YOUR Happiness Project: Don’t say it.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should 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 useful happiness finding is that we tend to regret the things we don’t do much more than the things we do. According to Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness, one explanation for this is that when we act, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that we learned a lot, even from a negative experience. It’s harder to make ourselves feel good about inaction.

I think this is generally true, and I often remind myself of this – for example, when I was deciding whether to go to my reunion, I considered the fact that I’d probably regret not going than I’d regret going.

However, there is a MAJOR and CRITICALLY IMPORTANT exception to this rule. And that is the decision to say something rude or mean. DON’T SAY IT. You won’t regret it. This is a place for inaction.

We’ve all heard the saying, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” This is so, so, so true. I can’t begin to count the times when I’ve said something, or written something, that I wished I could retract. It feels good for a moment to make that snarky comment, but then I bitterly regret it.

This is easier said than done, however.

For example, yesterday, I discovered something that the Big Man had done, out of inattention, that made me very angry.

I called him at work, and said “What have you done??!!” He hadn’t realized what he’d done, so I told him, but then he had to get off the phone for the rest of the day, so we didn’t really have a proper confrontation about it.

No surprise, the Big Man usually isn’t particularly eager to explore his missteps, so I kept thinking, “I’m going to tell him, ‘I need you to admit that this was a big mistake!’” “Just acknowledge that you screwed up!” “What were you thinking, how did this happen?” “This was your responsibility!” etc.

Then it occurred to me – I could say nothing. I’d brought the issue to his attention, and he knew what had happened. Now I could just let it go.

Can I actually do that? I really don’t know. So far, I haven’t said anything more about it, but it has taken superhuman self-control, and I don’t know whether I can keep it up. I’m going to try, however. There’s no real purpose to be served, other than satisfaction of my anger, and having an argument will sour the atmosphere of our house.

Relatedly, I’ll say this, too:

It’s true that a terrific happiness-project resolution is “Don’t say it.” Don’t say “I told you so,” don’t say “I was right,” don’t say “You screwed up majorly,” etc.

But if you’re on the other side of this situation, as the wrong-doer, it’s enormously helpful if you take the blame, if it’s deserved. If the Big Man would say to me, without prompting, “Hey, I wasn’t paying attention, and this happened, and I’m really sorry,” my anger would dissipate.

When I started working, my father told me, “If you’ll take the blame, you’ll get the responsibility,” and that’s absolutely true. There’s something enormously satisfying and comforting to people when a person accepts blame. By trying to deflect blame, you fan people’s angry feelings; by accepting blame (when appropriate), you discharge it.

I wish the Big Man would own up to his mistake. But I can’t control him. The question for myself is: given the situation, how do I choose to act? Do I bring it up, do I chide him? No, I choose not to say it. At least I’m going to try.

As Publilius Syrus wrote, “I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.”

***Update: after I wrote this, the sore subject came up naturally (I didn’t bring it up), and the Big Man said, “It was totally my fault.” And that was all it took to put the issue to rest. My hero.

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My goodness, I’m dying to see this documentary, My Messy Life, which I read about on Gimundo — a journalist exposes his messiness. I’m a bit obsessed with the psychological effects of clutter and clutter elimination, so I’m really curious to hear what he has to say.

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I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter 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.

Fourteen tips to avoid nagging.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Fourteen tips to avoid nagging.

In marriage, or any partnership, chores are a huge source of conflict. How do you get your sweetheart to hold up his or her end, without nagging?

One of my best friends from college has a very radical solution: she and her husband don’t assign. That’s right. They never say, “Get me a diaper,” “The trash needs to go out,” etc. This only works because neither one of them is a slacker, but still — what a tactic! And they have three children!

This is something to strive for. But even if we can’t reach that point, most of us could cut back on the nagging. Here are some strategies that have worked for me:

1. It’s annoying to hear a hectoring voice, so suggest tasks without words. When the Big Man needs a prescription filled, he puts his empty medicine bottle on the bathroom counter. Then I know to get it re-filled.

2. If you need to voice a reminder, limit yourself to one word. Instead of barking out, “Now remember, I’ve told you a dozen times, stop off at the grocery store, we need milk, if you forget, you’re going right back out!” Instead, call out, “Grocery store!” or “Milk!”

3. Don’t insist that a task be done on your schedule. “You’ve got to trim those hedges today!” Says who? Try, “When are you planning to trim the hedges?” If possible, show why something needs to be done by a certain time. “Will you be able to trim the hedges before our party next week?”

4. Remind your partner that it’s better to decline a task than to break a promise. The Big Man told me that he’d emailed some friends to tell them we had to miss their dinner party to go to a family dinner—but he hadn’t. Then I had to cancel at the last minute. Now I tell him, “You don’t have to do it. But tell me, so I can it.”

5. Have clear assignments. I always call repairmen; the Big Man always empties the Diaper Genie.

6. Every once in a while, do your sweetheart’s task, for a treat. This kind of pitching-in wins enormous goodwill.

7. Assign chores based on personal priorities. I hate a messy bedroom more than the Big Man, but he hates a messy kitchen more than I. So I do more tidying in the bedroom, and he does more in the kitchen.

8. Do it yourself. I used to be annoyed with the Big Man because we never had cash in the house. Then I realized: why did I get to assign that job? Now I do it, and we always have cash, and I’m not annoyed.

9. Settle for a partial victory. Maybe your partner won’t put dishes in the dishwasher, but getting them from the family room into the sink is a big improvement.

10. Re-frame: decide that you don’t mind doing a chore — like putting clothes in the hamper or hanging up wet towels. Suprisingly, this is easier than you’d think.

11. Don’t push for the impossible. The Big Man knows that there’s no way I’ll do anything relating to our car, so he doesn’t even ask.

