Staying calm: Four tips for dealing with pre-election jitters.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 4 tips for dealing with pre-election jitters.

The presidential election has everyone nervous. No one is confident about the outcome, and it could potentially be a very, very long night next Tuesday. Emotions are running high.

So how can you deal with pre-election jitters?

1. Don’t stay plugged in every minute. With all the news and opinion outlets out there, you can make yourself crazy by trying to keep up. That’s fine if you have nothing else to do, but if you fall behind at work or neglect the people in your life, you’re going to see some unhappy consequences. Also, you might find your mood jerked up and down as you follow the good and bad news. Remind yourself that unless you’re actually employed by a campaign, you don’t have to process every scrap of information. Set aside certain times during the day to check in, and don’t let it take over your life. At the same time, when you do engage in the political conversation…

2. Keep the level of your conversation high. One of the most fascinating insights from my happiness-project research is that although we often think we act because of the way we feel, we often feel because of the way we act. So if you’re spewing vitriol anonymously on the internet, if you’re screaming at the TV, if you’re insulting your relatives for their political views, that ugly behavior is going to blow back on you, and make you feel more mean and angry. If you speak respectfully, you’ll feel more respect for yourself, and you’ll contribute to a more thoughtful level of political discourse. What’s more…

3. Do more than pontificate. You may feel like you’re participating very actively by doing a lot of reading and a lot of talking. Fact is, although every citizen has a duty to be well-informed, there’s a lot more to civic participation than just talking about it. You can volunteer to help a campaign, or contribute, or be a poll watcher, or be a poll volunteer. Especially if you’re feeling frustrated, taking an active role will give you a reassuring sense of having done your best to help. And, zoikes, at the very least…

4. VOTE! In 2004, I was absolutely flabbergasted when a good friend, a political nut, told me casually that he didn’t vote, because it wasn’t worth his time to deal with going to the polls. “My vote doesn’t make a difference in New York,” he explained. This is a guy who is consumed with politics. I was so shocked, I couldn’t think of a thing to say – and that doesn’t happen to me very often. Call me sentimental, but I think if you can vote, you should! I love to vote.

Voting will make you happier, too. The subject of self-esteem has generated a fair amount of controversy, but one thing seems clear: you don’t get healthy self-esteem from constantly telling yourself how great you are, or even from other people telling you how great you are. You get healthy self-esteem from behaving in ways that you find estimable. In other words, the best way to feel better about yourself is to do something worthy of your own respect. By making the effort to do something worthwhile, like voting, even if it’s inconvenient, you will raise yourself in your own estimation.

How about you? Have you found any good strategies for staying calm as we enter the last week before the election?

*
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.

Friendship and networking: How do you bring people together?

Ancient philosphers and contemporary scientists agree: a KEY to happiness is having strong bonds with other people. As a consequence, one of my main happiness-project themes is the creation and strengthening of my relationships.

I have many separate resolutions that address this topic, and one of most effective is “Bring people together.”

Bringing people together is a nice thing to do for the people you know. Studies show that extraverts and introverts alike get a charge out of connecting with others; at the same time, because we’re all sources of information and resources for each other, bringing people together—especially if done thoughtfully—can provide them with a new source of support.

Some people are natural connectors. I’m not, so I’ve been thinking more about this resolution lately, and I’m wondering – have you found any great ways to bring people together?

For example, one great method that I’ve used is to join or start a group. Having parties is a good way, but that’s a lot of work.

One sub-category of “bringing people together” is, of course, the dreaded “networking.” But although many people’s hearts sink at the sound of the word, networking is extremely useful, and can even be fun. One of my friends has an amazing ability to bring people together who would both like each other and also be helpful to each other. I can never figure out how she does it, but it’s a wonderful gift.

I’m looking for new strategies to try to “Bring people together.” What have you tried? What are some suggestions?

*
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.

Paradoxes of Happinesss: the sadness of a Happiness Project.

I think everyone could benefit from a happiness project.

But there’s also a sad side to a happiness project, which comes directly from the first and most important of my Twelve Commandments: “Be Gretchen.”

Many of the things that have brought me happiness since I started my Happiness Project came directly from my attempt to do a better job of “Being Gretchen.” This blog. My children’s literature book group. My Boy Castaways of Black Lake Island project.

