Quiz: Do you make other people happy?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Quiz — Do you make other people happy?

As put forth by 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 is to be happy yourself.

Everyone accepts the Second Splendid Truth, Part A; the Second Splendid Truth, Part B often isn’t as clear to people. But to focus on Part A here – how do you know if you’re making other people happy? What are some signs?

Are the following statements true for you:

  • Do people seem to feel comfortable confiding in you?
  • Do people follow your recommendations?
  • Are you a source of material comfort or security for someone else?
  • Do people whom you’ve introduced often go on to have a continuing relationship?
  • Do people seem to drift toward you? Join a conversation that you’re having, sit down next to you at a meeting?
  • Are you providing opportunities for other people – job leads, blind dates, contacts in a new city?
  • Do people whom you hardly remember go out of their way to greet you warmly? Say, an intern who worked in your office three years ago, or a former student?
  • Do people seem to want to connect with you — by making plans or by emailing, calling, or texting?
  • Do people seem energized by you? Do they smile and laugh in your presence?

Notice some items that are not on the list:

  • Do people remember your birthday?
  • Do people give you presents (say, for Mothers’ Day, or in recognition of an important milestone)?
  • Do people express appreciation and gratitude for your efforts?

Even if you’re making people happy, they don’t always respond by making these gestures. (Which can be annoying.)

A while back, I posted a quiz, Are you the person whom everyone else finds difficult? It was a lot easier to think of signs that you make people unhappy than you make people happy – perhaps because of the negativity bias.

What am I missing? I feel like I’ve overlooked some obvious indicators. What are some other good signs that you make people happy?

* Many thoughtful readers have sent me the link to a fascinating article from The Atlantic, What Makes Us Happy? It’s a great piece, plus I know the writer, Joshua Wolf Shenk, a little bit, which made it even more fun to read it.

* Yes, super-fans, the website is ready! You should have received an email from me with the link to my fabulous new site. Thanks for helping with this pre-launch phase — I’m so grateful. Soon I hope the site will be ready to be made public.

Super-fans, let me ask you an additional favor. Unbelievable as this sounds, there are more than 2,400 super-fans, so it would be an enormous help if, instead of emailing me directly with your suggestions or comments, you’d post to the Discussion Page on Facebook. That way, the web developers can read what you’ve said without me having to act as an intermediary, and it’s much quicker for me to read everyone’s comments. Also, other users might be interested to see your response. Again, THANKS. Have fun with the site!

Need a Happiness Boost? Here’s a Quick Fix.

A friend who knows about my passionate interest in organ donation sent me a terrific new book, Larry’s Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant–and Save His Life. Part memoir, part travelogue, it’s the story of writer Daniel Asa Rose’s trip to China to help his ne’er-do-well cousin, Larry, to get a kidney. Larry was on the U.S. wait-list, but it seemed clear that he might not live long enough for his turn to come, so the two headed to China. At that point in China, it was illegal for a Westerner to get a transplant (still true, I think), so they have a lot of strange adventures in trying to score an organ.

I really enjoyed the book just as a story – the difficult relationship between the cousins, the observations about Chinese culture, the unpredictable twists and turns in their quest. Also, it’s quite funny.

Larry’s Kidney also got me all worked up, yet again, about the issue of organ donation. The shortage of organs in the United States is a dire problem, and we could do so much to alleviate it if we’d all just commit to donation!

Sign up on the online registry, sign a donor card, check the box at DMV – or just tell your family that you want to donate. If the issue should arise, they’ll be consulted, and if they know your wishes, they can speak for you.

There are two reasons that it’s important to commit to donation. The first is obvious, but the second just occurred to me. First, one donor can save and improve the lives of dozens of other people, so we should all donate, if we can — it’s a rare privilege, actually, to die in a way that permits you to be a donor.

Second, because so few people do die in a way that allows their organs to be used, it’s critical to have an enormous base of potential donors. By committing to donation, and by telling other people that you’ve done so, you help create a culture in which it’s expected that people donate their organs. These cultural expectations make a big difference. Littering, wearing seat-belts, driving after drinking, smoking in restaurants, using car seats for children…just in my lifetime, I’ve seen huge shifts in the expectations for behavior. If “everyone” signs up to be an organ donor, “everyone” will sign up to be an organ donor.