12. No carping from the sidelines. If your partner got the kids dressed, don’t mock the outfits. If you want something done your way, do it yourself.

13. Think about how money might be able to buy some happiness. Could you find a teenager to mow the lawn? Could you hire a weekly cleaning service? Could you buy prepared foods? Eliminating conflict in a relationship is a high happiness priority, so this is a place to spend money if it can help.

14. Remember that messy areas tend to stay messy, and tidy areas tend to stay tidy. If you want your partner to be neat, be neat yourself!

I admit that these tips are practically useless, however, in a situation where one person is absolutely oblivious for the need for chores to be done. I have it easy, because if anything, the Big Man is more chore-oriented than I am. If a person simply does not care, it’s practically impossible to get him or her to participate.

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I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter 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.

Happiness interview with Chris Brogan.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness.

During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.

There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. I’m much more likely to be convinced to try a piece of advice urged by a specific person who tells me that it worked for him, than by any other kind of argument. I ask the same set of questions in each interview, the better to compare different people’s experiences.

One of my favorite Zen sayings is “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I’m usually inclined to scoff at that kind of notion, but I’ve found it to be uncannily accurate.

A great example of this happening to me is Chris Brogan. When I started my blog, I had no idea what I was doing. I was trying a lot of different things, and seeking information from a lot of different places.

On my desk, I still have a copy of an email I printed out from May 25, 2006, from Chris, with various pieces of advice which I followed slavishly. I don’t even remember how I happened to get in touch with him, but he was a huge help.

Chris is a guru of community and social media — he can be found all over the internet, but especially on Chris Brogan.com.

He had no reason to take the time to help me, but he did – and his help made an enormous difference when I was starting out. As you’ll see in one of his answers below, this kind of effort is a deliberate happiness-inducing strategy that he follows.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Chris: Going to a bookstore makes me very happy. I love the possibility all wrapped up in those pages.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Chris: I know that confidence matters so much more than we let on, and that I wished I used that knowledge more when I was 18.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Chris: I’ve picked up the bad habit of letting things go until the last minute, and this means that there’s no margin for error, and far too many self-imposed deadlines. I need to replace this habit. Soon.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Chris: I tend to remind myself that I only know MY way to do things. I can dabble in other people’s way, but mine has brought me this far.

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity?
Chris: My favorite comfort food is plain pasta (elbows is fine) with butter and parmesan cheese. My other thing to do when I’m really down is to help others. I go on huge bursts of reaching out to folks to be helpful, because it reminds me that there are others worse off.

Gretchen: 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?
Chris: I think that people detract from their happiness when they introduce undue complications into their lives. I fall into this trap often. I over-book my schedule. I make promises that are difficult to deliver. I try my hardest to stay simple

Gretchen: 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?
Chris: I feel happy more often than not. I feel happiest lately when I achieve a breakthrough of some kind or another, or when my children reach a milestone. Both seem equal in my eyes.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Chris: This is a great question. I do. Right now, the way I’m doing that is by retooling my work life. I’m thinking on how I can do something that’s more centered around my interests and principles, and further, how I can work the hours and style that suits me best. I’m not yet ready to pull the trigger on this new lifestyle, but when I do, I suspect happiness will be an outcome.

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I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter 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.

Happiness quotation from J. K. Rowling.

J. K. Rowling gave the commencement address at Harvard a few days ago. I read it online, and I loved it.

In particular, I loved what she said about failure. One of my resolutions is to Enjoy the fun of failure, and I think what she said is quite true. I especially appreciated her observation, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Also, one of the most important of my Twelve Commandments is “Be Gretchen.” Why is this so hard? Why do so many people (like myself) choose careers for the wrong reasons? Rowling touched on this when she observed, “Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

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I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter 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.

YOUR Happiness Project: Keep a one-sentence journal.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should 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.

Yesterday was the Little Girl’s last day in the “Purple Room,” which is what her nursery school calls the class for the school’s youngest children. She only went twice a week, for less than three hours, but the Purple Room was a very big part of her life.

There’s something so inexpressibly sweet about this age and this first experience of school. I’m having an emotion that I can only describe as preemptive nostalgia for this time. Her last morning there was yesterday, but already, I feel deeply sentimental about it.

The days are long, but the years are short.

For that reason, I’m so happy that I started keeping my one-sentence journal; otherwise I would worry that I wouldn’t remember any of the details about this time – the teeny tiny sinks, the coat hooks in the hallway marked with the children’s photos, the play kitchen and the board books.

Two years ago, I started keeping a one-sentence journal because I knew I would never be able to keep a proper journal with lengthy entries. I just don’t have the time or energy to write a long entry – even two or three times a week.

Instead, each day, I write one sentence (well, actually, I type on the computer) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man and the girls.

I can imagine one-sentence journal dedicated to more specific topics, as well. It might be useful to have one-sentence journal about your career – especially useful if you were starting a new business. It might be helpful to keep a one-sentence journal as you were going through a divorce, a cancer treatment, or other kind of catastrophic event. It would be lovely to keep a one-sentence journal when you were falling in love.

I posted about how one reader keeps a journal for his children.

I like keeping a one-sentence journal because it’s a manageable task, so it doesn’t make me feel burdened; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress, the atmosphere of growth so important to happiness; it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I’m much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events), which boosts my happiness; and it gives me a reason to pause thinking lovingly about the members of my family.

One thing is true: we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term, if we do a little bit at a time. Writing one sentence a day sounds fairly easy, and it is; at the end of the year, it adds up to a marvelous record.

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My goodness, I SO want to look through the the Telectroscope. You think you’re looking through a telescope from London to New York City! Fabulous.

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I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter 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.