Check Out My Happiness Manifesto — Brand New.

For a long time, I’ve been meaning to write a Happiness Manifesto – a short statement that sums up what I think are the most important principles about happiness.

I love other manifestos I’ve seen. One of my favorites is Bob Sutton’s “Fifteen Things I Believe,” on his fantastic Work Matters blog:

1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!
2. Indifference is as important as passion.
3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.
4. Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
5. Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
6. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
7. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
8. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
9. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.
10. The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
11. The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
12. The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
13. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
14. It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
15. Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.

Another interesting variation on a manifesto is on Madame X’s My Open Wallet. On this blog, where an anonymous New Yorker “tells the world how much she saves, earns, and spends,” she lists “My Rules” in the right-hand column. Here are the first four of her nineteen rules:

Rule 1. Credit card use
-Use a credit card for every expense you can possibly charge.
-Use a card that gives you frequent flyer miles or some other benefit that you’ll actually take advantage of.
-Only charge as much as you can pay off in full every month– don’t carry a balance.

Rule 2. Online access
-Use online access for all your banking, investment and credit card accounts

Rule 3. Found money
-If you find money on the street, don’t be ashamed to pick it up!

Rule 4. Shopping

Another intriguing manifesto is the Manifesto of Style over at Carrie and Danielle. (Danielle is now blogging at White Hot Truth.)

1. Communicate who you are in all you do.
2. Style is multidimensional.
3. Style matters.
4. Authenticity is energizing, economical, and efficient.
5. Accentuate the positive.
6. People are like snowflakes—uniquely beautiful because of the details.
7. Pay attention to what attracts you.
8. Working from the outside in can create deep transformation.
9. Feel free to change.
10. True style is not dependent on wealth, and wealth does not necessarily create taste.
11. Cheap is expensive in the long run.
12. Use your best every day.
13. Choose from your heart, and your life will fill up with things you love.
14. Beauty transforms.
15. It’s always a good time to be yourself.
16. Only love is free—everything else costs.
17. Creativity + restraint = beauty.
18.Contrast makes things interesting.
19. Living is sensual.
20. Make more choices—moment to moment, day to day.

One reason I love manifestos is that it’s fun to decide where I disagree (for example, in the Style Manifesto, I disagree with #1!) or where I see an idea of my own, expressed differently (this manifesto’s #12 is related to my own Seventh Commandment, Spend Out, and its #7 is related to one of my Secrets of Adulthood, “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.)

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on my own manifesto. I don’t think I have it quite right, but it’s getting there. What important ideas have I left out? Could anything be phrased more felicitously? I welcome any suggestions. Also, I’d love to read other manifestos. Please post links to any good ones.

Here is my Happiness Manifesto:

• To be happy, you need to consider feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, and an atmosphere of growth.
• 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.
• The days are long, but the years are short.
• You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
• Your body matters.
• Happiness is other people.
• Think about yourself so you can forget yourself.
• “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” — G. K. Chesterton
• What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you, and vice versa.
• Best is good, better is best.
• Outer order contributes to inner calm.
• Happiness comes not from having more, not from having less, but from wanting what you have.
• You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.
• You manage what you measure.
• “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” — Robert Louis Stevenson

*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.

Authenticity: Happiness Quotation from William James.

“Seek out that particular mental attribute which makes you feel most deeply and vitally alive, along with which comes the inner voice which says, ‘This is the real me,’ and when you have found that attitude, follow it.”
— William James

* 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.

Health: Consider Switching Doctors.

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.

Sometimes, by coincidence, several people mention the same happiness-boosting idea around the same time, so it hits me with particular force.

A wonderful doctor is a tremendous source of comfort and reassurance; over the last few weeks, four friends have mentioned to me how much happier they were after they switched doctors. In every case, they were seeing a doctor who didn’t appreciate the amount of pain they were in, and who dismissed their efforts to try to explain the problem or find some solution.

One OB/GYN said something like, “Women have babies every day. You just had a baby. So you’re in pain, get over yourself.” Turns out my friend had a broken pelvis! Another friend kept explaining to a doctor that his advice wasn’t yielding any results in her case. He implied that she wasn’t being diligent about following instructions. When she switched, the new doctor put her on a medication that cleared up the problem immediately. Etc.

