Happiness Project: Watch my new one-minute movie, Secrets of Adulthood, and think of your own.

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 had so much fun with my last one-minute movie, The Years Are Short, I decided to do another one. The Years Are Short is touching (or at least I hope it’s touching); Secrets of Adulthood is on the whimsical side. It features some of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood (see left-hand column of my blog for the complete list).

What exactly are Secrets of Adulthood? They’re the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve grown up. I’m not sure why it took me years to grasp that over-the-counter medication actually will cure a headache, or that what I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while, but it did.

Check it out! Secrets of Adulthood.

This week’s proposed resolution: Think about your own Secrets of Adulthood. What have you learned the hard way? What hard-won wisdom do you have to keep repeating to yourself?

I remind myself of the observation by Benjamin Franklin, one of the patron saints of the Happiness Project: “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” If you come up of your own Secrets of Adulthood, please consider posting them – we can all benefit from seeing what other people have learned.

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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 interview with me.

A few days ago, I interviewed Carrie and Danielle – and they just did an interview with me.

It was a lot of fun. It’s always interesting to see how different people pose questions about happiness. Everyone comes at it from a different angle and emphasizes different aspects.

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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.

Six tips for designing your happiness commandments.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Six tips for designing your happiness commandments.

I have a happiness project, and I think everyone else should have one, too. Everyone’s project will look different, but we can all benefit.

One very useful – and also challenging – thing I’ve done as part of my happiness project is to formulate my own commandments, i.e., the precepts that I want to guide my actions and thoughts. Here are my Twelve Commandments:

1. Be Gretchen.
2. Let it go.
3. Act as I want to feel.
4. Do it now.
5. Be polite and be fair.
6. Enjoy the process.
7. Spend out. (this is my most cryptic commandment; here’s an explanation)
8. Identify the problem.
9. Lighten up.
10. Do what ought to be done.
11. No calculation.
12. There is only love.

In my experience, designing your list of personal commandments is extraordinarily helpful in working for happiness, so think about what your list might be. Here are some tips to help you get started:

First:
Five of my Twelve Commandments are quotations from other people. My father repeatedly reminds me to “Enjoy the process.” A respected boss told me to “Be polite and be fair.” A good friend told me that she’d decided that “There is only love” in her heart for a difficult person. “No calculation” is a paraphrase of St. Therese, and “Act as I want to feel” is a paraphrase of William James.

So pay attention. What words repeat themselves in your ear? What was the offhand comment that you’ve found unforgettable? “No deposit, no return” is nothing more than a sign on a soda machine, but if it’s a memorable and powerful phrase for you, go with it.

Second:
When I was working on my biography of Churchill, Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I was repeatedly struck by the literary quality of his life – how rich it was in symbols, foreshadowing, motifs, all the elements of the novel.

I came to believe that this was true of my life, too, I just wasn’t paying attention. As Keats wrote, “A Man’s life of any worth is a continual allegory – and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life…a life like the scriptures, figurative.”

Some people’s commandments can be better expressed through metaphor. Consider Howell Raines’ commandments, from Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis:

“Rule One: Always be careful about where you fish and what you fish for and whom you fish with.
Rule Two: Be even more careful about what you take home and what you throw back.
Rule Three: The point of all fishing is to become ready to fly fish.
Rule Four: The point of fly fishing is to become reverent in the presence of art and nature.
Rule Five: The Redneck Way and Blalock’s Way run along the same rivers, but they do not come out at the same place.”

This might be true for you.

Third
Aim high and fight the urge to be too comprehensive. My commandments help me most when I review them at least daily, to keep them fresh in my mind, and to do this, it helps to keep the list short and snappy. In fact, twelve commandments may be too many. Maybe I only need two, “Be Gretchen” and “There is only love.”

After all, Jesus got down to two commandments. When asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:36-40.

A reader emailed me that she was trying to come up with her own set of commandments, but it kept turning into a to-do list. I had the same problem. Remember, this isn’t a place for things like “Put your keys away in the same place every night.” But maybe that resolution fits into a larger commandment you’d like to observe.

Fourth
Each person’s list will differ. A friend told me that “Say yes” would be a terrible addition to his commandments, because he tends to over-commit. His list says, “Say no.” For another person, “Say yes” might be at the top of the list. You need to think about YOURSELF, your values, your strengths and weaknesses, your interests.

Fifth
Take your time and think hard. It took me months to come up with my Twelve. This takes some reflection.

