Buy Needful Things.

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.

I’m an under-buyer (as opposed to an over-buyer). That means I have trouble prodding myself to buy things, even things I absolutely need, like contact-lens solution. When I do buy, I buy as little as possible (even though this means I have to buy again before long). I often procrastinate about buying essential seasonal items, like mittens, until late into the season. I use things for too long, past the point at which they’re used up or worn out. Sure, a pair of old khakis is nice, but at some point, I really do need a new toothbrush.

As an under-buyer, I’ve developed some resolutions to help me buy, and the most important of these resolutions is Buy needful things. I force myself to stop at the drugstore to pick up the supplies I need. I prod myself to buy three tubes of toothpaste, not just one. I ask myself if we have an emergency supply of cereal and light bulbs. I ask myself, “Do I need this?” and if I do, I buy it (or at least I’m supposed to buy it) without saying, “I’ll pick this up another time.”

As Samuel Johnson wrote, “To live in perpetual want of little things is a state, not indeed of torture, but of constant vexation.” It’s no fun to be in a household that’s constantly running out of toilet paper.

Over-buyers, of course, have the opposite problem. They spend too much time and money buying things that they don’t really need. “We can use that.” “This might come in handy.” “That would make a good gift…for someone.”

For over-buyers, the resolution to “Buy needful things” is also useful, because it reminds them to ask, “Do I really need this? Right now? Or do I just think I might need it?”

To find out if you’re an under-buyer or an over-buyer, take this quiz.

How about you? Do you have to push yourself to make purchases — or to hold yourself back?

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month’s focus is Energy. Last week’s resolution was to “Get more sleep.” Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Get more exercise. Start small! Be realistic!

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
Nine tips for staying motivated to exercise.
Quiz: Are you a likely exercise drop-out?
Eleven tips for sticking to a schedule of regular exercise.

If you’re new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* I was interested to read this article on Gimundo, Evolution may favor survival of the kindest.

* When I write, I have two imaginary characters in my head. One is the hostile reader, who attacks and criticizes me; the other is the ideal reader, who understands everything I’m trying to express. Since The Happiness Project came out last week, I’ve been fortunate enough to have several reviewers from the second camp, like this review from Terry Hong in the Christian Science Monitor. As a writer, it’s thrilling to see a reaction like this.

Newsflash! THE HAPPINESS PROJECT Hit the New York Times Bestseller List! #2!

I’m in shock. I just found out. My book, The Happiness Project, hit #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, its first week out in the world.

This is one of the HAPPIEST moments of my professional career! I’m beyond thrilled!

Thank you, my dear readers, for your enthusiasm and everything you’ve done to support The Happiness Project. Thank you!

Now I’m off to jump around the room with joy!

Seven – Maybe – Tips For Avoiding an Office Affair.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven – maybe – tips for avoiding an office affair.

A friend told me that when she started her job at a big company a few years ago, a family friend, who also worked there, pulled her aside to give her some advice.

Many people in their workplace had affairs, he said, and he’d seen lots of marriages break up. He’d kept his own marriage strong by following five rules about the workplace, and he urged her to keep the same rules:

1. Never take a first step in flirtation, even in jest.

2. Never have more than one drink with people from work. If that.

3. Never confide details from my personal life to people from work, and don’t allow them to confide in me.

4. Never allow myself to have a “special friend” of the attractive sex (sometimes called a “work spouse”) to whom I turn for particular support. (This is sometimes called an “emotional affair.”)

5. Unless it’s an unmistakably professional context, don’t meet alone with a colleague or client of the attractive sex. E.g, when a client calls with tickets for the baseball game, don’t go in a twosome.

He explained the reasoning behind his advice (which would apply to people in any long-term relationship, married or not).

There comes a time in every relationship, he said, when a couple doesn’t get along very well. This period might even last several years. Difficult kids, difficult schedules, health worries, money worries, and all the rest can create a lot of conflict.

If you have an intimate friend at work, someone who knows you very well, and understands your troubles, and appreciates you properly, and can offer you a sympathetic, conflict-free refuge from your annoying spouse/partner, the temptation to turn to that person is very strong.

Or if you’re alone with someone, on a business trip, or out drinking – you might give in to a sudden impulse.

Are these helpful tips? From a happiness-at-work perspective, some of them give me pause. In particular, I think #3 sounds awfully draconian. Studies show that people who have friends at work are happier than people who don’t, and it would be hard to have close friends if you followed Tip #3. In general, too, these tips put a constraint on work relationships, which are among the most important relationships we have.

Nevertheless, thinking back to my days working in an office, I think there’s some real value to these injunctions. They’re worth thinking over, to adapt to each person’s particular situation.

In particular, I think people assume that it’s pretty straightforward to decide, “I would never have an affair” – that it’s just a matter of good character and solid values. But in practice, temptation can sometimes arise over a very long period of time, and not look the way we expect. Gradually, slowly, a relationship’s nature changes. Or by contrast, sometimes a very stressful or intense moment creates a sudden energy which, in the right environment, can lead to an affair.

La Rochefoucauld wrote, “It is much easier to extinguish a first desire than to satisfy all of those that follow it.” I think that some people, quite innocently, can get started down a path that will lead them into temptation. It’s not easy to resist temptation, once it’s presented, and this man developed his five strategies to keep himself from getting to that point.

I’ve heard two additional tips about avoiding an office affair, from other people:

6. Imagine your spouse/partner as an audience – cc’d on the email, listening to the phone call, walking suddenly into the conference room. If you’d feel uncomfortable in that situation, you’ve crossed some line.

7. If you develop a close relationship with someone from the attractive sex at work, get to know his or her family. That puts a damper on starting an affair.