But being Gretchen, and accepting my true likes and dislikes, also means that I have to face the fact that I will never visit a jazz club at midnight, or hang out in artists’ studios, or jet off to Paris for the weekend, or pack up to go fly-fishing on a spring dawn. I won’t be admired for my chic wardrobe or be appointed to a high government office. I love fortune cookies and refuse to try foie gras.

Now, you might think – “Well, okay, but why does that make you sad? You don’t want to visit a jazz club at midnight anyway, so why does it make you sad to know that you don’t want to do that? If you wanted to, of course you could.”

It makes me sad for two reasons. First, it makes me sad to realize my limitations. The world offers so much!–and I am too small to appreciate it. The joke in law school was: “The curse of Yale Law School is to try to die with your options open.” Which means — at some point, you have to pursue one option, which means foreclosing other options, and to try to avoid that is crazy. Similarly, to be Gretchen means to let go of all the things that I am not — to acknowledge what I don’t encompass.

But it also makes me sad because, in many ways, I wish I were different. One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” I have a lot of notions about what I wish I liked to do, of the subjects and occupations that I wish interested me. But it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like. I am Gretchen.

Once I realized this, I saw that this problem is quite more widespread. A person wants to teach high school, but wishes he wanted to be a banker. Or vice versa. A person has a service heart but doesn’t want to put it to use. Someone wants to be a stay-at-home mother but wishes she wanted to work; another person wants to work but wishes she wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. And it’s possible — in fact quite easy — to construct a life quite unrelated to our nature.

People judge us; we judge ourselves.

And the Happiness Project makes me sad for another reason. Just as I must “Be Gretchen” and accept myself, strengths and weaknesses both, I must also accept everyone around me. This is most true of my immediate family.

It’s very hard not to project onto your children everything you wish they would be. “You should be more friendly,” “You would love to be able to play the piano, why don’t you practice?” “Don’t be scared.”

And it’s even harder to accept your spouse. A friend told me that her mantra for marriage was “I love Leo, just as he is.” I remind myself of this constantly. I wish the Big Man got a big kick out of decorating the apartment for the holidays and that he was more eager to pass out gold stars, and sometimes it makes me sad to realize that he won’t ever be that way. I’m sure he wishes that I were eager to go camping and that I had a more peacable nature. But I love him just the way he is, and I’m a lot happier when I don’t expect him to change. The fact is, we can change no one but ourselves.

That’s another paradox of happiness: I want to “Be Gretchen,” yet I also want to change myself for the better.

Now, you might say again, “Why does all this make you sad? Rejoice in what you are; be authentic,” etc., etc. But it does make me feel sad sometimes.

*
Several thoughtful readers sent me the link to a very interesting article from The Atlantic: Paul Bloom’s First Person Plural, about our “multiple selves.”

*
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my 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.

Happiness quotation from Oscar Wilde.

“Nature, which makes nothing durable, always repeats itself so that nothing which it makes may be lost.” –Oscar Wilde

*
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my 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.

Your Happiness Project: Dealing with Post-Election Blues.

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.

No matter what happens on November 4th, a lot of people are going to be elated, and a lot of people are going to be dejected. What can you do if you’re worried that you’re going to fall into a major depression on November 5th?

You can take comfort from an area of research in the fairly new field of positive psychology, infelicitously named affective forecasting, which examines how people predict their future emotional states. It turns out that when we try to forecast our emotional state in the future, we tend to overestimate how horrible or how great we’re going to feel as a consequence of a certain outcome.

For example, studies have examined college students’ reactions to a loss by their school’s football team, and young professors’ reactions to not making tenure, and even the reactions of people who tested positive for HIV, and it turns out that people consistently overestimated how upsetting bad news would be (or how uplifting good news would be).

When you focus on just one aspect of the future – say, the identity of the President – you give this fact more prominence than it will actually have in your life. The identity of the President is important, but it won’t be the only thing that you think about on November 5, and December 12, and March 19, etc.

So if you’ve been telling everyone that if The Other Candidate wins, you’re going to move to Canada or Switzerland, remember that on November 5th, you probably won’t feel as devastated as you expect.

If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness and Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener’s Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth.

Or do you dismiss the studies? I told a friend of mine about this research, and he said, “You can survey all the college students you want, but if things don’t go the way I want in this election, I’m going to be depressed for a year.” How do you predict you’re going to feel, when the votes are cast?

*
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my 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.