What you can learn about happiness from bullfighting.

I do a lot of reading, and one of the few downsides to that habit is that I often lose track of the source of an idea or phrase. I’ve spent hours trying to track down an anecdote or a fact that didn’t strike me as important when I read it, but that later on, I wanted to look at more closely.

Sometimes I even jot down a note without remembering to include the source. For example, I’m very intrigued with a new word: querencia. Where the heck did I come across it? I thought perhaps it was the name of a short story discussed in Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, but I can’t find it there. Oh well. For some reason, the word caught my eye, and I spent some time tracking down its meaning.

During a bull fight, the bull will sometimes stake out a particular part of the ring where it feels safe: its querencia. Perhaps it’s a corner, in a square field, or perhaps it’s a place where the bull successfully toppled a horse. Whenever the bull has a chance, it will return to its querencia.

This is a term that has great metaphoric resonance.

Each of us should find our own querencia, our sanctuary, a place to which we can retreat from the lances that pursue us. Maybe that querencia is a place, like a bedroom or a bikepath – or a mental area of refuge – or a frame of mind.

But the useful metaphor doesn’t stop there.

Apparently, the bull is often most fierce and unpredictable when it’s fighting its way to its querencia. Sometimes, perhaps, it’s so important to us to gain our querencia that we’re hurtful when anyone blocks our way. Maybe it’s so important to believe that a marriage is strong that we ignore what a spouse is saying. Maybe it’s so important to believe that a child is well-adjusted that we don’t understand what a teacher means.

Also, although the bull feels safer in its querencia, its querencia didn’t necessarily afford it any greater protection from the matador.

So what’s the lesson? Identify your querencia, find comfort in it — but use it as a strong base, not a hiding place.

This is very relevant to me these days, because I read Munro Leaf’s wonderful book, The Story of Ferdinand, at least once each day to the Little Girl. Now, Ferdinand was a bull who had found his querencia.

Zoikes, this Smashing Magazine post has some amazing photographs of split-second events.

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Reflection: Take Questionnaires to Help Develop Insights Into Yourself.

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 a big believer in using milestone moments as cues for evaluation and reflection. Hitting a milestone like a major birthday, marriage, the death of a parent, the birth of a child, the loss of a job, an important reunion, or the accomplishment of a career marker like getting tenure or making partner, often acts as a catalyst for positive change.

The new year is, of course, a milestone that we all share. The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions reflects the fact that a lot of us want the change in the calendar to prompt a change in our lives.

If you’d like to do some self-reflection, but you’re not sure exactly how to get started, check out the questionnaires on the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness site. It has nineteen scientifically tested questionnaires that cover your overall happiness, your character strengths, your optimism, your perseverance, your compassion, and many other aspects of your life and character.

Even if you don’t agree with the scores you get, merely taking the test and seeing the results helps to act as a catalyst for self-reflection. Plus it’s fun – I love taking these kinds of tests.

Have you found other methods to spur self-reflection and to build self-knowledge?

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.

How to stick to your New Year’s resolutions – 12 tips.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: How to stick to your New Year’s resolutions — 12 tips.

It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and that means it’s the season for resolutions. I’ve always been part of the 44% of Americans who make (and also break) New Year’s resolutions; I’m a big believer in the power of small changes to make us happier.

Along the way, and especially since I started my resolutions-based happiness project, I’ve hit on some strategies for helping myself stick to resolutions.

1. Be specific. Don’t resolve to “Make more friends” or “Strengthen friendships”; that’s too vague. To make more friends as part of my happiness project, I have several very concrete resolutions like: “Start a group,” “Remember birthdays,” “Say hello,” “Make plans,” “Show up,” and “No gossip.”

2. Write it down.

3. Review your resolution constantly. If your resolution is buzzing through your head, it’s easier to stick to it. I review my Resolutions Chart every night.

4. Hold yourself accountable. Tell other people about your resolution, join or form a like-minded group, score yourself on a chart (my method) — whatever works for you to make yourself feel accountable for success and failure.

