Happiness is…blogging for Slate.

I’m extremely HAPPY because, as of January 12, the Happiness Project will be a blog on the fabulous online magazine Slate. Zoikes! I’ve been a huge fan of Slate for a very long time, so I was thrilled to be asked to join the fantastic writers there.

My posts will appear first on Slate, then after an eight-hour delay, will appear on this blog as usual. If you get my posts through Feedblitz or RSS, you’ll get them just as you do now.

Check out Slate! So much good material there.

If you haven’t seen my one-minute movie, The Years Are Short, you might enjoy it.

Happiness quotation from Christopher Alexander.

I once saw a simple fish pond in a Japanese village which was perhaps eternal.

A farmer made it for his farm. The pond was a simple rectangle, about 6 feet wide, and 8 feet long; opening off a little irrigation stream. At one end, a bush of flowers hung over the water. At the other end, under the water, was a circle of wood, its top perhaps 12 inches below the surface of the water. In the pond there were eight great ancient carp, each maybe 18 inches long, orange, gold, purple, and black: the oldest one had been there eighty years. The eight fish swam, slowly, slowly, in circles—often within the wooden circle. The whole world was in that pond. Every day the farmer sat by it for a few minutes. I was there only one day and I sat by it all afternoon. Even now, I cannot think about it without tears. –Christopher Alexander

Few books that I’ve read have made an impression on me as profound as Christopher Alexander’s brilliant, strange A Pattern Language, though this quotation is actually from The Timeless Way of Building.

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.

Gratitude: Write your Acknowledgements page or your Acceptance speech.

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.

One of the great perks of writing a book is that you get to write an Acknowledgments page where you thank everyone who helped you as you were writing your book. Winners of the Academy Award get to give their Acceptance speech, where they thank the most important people in their lives. It’s too bad that other professions haven’t developed similar practices – it’s a wonderful tradition.

Philosophers, religious leaders, and contemporary scientists all agree that GRATITUDE is a key to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy; when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That, in turn, makes it easier to live within your means and also to be generous to others. Gratitude fosters forbearance—it’s harder to feel disappointed with someone when you’re feeling grateful toward him or her. Gratitude also connects you to the natural world, because one of the easiest things to feel grateful for is the beauty of nature.

But I find it hard to stay in a grateful frame of mind—I take things for granted, I forget what other people have done for me, I have high expectations. To cure this, I tried keeping a gratitude journal, something recommended by countless happiness experts, but I found it annoying, not helpful. I have a resolution to “Think about how much I love my ordinary day each time I turn on my computer”; that works pretty well. Keeping my one-sentence journal helps me remember to be grateful. My one-minute video, The Years Are Short, is a meditation on gratitude.

I just handed in the second draft of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT book to my editor, and I figured I’d work on the appendix, bibliography, and other back matter while I was waiting for her comments. When I started to write the Acknowledgments, however, I got anxious: I realized that I’ve been helped by just about everyone I had a conversation with over the past few years. So many people passed along their insights, or gave advice, or said or did something that shed light on happiness. Not to mention my family and friends who give me general support. And all the people I’ve never actually met, but have “met” through blogging. The more I thought about it, the more names I added.

I haven’t figured out how to handle this issue. I’m worried about overlooking someone, but at the same time, it would look ridiculous to thank a million people. But I can’t NOT have an Acknowledgements page.

Well, I’ll figure something out. As a consequence of doing this, however, I realized that writing your Acknowledgments page (or your Acceptance speech, if you want the more glamorous version) is a great exercise. If you had a chance publicly to thank the people who support and help you, who would be on the list? Can you think of a way to acknowledge them, even if you don’t have an official Acknowledgements page and you’re not getting an Oscar?

Or have you found other ways to cultivate a grateful spirit?

Wow, via Paul Raeburn’s About Fathers blog on the Psychology Today blogs site, I was let to the Divorce Calculator devised by behavior economist Betsey Stevens. It tells you your risk in ten seconds! My score:

People with similar backgrounds who are already divorced: 14%
People with similar backgrounds who will be divorced over the next five years: 3%

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. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

News: Oprah and her battle with her weight; she’s back at 200 pounds.

A few days ago, I saw news reports that in the January issue of O Magazine, Oprah reveals that she has gained forty pounds and now weighs 200 pounds.