Sixth
Looking at other people’s commandments can be a great source of inspiration. Here are some that I’ve found intriguing:

Forget the past.
Don’t think about things too much.
Do stuff.
Talk to strangers.
Stay in touch.
Do your least favorite part of the job first.
Avoid debt.
Love your mother.
Dig deep.
Show and tell.
Forgive yourself.
Create something that wasn’t there before.
Notice the color purple.
Adorn yourself.
Be in awe.
Help others.
Be silly.
Make footprints. “I was here.”
No fear.
Take it in.
Expect a miracle.
Play the hand you’re dealt.
Recognize my ghosts.
Be specific about your needs.
React to the situation.
Keep proportion.
Do what matters.
Stay calm.
Go outside.
Feel the danger (many dangers, like a bad diet or drunk driving, don’t feel dangerous)

What are your personal commandments? Please consider posting them. I’m sure it would be very valuable for me and other readers to be able to see them.
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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 interview with Sue Shapiro.

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.

One of my favorite blogland pals, the brilliant Jackie Danicki, was in town last week, and she took me to a panel where writer Sue Shapiro was reading.

I was thrilled to go, because when I started the research for my book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, Sue Shapiro’s memoir, Lighting Up: How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex, was one of the first books I read. Sue Shapiro was doing a happiness project of her own – very different from mine, as the subtitle tells you, but fascinating. Of course, I think EVERYONE should do a happiness project, and I love to read about them.

At that panel, Sue read from her latest book, Only As Good As Your Word: Writing Lessons from My Favorite Literary Gurus, also terrific, about what she learned from her writing mentors.

It was obvious that Sue had thought a lot about happiness, and had worked hard for it – so here she is for a happiness interview. On her personal website, you can read more about her and her books, and if you live in the New York City area, you can find out when and where you can see her in person.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Sue: It’s taken me a lot of time, work and therapy to figure out how to revolve my life around what I love. I’m very lucky that I now have two careers that constantly give me joy. I write books all day and teach writing two nights a week and adore doing both. It’s actually hard for me to take vacation, which pales in comparison.

I also adore my husband, Manhattan, my writing workshop and book events. Over the summer I find swimming boosts me too.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Sue: As I say in Five Men Who Broke My Heart, my theory is: Love doesn’t make you happy, make yourself happy. Then you get love.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Sue: Hanging out with unhappy, negative, toxic people is draining. I’m a nice person so it’s hard to say no and escape them sometimes. But as I get older and more successful, I’ve learned to be more selfish and not apologize or feel guilty for it. I’ve learned the happier I am, the more I have to give (whether it’s to charity, my students, my family, friends or colleagues.) After I quit my addictions I wrote an essay about quitting guilt which was so liberating.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Sue: My brilliant addiction specialist, the hero of my memoir Lighting Up, who helped me quit cigarettes, dope and alcohol, told me in order to stay clean, happy and successful I should “Lead the least secretive life you can.” Though that’s a rationalization for my career as a memoirists, (writing books my family hates) it has also become my motto. It’s been 6 1/2 years I’ve been smoke-free and sober, the best 6 1/2 years of my life so so far, it works.

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Sue: Certain music helps–for me: Macy Gray, Bob Dylan, James Brown, Motown. Swimming or other physical activities. I’ve been doing these walking office hours with my students where we walk for an hour around Washington Square Park and they can pick my brain about their writing projects. It put me in a better mood. I get exercise, get outside, get company, feel younger and feel useful all the same time.

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?
Sue: I’m very big on therapy. So if someone is having trouble with work or substance abuse or relationships issues, I constantly recommend seeing a good therapist and find it stupid when people refuse to try, especially in Manhattan.

I’m also big on mentorship and teach 5 week classes and seminars. So I believe that taking a class or seminar can change someone’s life. Twenty-four people who took my one day HOW TO SELL YOUR FIRST BOOK seminar have sold books in the last 3 years.

I’m always telling young writers not to be idle and sit with frustration. Chase after writers or teachers you admire to give you new direction and inspiration. My new book Only As Good As Your Word chronicles the 7 most important connections that changed my life for the better.

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 — if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
Sue: When I was getting smoke free, clean and sober, my addiction specialist said “Underlying every substance problem I’ve ever seen is a deep depression that feels unbearable.” I let myself feel horrible for 9 months and then it lifted and I’ve had the best 6 1/2 years of my life where all my dreams have come true.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Sue: Therapy, my writing workshop, exercise, spending time with the right friends.

Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t — or vice versa?
Sue: I thought publishing a book would make me happy and it did! So much that now I’m addicted to book deals and book events. I used to be a technophobe and never thought I’d love computers and email so much. Now I’m addicted to email too.

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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.