Given the importance of trusting and respecting your doctor, why is it so hard to make a change? I myself find it practically impossible to prod myself to switch, once I have had even one appointment with a doctor.

First, we need to believe that the doctor is smart and correct. Switching away from a doctor signals that we no longer trust his or her judgment, and that’s scary, especially if there’s some particular cause for concern.

Second, what with the records and charts and everything, it’s confusing to know HOW to switch.

Third, inertia is so powerful. Switching means finding a better doctor, which means doing research, questioning your judgment, tracking down information, figuring out who takes your insurance, where the office is located, and so on.

However, when my nine-year-old was a baby, I switched to a different pediatrician in a flash. My maternal instinct swamped my usual reluctance to make a change, and once I decided that I didn’t like the doctor, I had no trouble telling his office that we were going elsewhere. Maybe a way to coax yourself into switching doctors is to think of yourself in the third person, or to imagine how you’d act if a member of your family were receiving the treatment you’ve been getting.

(As a sidenote, I use this trick frequently: If I’m not sure about my reaction to some event, I imagine someone describing the situation to me as if it happened to a stranger. That often clarifies my view. Along the same lines, I remember reading somewhere that writer Anne Lamott thinks about herself in the third person, to take better care of herself: “I’m sorry, Anne Lamott can’t accept that invitation to speak; she’s finishing a book so needs to keep her schedule clear.”)

Remember, too, that you’re helping other patients when you switch away from a bad doctor, because your switch demonstrates to a doctor that his or her treatment was indeed unacceptable. I heard a lecture by a child-education specialist who said, “The only way that teachers know they’re assigning too much homework is when the most diligent kids can’t complete it. If you let your child stay up until 2:00 a.m. to finish, you’re not helping.” Same thing with a doctor.

Of course, tougher than making a switch from a bad doctor is having no choice about what doctor you see, or having no doctor all. It’s good to remember that.

* Have I mentioned lately how much I love Unclutterer?

* 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.

Happiness Interview with Michael Melcher.

One of my favorite people with whom to discuss the subject of happiness is Michael Melcher. Michael is a career coach who has an incredible breadth of personal experience from which to draw: while in college, under the name “Jane Harvard,” he wrote a novel with three friends, The Student Body; he has a JD / MBA from Stanford and has worked as a lawyer; he served in Calcutta and Taipei in the Foreign Service; he has a blog with a lot of great material, at The Creative Lawyer.

One of his most recent accomplishments is the publication of The Creative Lawyer. This book is described as “a practical guide to authentic professional satisfaction” and is aimed to help lawyers be happier in their work. For my happiness project, I’ve read a lot of books about career satisfaction, and this is absolutely one of the best (and I’m not just saying that because Michael is a friend!). In fact, I think that the book isn’t helpful for lawyers only, but for anyone who is thinking about ways to be happier at work.

Michael has not only done a lot of thinking about happiness, he’s done a lot of thinking about what practical changes actually can help boost happiness at work.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Michael: Giving someone directions on the subway or helping them carry a bag up a flight of subterranean stairs makes me almost bizarrely happy.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Whatever issues you have at 18 related to self-acceptance, moodiness, need for validation and desire to be special (to name a few) will most likely still be present when you are 30, 40 or 50. They probably will never go away. But you can learn ways to manage them. So I guess I would say that a big part of happiness is recognizing who you actually are and finding ways to bring out the best in that person and manage the less wonderful parts.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Comparing myself to others is something that I do consistently, and it is always an impediment to happiness. See my answer to question #2 above.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Every single time I exercise, I feel better. Even though I know this, it does take some effort to get myself out the door. I have also discovered over the years that eating quality, healthful food has a huge impact on my overall happiness, especially if I cook it myself. One happiness learning is that the physical and emotional components of happiness are completely intertwined.

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?
People confuse “I can’t” with “I won’t.” I see this especially in my line of work, which involves working with people to take action to improve their careers and lives. It’s so automatic for people to say they can’t do things: they can’t move, they can’t get by on less money, they can’t send their kids to public schools, they can’t find a good partner, they can’t pursue their passions. In most cases the truth is that they can, but don’t want to accept the consequences of those choices. It’s fine to choose to do or not to do things, so long as we acknowledge that we are choosing. But when people speak in a way that eliminates agency over their lives, they end up frustrating, angering and depressing themselves. And they seem inauthentic to others. This is why we never want to listen to someone complain about all the things they can’t do in life.