The article isn’t out yet, but apparently she says she’s mad at herself. “I’m embarrassed. I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?’” she wrote.

Hearing that made me feel sad. Oprah is so fabulous, I’m sorry she can’t let go of this issue and just enjoy being herself. But weight is such a tough issue.

The relationship between happiness and weight is complicated and under-studied, I think. It’s an issue to which I want to give more consideration. I just read a fascinating book by Abby Ellin, Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat-Camper Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, And How Parents Can (And Can’t) Help, that gave me a lot to think about. A lot of people say that weight shouldn’t matter for happiness, but the fact is, for a lot of people, it does matter.

In his book What You Can Change . . . and What You Can’t (p. 190), Martin Seligman points out: “All thin-ideal cultures…have roughly twice as much depression in women as men. (Women diet twice as much as men…) [In] cultures without the thin ideal…the amount of depression in women and men in these cultures is the same. This suggests that around the world, the thin ideal and dieting not only cause eating disorders but also cause women to be more depressed than men.” Two root causes of depression are failure and helplessness; dieting makes you feel both. (Note: I can’t find my copy of the book to double-check the quotation.)

I also can’t help but think that there’s some major aspect of eating, nutrition, exercise, and metabolism that we don’t understand and that is playing a significant role in the obesity problem. If OPRAH has trouble with her weight, with all the massive support and motivation she has…

What a combination. Alex Fayle, of the terrific blog Someday Syndrome, wrote a guest post on Leo Babauta’s fantastic blog, Zen Habits. I was thrilled to be included in this post on 11 Ways to Cure Someday Syndrome.

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Relationships: Quiz — Are you the person whom everyone else finds difficult?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Are you the person whom everyone else finds difficult?

I was very impressed by the self-knowledge and openness displayed by a reader who, after reading my post 7 tips for getting along with your difficult relatives over Thanksgiving, sent me an email to say, “I think I might be the difficult relative over Christmas, or might become so.” She didn’t want to be difficult, and she was trying to figure out how to change.

Most difficult people, however, probably don’t realize quite how difficult others find them to be. They have their own – perhaps quite reasonable – explanations for the things they say and do, and they don’t acknowledge how they’re affecting other people.

In his excellent book The No A****** Rule (I’m omitting the title not from prudery but from fear of spam-blockers), and also on his blog, Work Matters, Bob Sutton has a quiz to help people recognize if they are a******* — I was inspired to adapt that material for this quiz.

As you answer these questions, be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t make excuses for yourself or other people; just try to answer accurately. These questions apply to family members gathering for a holiday, or to co-workers, or to any group of people who are trying to get along with each other.

–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they do a lot of grumbling? Do they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? Do they seem reluctant to accept your generosity? For example, you offered to host Thanksgiving dinner, but no one appreciated it.

–When you join a group of people, does the mood often shift? Does a group tend to break apart after you join it?

–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?

–Do you find it hard to get your calls and emails returned?

–Are you often puzzled when people dramatically over-react to little mistakes, oversights, or casual remarks you make? You bring up some cute anecdote from years ago, and everyone acts upset.

–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!”

–Do you think it important to express your true feelings and views authentically, even if that means upsetting other people?

–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer objective, helpful criticism or advice?

–Do you often find out that something you’ve done or said has caused an argument between two other people? For example, your son tells you that he and your daughter-in-law have been arguing about the lovely plans you’ve made for the holiday.

–Do you find that even when you’re trying to be helpful by explaining something or providing information, people don’t want to seem to listen to you?

–Do you feel annoyed because people tend to refuse to acknowledge your greater experience or knowledge in an area, and instead, ignore your suggestions?

–Do people tend to change the conversation when you try to explain a major insight that has led you to make a major lifestyle change?

–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?

–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?

–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?

–Do you think it’s useful to point out people’s mistakes, areas of incompetence, or previous track records of failure?

–Is it fairly common for one person to tell you that he or she will speak to a third person, so that you don’t have to? In other words, do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking?

A “yes” may be a red flag that you’re a source of unhappiness for others.

Another thing I respected about the person who wrote to me was that she was going to spend the holidays with her family, because she knew it was very important to her mother. She might be a difficult person, but she’s trying to make someone else happy by showing up, even though she doesn’t want to, and that’s admirable.

I did a fun interview about happiness with BlissNotes.

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. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.