to get an atmosphere of growth in their lives. They see their house getting nicer, and that gives them satisfaction.

Take the woman who buys beautiful furniture. My mother, who has a tremendous appreciation for objects and a huge amount of expertise on what gives objects quality, would appreciate and acquire beautiful furniture even if she were the last person on earth.

Clothes are puzzle. Some people appreciate beautiful clothes for their own sake; it’s not all about making a display for other people, though that’s part of it, too. Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary: “I must remember to write about my clothes next time I have an impulse to write. My love of clothes interests me profoundly; only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.” Is this materialistic?

For better or worse, buying things is a way to engage with them and with the world. If you’re interested in a certain kind of object, you often express that interest by researching, shopping, and buying it. People who can’t afford art go to museums, but when people who like art can afford it, they usually want to buy art, too. People who love to cook want to buy elaborate tools and ingredients. People who love music want to buy music.

For some reason, we like to own the things we love, even when it’s not necessary. I’m only interested in reading The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin every so often, and the neighborhood library has three copies on its shelves — yet I want my own copy. Is that “materialistic?” (It will be interesting to see if the internet will change this impulse, at least for books, movies, and music.)

It’s also true that when we have these things, we want to show them to other people. Is that always conspicuous consumption?

And objects can be necessary apparatus for other things we want to build into our lives, like exploration, acquisition of knowledge, and sense of security.

The word “materialistic” can be defined in various ways, of course, and some behavior is truly “materialistic” in the negative sense, and not very admirable. But I think it’s a term that is thrown around a lot, to cover behavior that isn’t as deplorable as often assumed.

But I’m still thinking through this and not sure of my conclusions so far. The relationship between people and objects—an inexhaustibly fascinating topic. What angles am I overlooking?

I love Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog Motherlode, and I particularly appreciated this guest post by Laura Vanderkam, Are You Being Too Efficient? It struck a chord; my resolutions include Take time for projects and Force myself to wander.

* Check out the Happiness Project Toolbox! If you want to get started with your own happiness project, you’ll find eight free tools that will help you. And it’s a lot of fun.

“To Have Management of the Mind Is a Great Art.”

“To have the management of the mind is a great art, and it may be attained in a considerable degree by experience and habitual exercise…Let him take a course of chymistry, or a course of rope-dance, or a course of any thing to which he is inclined at the time. Let him contrive to have as many retreats for his mind as he can, as many things to which it can fly from itself.” – Samuel Johnson

* A thoughtful reader told me about this wonderful artist’s blog: Color Me Katie. Irresistible.

* 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. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.