Life’s Cruel Truth: You Get More of What You Already Have.

One of my happiness-project resolutions is to Meditate on koans. In Buddhist tradition, a Zen koan (rhymes with Ken Cohen) is a question or a statement that can’t be understood logically. Monks meditate on koans as a way to abandon dependence on reason in their pursuit of enlightenment. The most famous koan is probably: “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?”

I’m haunted by my own koans – lines that flicker through my mind and evade logical thinking. One of my koans is from the Bible, Mark 4:25: “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”

This doesn’t really sound fair, on first reading! I think the meaning of Jesus’ words is something like, “Those who have sought to understand divine truth will learn more, and those who haven’t tried won’t even remember the little they’ve learned.”

But whatever Jesus meant in the context of that verse, I find myself thinking about it in the happiness context, and I’ve often reflected that this statement sums up one of the cruel truths about happiness, and about human nature generally: you get more of what you have.

When you feel friendly, people want to be your friend. When you feel sexy, people are attracted to you. When you feel confident, others have confidence in you.

This truth is cruel because so often, you want others to give you what you feel you’re lacking. It’s when you’re feeling isolated and awkward that you want people to be friendly. When you’re feeling ugly, you want someone to tell you how sexy you are. When you’re feeling insecure, you wish someone would express confidence in you.

During my happiness project, I’ve been startled to discover the efficacy of the third of my Personal Commandments: Act the way I want to feel.

This commandment is important for two reasons. First, although we think we act because of the way we feel, often we feel because of the way we act. So by acting the way we wish we felt, we can change our emotions – a strategy that is uncannily effective.

Second, the world’s reaction to us is quite influenced by the way we act toward the world. For example, in situation evocation, we spark a response from people that reinforces a tendency we already have — for example, if I act irritable all the time, the people around me are going to treat me with less patience and helpfulness, which will, in turn, stoke my irritability. If I can manage to joke around, I’ll evoke a situation in which the people around me were more likely to joke around, too.

Life isn’t fair. People with a propensity to good cheer will find themselves in a friendly, cheerful environment, while people who are already angry or crabby will find themselves surrounded by uncooperative, suspicious people. “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”

Which leads, as always, to the same conclusion: that even though it’s tempting sometimes to think that I’d be much happier if other people would behave differently toward me, the only person whose behavior I can change is myself. If I want people to be friendlier to me, I must be friendlier. If I want my husband to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic. If I want our household atmosphere to be light-hearted, I must be light-hearted.

Goethe wrote: “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.” And he that brings a sunny day will find a sunny day waiting for him.

* The folks from the terrific site Wise Bread have done a great new book, 10,0001 Ways to Life Large on a Small Budget. It’s an excellent resource, and the information is presented in an attractive, accessible, and even funny way. I got a lot of great ideas from the book.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 20,000 subscribers. If you’d like to sign up, click here or email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (sorry about that weird format – trying to to thwart spammers.) Just write “newsletter” in the subject line. It’s free.

Everything Gains in Grandeur Every Day.

“The more I work, the more I see things differently, that is, everything gains in grandeur every day, becomes more and more unknown, more and more beautiful. The closer I come, the grander it is, the more remote it is.” — Giacometti.

* 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.

Be Happier: Make a Break in Your Routine.

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.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little stale. My routine, which I usually love so much, is starting to feel like a run on a hamster’s wheel.

Perfect timing – I can keep my resolution to “Make a break in my routine” and also to Stay connected to my past by going to Kansas City this weekend, for my high-school reunion.

Kansas City is beautiful in the springtime, I can’t wait to see my old high-school pals, one of my best friends is taking the same flight from New York City to K.C. so we’ll have three hours to talk, and – huge bonus – my sister was five years behind me in school, so she’ll be home from Los Angeles to go to her reunion at the same time (my parents are out of town, unfortunately).

I know that having a short break from my usual habits will re-invigorate my appreciation for my everyday life.

I’m off!

* I was so pleased to hear that one of my favorite sites, Gimundo, is up and running again. It went dark for a while, but now it’s active again and better than ever, providing “good news…served daily.”

* 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.

Quiz: Do you make other people happy?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day — or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Quiz — Do you make other people happy?

As put forth by the Second Splendid Truth:
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;

One of the best ways to make other people is to be happy yourself.

Everyone accepts the Second Splendid Truth, Part A; the Second Splendid Truth, Part B often isn’t as clear to people. But to focus on Part A here – how do you know if you’re making other people happy? What are some signs?

Are the following statements true for you:

  • Do people seem to feel comfortable confiding in you?
  • Do people follow your recommendations?
  • Are you a source of material comfort or security for someone else?
  • Do people whom you’ve introduced often go on to have a continuing relationship?
  • Do people seem to drift toward you? Join a conversation that you’re having, sit down next to you at a meeting?
  • Are you providing opportunities for other people – job leads, blind dates, contacts in a new city?
  • Do people whom you hardly remember go out of their way to greet you warmly? Say, an intern who worked in your office three years ago, or a former student?
  • Do people seem to want to connect with you — by making plans or by emailing, calling, or texting?
  • Do people seem energized by you? Do they smile and laugh in your presence?