Now, if you have a principled reason not to donate, fine. You get a pass. But ask yourself this: if you needed a kidney, would you accept one? If your child or sweetheart needed a kidney, would you put that name on the list? If you answer “yes,” then do your part. Sign up yourself.

Also, if you’re concerned about the exploitation of people in other countries for their organs, you undermine the demand for those organs by committing to donation.

It’s not a principled or religious belief that prevents many people from signing up – nope, we neglect to sign up from sheer laziness or from a vague desire to avoid thinking about death. Are those good reasons to neglect to do something so easy and so important?

Maybe you’re feeling frantically busy, so you can’t volunteer at that soup kitchen, or maybe you’re feeling strapped for cash, so you can’t donate to support your local library. Here’s a good deed of enormous significance that you can do in less than a minute! Sign up now! Tell your family! Remember, you’ll get a big rush of happiness from the knowledge that you’ve done something to help other people. Do good, feel good.

And never forget, one day you might be the person waiting for that call from the hospital. Someone reading this post right now may be inspired to sign up to donate the kidney that will save your life next year. So sign up yourself.

* A terrific online resource is Alltop. The plethora of information on the internet can be overwhelming, and this site can help you quickly find the sites that most interest you. Dangerously addictive, however.

Super-fans, I swear, I REALLY think today is going to be the day! I know I’ve said that before, but this time I really think it’s true. Keep your fingers crossed that today (or tomorrow) the site will be ready for pre-launch. If you want to sign up to be a super-fan, to help with the pre-launch my fabulous new site or to help me out in some other ways, sign up here.

Are Artists Unhappier than Non-Artists?

There’s a question in the subject of happiness that puzzles me. Are artistic folk – or people of other kind of genius — less happy than other people, and if so, why?

On the one hand, studies suggest that people who are happier are more creative, more resilient, more engaged, and more persistent in the face of difficulty and frustration. This would suggest that happier people would tend to be better artists (or whatever) than less happy people.

On the other hand, as discussed in Daniel Nettle’s Happiness, studies suggest that creative and influential people in the arts and public life tend to be more “neurotic” – meaning that they’re inclined to have more frequent and deeper experiences of negative emotions like anger, guilt, sadness, and fear than less-neurotic people.

Certainly popular culture teaches that artists and geniuses tend to be tormented, brooding, angry, etc.

Which is true?

I’m not sure. I do believe that the association of unhappiness with great ability goes along with Happiness Myth #1: Happy people are annoying and stupid. Because unhappiness is associated with discernment, sophistication, and depth, it seems right that artists and other extraordinary types would be less happy. Plus it seems cooler. What’s more, given that association, people who want to demonstrate their soulfulness or intellect may be choose to emphasize their negative emotions.

It’s also true that unhappy people tend to have more colorful lives than happy people, so their biographies are juicier, and we tend to know more about their lives.

I don’t know what’s true as a general matter, but I know that for myself, I’m more creative and productive when I’m happier. I’m more willing to take risks; to spend energy in ways that may not be directly useful; to shrug off criticism, rejection, failure, and scorn; to open myself to new experiences, ideas, and people.

As for art in particular: a deep love of art, whether creating it or appreciating it, does bring a kind of melancholy – the yearning for perfection, the desire to swallow it up, the despair of achieving your vision, the painful beauty of masterworks. But that melancholy is also set in a context of beauty, discernment, and joy.

JacobCollinsbedI remember one afternoon a few years ago, when I needed to pick something up from a friend who is a brilliant artist. He has a painting school which meets in the first floor of his house, so when I stopped by to see him, I walked through a room full of students who were busily drawing a model, while music played and light poured in from a skylight. I walked back to my friend’s private studio, which looked exactly the way you’d imagine – cans full of paintbrushes, canvases stacked against the walls, odd casts and stretchers and other artistic apparatus lying around.

He was painting when I came in, and to my surprise, he could paint while we talked. (I can’t imagine being able to do work and talk at the same time – utterly impossible for me.) Anyway, as we were talking, he was working on a beautiful, beautiful painting.