What do you think? Do you agree with these tips? Do you think they’re too restrictive? Unnecessary? Would you suggest other strategies?

* So many people I know have great books publishing this month! Daniel Pink’s Drive, Alexandra Levit’s New Job, New You, Robyn Okrant’s Living Oprah…Today is exciting — the actual day that my friend Therese Borchard’s Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes comes out. It’s an honest, but also funny, account of living with depression. Also, my fellow fans of St. Therese of Lisieux — Therese talks a lot about St. Therese.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 31,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

“Gratitude, Appreciation, Dale Carnegie — and Business Trips.”

Through a mutual friend, I became acquinted with Alexandra Levit and her writing – she’s a career columnist for the Wall Street Journal. Much of her work focuses on helping people find and succeed in meaningful jobs. Her brand-new book (we have the same pub date!) is New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career. It’s a great resource for anyone who is figuring out whether, what, and how to change careers.

A career shift is one of the most difficult, and also most rewarding, changes a person can make in a happiness project. Of course, these days, it can seem like a luxury to like your job – it’s enough just to have a job — or GET one! But if you’re in the position of deciding what to do, or whether to make a change, finding work you love is one of the biggest happiness boosters out there.

I went through this kind of transition myself, when I left law to become a writer. It was very difficult, but it has been a key to my happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Alexandra: Going out to a good restaurant or a beautiful natural spot with friends. Even if I’m feeling down and don’t feel like leaving the house, the act of getting ready and forcing myself to be social inevitably perks me up.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I know now that happiness is internal, not external. I used to believe that if I did X, Y, and Z, then I would be happy. But I’ve realized that you can have an objectively outstanding life (someone to love, something to do, etc.) and still be miserable. It’s not what you do but what you think/how you feel about what you do that’s the important variable.


Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Yes. I often point out things in my life that could be better, or irrationally compare myself to other people. I hold myself to an extremely high standard and leave very little cushion room for when the ups and downs of life just happen.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
My favorite happiness book – besides Gretchen’s [awww, thanks Alexandra!] – is How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie. It teaches us to take ownership of our thoughts and emotions and recognize that we have the power to control how we perceive situations. The wisdom is timeless.

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 around me seem to spend a great deal of time complaining without actually doing anything about an unpleasant situation. They also worry about things they can’t control or aren’t likely to happen. And I think that people don’t appreciate what they have, including their own success. Once one goal is met, they immediately move on to the next one without taking the time to celebrate the achievement.

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?
When I was a freshman in college, I was exceptionally unhappy. I was going through a lot in my personal life, and plus I think adolescent angst hit me a little late. It took me almost a year to get back on track. I think I was happiest in my late twenties, when I got married and found my passion career-wise. I consider myself to be pretty happy now, although I’m still getting used to being a parent and the tremendous emotions that come with it.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
I absolutely work at it. I am a person who is prone to seeing the glass half empty, and I know this, so when I sense that my mood is getting low, I write down all of the things of consequence – positive and negative – that happened during a given week. Inevitably I’ll see that the list of positive things is much longer than the list of negative things, and it forces me to recognize that things are much better than I sometimes perceive them to be.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
One aspect of my life that has always surprised me in this respect is the business trip. I often dread trips involving an airplane and hotel room, but more times than not, my fondest memories of my work with a particular organization are made in the context of an off-site event. I think that I’m going to hate every minute, and then I end up having a blast!

* Over at RealDelia (“Finding yourself in adulthood”), Delia has an interesting post about a kind of happiness project: deciding that the only work she’ll pursue on Saturdays is to do yoga and read The New Yorker, to make sure those happiness-inducing activities don’t get pushed aside. I love it!

* Join the conversation about happiness:
Join the Facebook Page
Follow me on Twitter, @gretchenrubin
Sing up for the 2010 Happiness Challenge

Why I’d Rather Be Enthusiastic Than Confident.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about enthusiasm. I’ve become increasingly convinced of the importance of enthusiasm to happiness.

Enthusiasm is energetic, positive, generous, and social. It’s outward-turning and engaged. It’s kind of goofy.

As one of my happiness-project experiments, I tried putting sticky notes throughout the apartment with two key adjectives to keep in mind as I went through my day. In my office, the sticky note originally said, “Creative and confident.” But as I thought more about the quality of confidence, I decided that it really wasn’t the right adjective.

Confidence has an overtone of posture; also it relates to the way I’m seen by others, or the way I feel about myself. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, has to do with the way I feel about something or someone else.

Enthusiasm is a form of social courage; it’s safer to criticize and scoff than to praise and embrace.

Enthusiasm is contagious; one person’s enthusiasm can infect others with enjoyment. My mother-in-law is a theater nut who takes my older daughter to the theater a lot, especially to musicals. If my daughter took a class in musicals, would she love them? I’m not sure. But being swept up in her grandmother’s enthusiasm has made her love them, too.

I’m not a particularly enthusiastic person, except in certain very specific areas, and I’m trying to do a better job of tapping into my enthusiastic side and encouraging other people’s enthusiasms. For instance, I follow resolutions to Give positive reviews and to Act the way I want to feel.

There’s a dark tendency in human nature to mock or attack other people’s enthusiasms. It’s easy to make fun of ping-pong or Barry Manilow or Star Trek or wine-tasting — but why do it? I remind myself to Shield my joyous ones. I draw energy and cheer from the joyous ones, from the enthusiastic ones, and I need to encourage and join them, not drag them down.

* One of the pleasures of the internet is the glimpse it can provide into the very different experiences of other people. Kinda like Rear Window for the whole world. A thoughtful reader sent me the link to her blog about working on a research vessel in Antarctica.

* Curious about the book The Happiness Project? You can…
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