Notice some items that are not on the list:

  • Do people remember your birthday?
  • Do people give you presents (say, for Mothers’ Day, or in recognition of an important milestone)?
  • Do people express appreciation and gratitude for your efforts?

Even if you’re making people happy, they don’t always respond by making these gestures. (Which can be annoying.)

A while back, I posted a quiz, Are you the person whom everyone else finds difficult? It was a lot easier to think of signs that you make people unhappy than you make people happy – perhaps because of the negativity bias.

What am I missing? I feel like I’ve overlooked some obvious indicators. What are some other good signs that you make people happy?

* Many thoughtful readers have sent me the link to a fascinating article from The Atlantic, What Makes Us Happy? It’s a great piece, plus I know the writer, Joshua Wolf Shenk, a little bit, which made it even more fun to read it.

* Yes, super-fans, the website is ready! You should have received an email from me with the link to my fabulous new site. Thanks for helping with this pre-launch phase — I’m so grateful. Soon I hope the site will be ready to be made public.

Super-fans, let me ask you an additional favor. Unbelievable as this sounds, there are more than 2,400 super-fans, so it would be an enormous help if, instead of emailing me directly with your suggestions or comments, you’d post to the Discussion Page on Facebook. That way, the web developers can read what you’ve said without me having to act as an intermediary, and it’s much quicker for me to read everyone’s comments. Also, other users might be interested to see your response. Again, THANKS. Have fun with the site!

Need a Happiness Boost? Here’s a Quick Fix.

A friend who knows about my passionate interest in organ donation sent me a terrific new book, Larry’s Kidney: Being the True Story of How I Found Myself in China with My Black Sheep Cousin and His Mail-Order Bride, Skirting the Law to Get Him a Transplant–and Save His Life. Part memoir, part travelogue, it’s the story of writer Daniel Asa Rose’s trip to China to help his ne’er-do-well cousin, Larry, to get a kidney. Larry was on the U.S. wait-list, but it seemed clear that he might not live long enough for his turn to come, so the two headed to China. At that point in China, it was illegal for a Westerner to get a transplant (still true, I think), so they have a lot of strange adventures in trying to score an organ.

I really enjoyed the book just as a story – the difficult relationship between the cousins, the observations about Chinese culture, the unpredictable twists and turns in their quest. Also, it’s quite funny.

Larry’s Kidney also got me all worked up, yet again, about the issue of organ donation. The shortage of organs in the United States is a dire problem, and we could do so much to alleviate it if we’d all just commit to donation!

Sign up on the online registry, sign a donor card, check the box at DMV – or just tell your family that you want to donate. If the issue should arise, they’ll be consulted, and if they know your wishes, they can speak for you.

There are two reasons that it’s important to commit to donation. The first is obvious, but the second just occurred to me. First, one donor can save and improve the lives of dozens of other people, so we should all donate, if we can — it’s a rare privilege, actually, to die in a way that permits you to be a donor.

Second, because so few people do die in a way that allows their organs to be used, it’s critical to have an enormous base of potential donors. By committing to donation, and by telling other people that you’ve done so, you help create a culture in which it’s expected that people donate their organs. These cultural expectations make a big difference. Littering, wearing seat-belts, driving after drinking, smoking in restaurants, using car seats for children…just in my lifetime, I’ve seen huge shifts in the expectations for behavior. If “everyone” signs up to be an organ donor, “everyone” will sign up to be an organ donor.

Now, if you have a principled reason not to donate, fine. You get a pass. But ask yourself this: if you needed a kidney, would you accept one? If your child or sweetheart needed a kidney, would you put that name on the list? If you answer “yes,” then do your part. Sign up yourself.

Also, if you’re concerned about the exploitation of people in other countries for their organs, you undermine the demand for those organs by committing to donation.

It’s not a principled or religious belief that prevents many people from signing up – nope, we neglect to sign up from sheer laziness or from a vague desire to avoid thinking about death. Are those good reasons to neglect to do something so easy and so important?

Maybe you’re feeling frantically busy, so you can’t volunteer at that soup kitchen, or maybe you’re feeling strapped for cash, so you can’t donate to support your local library. Here’s a good deed of enormous significance that you can do in less than a minute! Sign up now! Tell your family! Remember, you’ll get a big rush of happiness from the knowledge that you’ve done something to help other people. Do good, feel good.

And never forget, one day you might be the person waiting for that call from the hospital. Someone reading this post right now may be inspired to sign up to donate the kidney that will save your life next year. So sign up yourself.

* A terrific online resource is Alltop. The plethora of information on the internet can be overwhelming, and this site can help you quickly find the sites that most interest you. Dangerously addictive, however.

Super-fans, I swear, I REALLY think today is going to be the day! I know I’ve said that before, but this time I really think it’s true. Keep your fingers crossed that today (or tomorrow) the site will be ready for pre-launch. If you want to sign up to be a super-fan, to help with the pre-launch my fabulous new site or to help me out in some other ways, sign up here.