He stopped for moment to step back and consider his handiwork, and I said to him, with more than a touch of envy in my voice, “Jacob, you are lucky.” I gestured broadly around the room.

“I know,” he nodded, and he sat back on his stool and smiled at me. “Yes, I know.”JacobCollinslandscape

Now I’m asking every artist I meet about this question. Are artists less happy? Are geniuses less happy? What do you think?

I get a big kick out of the blog Living Oprah — a woman spent the year of 2008 “living her life completely according to the advice of Oprah Winfrey.” The year has run, and she’s working on a book right now, but she still posts. Hmmm…does her project remind you of anyone else’s? Just goes to show that everyone’s happiness project is different — I find every one fascinating.

Excellent! A reader has started an online group for discussing reading related to happiness. If you’re interested, join up!

How to Choose the Work that Makes You Happiest.

From Walter Murch, an Academy Award-winning film editor and sound designer:

“As I’ve gone through life, I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old…At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you ‘should’ be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself. It’s certainly been true in my case. I’m doing now, at fifty-eight, almost exactly what most excited me when I was eleven.

“But I went through a whole late-adolescent phase when I thought: Splicing sounds together can’t be a real occupation, maybe I should be a geologist or teach art history.”
— from The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film

* 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.

Be Happier: Kiss More, Hug More, Touch More.

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.

A few days ago, I posted about how watching the movie “Twilight” made me more determined to keep my resolutions to be tender and romantic. After I looked at my list, however, I realized that I’d never made a specific resolution to “Kiss more, hug more, touch more.” So I’ve added that to my ever-growing list of resolutions.

It’s easy to see that kissing, hugging, and touching would boost the tenderness in your romantic relationship. However, physical expressions of affection can strengthen all sorts of connections.

In her fascinating book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky discusses a study in which students were assigned to two groups. One group was the control; one group was assigned to give or receive at least five hugs each day for a month – a front-to-front, non-sexual hug, with both arms of both participants involved, and with the aim of hugging as many different people as possible. The huggers were happier.

Another study showed that women who got hugs several times a day from their husbands had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t get hugged as often.

Interesting fact: to be most effective at optimizing the flow of the chemicals oxytocin and serotonin – which boost mood and promote bonding – hold a hug for at least six seconds.

Along with hugging, playful and affectionate touching makes you feel closer to the people important to you. And touch is important even with strangers — studies show that subliminal touching (touching so subtle that it’s not consciously perceived) dramatically increases a person’s sense of well-being and positive feelings toward you, the toucher. For example, research shows that when restaurant servers touch their customers, they increase their tips by more than 3 percent.

I haven’t come across any research that examines the effects of kissing, but I think it’s safe to venture that lots of kisses will make you happier.

Expressing affection (in whatever way you express it) makes a big difference in relationships. For instance, people are 47% more likely to feel close to family members who frequently express affection than to those who rarely do so.

But there’s another reason to express affection. One of my most important Personal Commandments is to Act the way I want to feel. We think we act because of the way we feel, but often, we feel because of the way we act. By acting in a loving way, you prompt loving feelings in yourself. It’s much harder to be angry or annoyed with someone when you’re kissing or hugging or touching.

Be careful, however, to keep those physical expressions of affection appropriate. During a radio interview after I posted about Happiness Myth #7: Doing “Random Acts of Kindness” Brings Happiness, the host mentioned that he’d been walking been walking down the street when a guy announced, “Free hugs!” and gave him a big bear hug – a random act of kindness which did not result in happiness in that case. And the non-sexual nature of your full-frontal, two-armed hug might be misinterpreted, if you’re not careful.

Do you find that touching, hugging, and kissing boosts your happiness? Have you found any strategies to make sure you don’t forget this aspect of relationships?

Speaking of being more loving, over on the Facebook Page, a lot of people have posted about their strategies for keeping romance strong in a long relationship. Good ideas.

Super-fans, I’m waiting to get the email telling me that I can send you the link to the super-fabulous, soon-to-be-unveiled website, for pre-launch. I know I keep saying that, but I really am hoping that it will be TODAY! Or maybe Monday. Want to be a super-fan? Sign up here.