5. Think big. Maybe you need a big change, a big adventure – a trip to a foreign place, a break-up, a move, a new job. Let yourself imagine anything, and plan from there.

6. Think small. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that only radical change can make a difference. Just keeping your fridge cleared out could give you a real boost. Look close to home for ways to improve and grow.

7. Ask for help. Why is this so hard? But every time I ask for help, I’m amazed at how much easier my task becomes.

If you have an especially tough time keeping resolutions, if you have a pattern of making and breaking them, try these strategies:

8. Consider making only pleasant resolutions. We can make our lives happier in many ways. If you’ve been trying the boot-camp approach with no success, try resolving to “Go to more movies,” “Entertain more often,” or whatever resolutions you’d find fun to keep. Often, having more fun in our lives makes it easier to do tough things. Seeing more movies might make it easier to keep going to the gym.

9. Consider giving up a resolution. If you keep making and breaking a resolution, consider whether you should relinquish it entirely. Put your energy toward changes that are both realistic and helpful. Don’t let an unfulfilled resolution to lose twenty pounds or to overhaul your overgrown yard block you from making other, smaller resolutions that might give you a big happiness boost.

10. Keep your resolution every day. Weirdly, it’s often easier to do something every day (exercise, post to a blog, deal with the mail, do laundry) than every few days.

11. Set a deadline.

12. Don’t give up if something interferes with your deadline.

13. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Thank you, Voltaire. Instead of starting your new exercise routine by training for the marathon, aim for a 20-minute walk each day. Instead of cleaning out the attic, tackle one bureau drawer. If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.

What else? What are some strategies you’ve discovered, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions?

Just as my friend Marci Alboher has been writing about Laid Off From My Non-Job, Lisa Cullen of the TIME blog Work in Progress has been writing about How I Decided to Vamoose. I’m fascinated and heartened by reading these honest accounts of very difficult situations.

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.

Back in Kansas City, I get some happiness-boosting SLEEP.

The more I’ve reflected on happiness, the more convinced I’ve become of the importance of SLEEP to staying happy.

We left new York City for Kansas City on Saturday, for our annual eight-day holiday stay — and upon arrival immediately started on our traditional KC activities, like going to Winstead’s, going to the Plaza, etc. But although we feel like we have a lot to do here, we really don’t.

Last night, after a tiring day of buying some gifts at a bookstore and watching the girls decorate gingerbread cookies, I went to bed at 9:00 pm. I slept until 7:00 this morning. Ten solid hours. I felt ridiculous going to bed so early, and figured I’d be awake by 5:00, but I guess I was more tired than I realized.

I wouldn’t be able to get to bed at 9:00 every night, of course, but as a consequence of my happiness project, I have definitely gotten better at going to bed as soon as I feel sleepy. It really pays off. I feel a lot more energetic today than I have in a while.

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. I won’t send it until after the holidays, though, so don’t be surprised if it doesn’t show up right away.

Happiness quotation from Christopher Alexander (again).

If I consider my life honestly, I see that it is governed by a certain very small number of patterns of events which I take part in over and over again.

Being in bed, having a shower, having breakfast in the kitchen, sititng in my study writing, walking in the garden, cooking and eating our common lunch at my office with my friends, going to the movies, taking my family to eat at a restaurant, going to bed agin. There are a few more.

There are surprisingly few of these patterns of events in any one person’s way of life, perhaps no more than a dozen. Look at your own life and you will find the same. It is shocking at first, to see that there are so few patterns of events open to me.

Not that I want more of them. But when I see how very few of them there are, I begin to understand what huge effect these few patterns have on my life, on my capacity to live. If these few patterns are good for me, I can live well. If they are bad for me, I can’t. — Christopher Alexander

I’m on a Christopher Alexander kick right now. Just finished The Timeless Way of Building, now on to The Oregon Experiment.

Through Dooce, I discovered Momversation. So many great bloggers to watch! I must be strong, or I’ll spend two hours sitting in front of the computer screen.

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