Aside from raising children, our careers are usually the most direct creative expression we have. Yet most people I know live in a state of uncertainty and anxiety about their careers. The old paradigms don’t work, but we don’t have any new ones to replace them. There’s a kind of pressure to stand for finer things, but one’s own creative expression in the world is one of life’s important things. Bright conscientious people today are incredibly frustrated because they aren’t sure how to go along this unknown path, feel embarrassed that they’re making a big deal about it, and are also terrified that they’ll get things wrong.

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?
At my current point in life, I feel closer to who I was as a little boy than I felt for much of my life. I was a creative, positive, curious kid but at a certain point fell into a pre-professional kind of track that was not very satisfying to me. It took me a long time to unlearn that.

I think that I have always had a rich range of feelings — I have a lot of zest for life but at the same time have a lot of feelings that can go negative. For instance, I can’t watch nature shows or anything that shows animals or fish or birds being hurt or killed. Nature actually kind of freaks me out. I love it but it is so Hobbesian. So I guess for me a full life includes both happy and dark moments, feelings of great satisfaction along with unquenchable yearnings.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
All the time. I am like that character in Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections who is constantly monitoring his serotonin level and wondering which factors are leading to which results.

Having followed your blog for some time (and having read your awesome manuscript) [thanks, Michael!], I think that you are really onto something: creating and following a set of specific habits is probably the best thing we can do to keep happiness alive in our lives.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I’m surprised that selling makes me happy.

* A thoughtful reader emailed me the link to a fabulous post, Abstract City, by Christoph Niemann. Anyone can enjoy these, but they are particularly charming when you live in New York City.

I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click here. Or 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.) No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line.

Money: 9 Tips to Avoid Overspending.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine tips to avoid overspending.

One source of unhappiness for people is feeling out of control of their spending – and this is a problem that’s far more widespread now than it was a year ago. Feeling regret about having bought something is a very unpleasant sort of unhappiness.

Being an under-buyer, as opposed to an over-buyer, I don’t generally have much trouble avoiding overspending. I have more trouble prodding myself to make the effort to buy things I actually need.

Nevertheless, even with my under-buying ways, I sometimes come home with something I didn’t really need to buy. Stores use extremely clever strategies to winkle customers into making purchases. Here are some strategies to make sure you don’t make purchases you regret:

1. Be wary of the check-out areas. There are lots of enticing little items here; ask yourself if you really need something before you add it to your pile. How many times have I picked up a jar of Balmex?

2. Get in and get out. The more time you spend in a store, the more you’re likely to buy. Even better: don’t even go in the store. Then you definitely won’t buy.

3. Question the need for an upgrade. You might want that device with a slick new function, or to get the improved version of what you have now, but do you really need it?

4. Be polite to salespeople, but don’t feel like they’re your new best friends. Don’t buy something because you’re worried about hurting their feelings or having made them do a lot of work helping you or explaining products to you. (At the same time, be respectful of clerks’ efforts. The other day, I was in Gap Kids, and I saw someone rifle through a pile of beautifully stacked shirts in a way that meant that they’d all have to be re-folded. Was he malicious or oblivious? I couldn’t tell.)

5. Don’t shop when you’re in a hurry or when you’re hungry.

6. Stick to a list. I’ve found that after I’ve decided to buy one thing, I’m far more likely to throw in other impulse items, because I know that I’m committed to going through the hassle of paying.

7 . Beware of sale items, which make you feel like you can’t afford not to buy, or limited-time offers, which make you feel like you have to take advantage of a special deal. If you don’t need or want something, it’s not a good deal, not matter how cheap it is. A friend of mine told her husband, “I got this 50% off!” and he answered, “That means it was 50% ON.” Along the same lines…

8. Don’t buy anything that you don’t know you need – this is especially important with clothes. If you’re not careful, you can buy a pair of pants marked down 75%, then realize that you can’t really wear them unless you buy the right shoes to go with them.

9. Choose cash or credit card. Some people find it far harder to spend actual physical cash; other people find that paying cash makes a purchase seem trivial, even when the dollar amount is high. Know whether you’re more inclined to overspend with cash or credit cards – and leave that payment method at home.

I discovered a terrific new site for working mothers, Mama Bee. Great material, helpful information, and beautifully written.

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.