Take Your Time. Especially When You’re in a Hurry.

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.

A few weeks ago, I posted Eight excellent tips for living that my parents gave me. Soon after, I ran into a friend who said, “I loved the tips your parents gave you. My mother had a great one, too. She always said, ‘When you’re in a hurry, take your time.’”

I thought this sounded like great advice, and now I’m absolutely convinced. Yesterday, as I was rushing to leave my apartment, I ran through the kitchen and pulled out a container of yogurt to gulp down before I left. (I had broken my resolution “Don’t let myself get too hungry.”)

Because I was hurrying, I wasn’t careful about pulling out the yogurt, and I knocked over a plastic container of tapioca pudding my husband had left on the shelf. The container fell out, exploded, and tapioca pudding flew all over my shoe, all over the kitchen floor, and splattered back up into the refrigerator. It took me several trips with a sponge to get everything cleaned up. My shoe may never fully recover.

If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, I would have left my apartment much faster.

Looking back, I realize how much hurrying slows me down. I forget to bring my Filofax if I leave in a rush. My husband lost his wallet in a cab because he was running late. Hurrying makes me forget things, drop things, mess up.

I find with email, too, if I have a “Faster, faster, faster!” frame of mind, I answer too quickly. I don’t address every issue raised in the email. I don’t attend carefully enough to who is sending it. I have trouble, later, remembering the exchange. I delete emails I should keep. In the end, rushing consumes more time.

Of course, I don’t want to poke along, either. I’m reminded of Miyamoto Musashi’s observation from A Book of Five Rings: “Speed is not part of the true Way of strategy. Speed implies that things seem fast or slow, according to whether or not they are in rhythm. Whatever the Way, the master of strategy does not appear fast….Of course, slowness is bad. Really skillful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.”

So now when I feel myself rushing, I’m going to remind myself, “Wait, I’m in a hurry — I need to take my time.” Again, the elusive (for me) but ever-important quality of mindfulness!

What about you? Have you found that it helps to take your time when you’re in a hurry?

* Yes, I love time-lapse photography of nature, and here’s a beautiful sunset over a lake. I love it, but it makes me melancholy too, in a pleasant way. I think there’s a Japanese word for that – for the bittersweet beauty of time passing. Anyone know it?

* I’m trying to figure out the level of interest for a book tour. If I did a book event in your town, and you’d come, it would be very helpful if you’d either post a comment below or drop me an email at grubin[at]gretchenrubin[dot com]. (Sorry about the weird format – trying to thwart spammers). Just write “tour” in the subject line, and be sure to include the name of your city! Thanks very much to all the people who already answered; the information is enormously helpful.

The Happiness of Doing Something New: the Audiobook Version.

People often ask, “What’s something surprising that you’ve learned about happiness?” Here’s one thing: I was very surprised by the truth of the principle that Novelty and challenge bring happiness.

I believed that this observation was true for a lot of people, but I didn’t think it would be true for me. I love routine. I revel in the little pleasures of my ordinary day. I don’t like to travel. I don’t even like to go to new restaurants. My favorite thing to do is to hang around the house and read in my pajamas.

But I had to test that theory for my book, and I discovered – yes, this is very true. I realized – and studies confirm – that novelty and challenge often mean delayed happiness. First comes a stressful period of feeling frustrated, stupid, exposed, insecure, confused…but along with that discomfort, you get a big surge of happiness.

That’s exactly what happened to me with my blog — in fact, I started the blog solely for the purpose of testing that principle, and my blog has proved it to me.

Today I’m going to do something novel and challenging. I’m off to record the audiobook for The Happiness Project. I’m going to read my entire book aloud – they estimate it will take eleven hours! (Mercifully spread over four days.)

What will it be like to listen to my own voice for eleven hours? Will I have enough liveliness in my voice, or too much? I imagine it’s pretty tough to strike the right balance. I’ve listened to Jim Dale read Harry Potter and Cherry Jones read the Little House books – extraordinarily good.

Also, what will I think of own book, when I’m reading it aloud instead of silently? I’ve heard of writers who read their work aloud as part of the editing process, but I’ve never tried that.

This process will be novel and challenging, but in the end, I imagine it will bring happiness. I’ll go to a new part of town, in a new environment with new people doing something new — and the experience will very likely boost my happiness. I’m certainly happy and feel very lucky that my publisher decided to do an audiobook at all.

* I’d heard of The Pioneer Woman before, of course, but I hadn’t gotten around to visiting it until Pamela Redmond Satran told me to check it out. Funny stuff there.

* If you’re interested in launching a group for people who meet to do their happiness projects together, sign up for the starter-kit. More than 3,300 people have requested it. You might also like to check out the Facebook conversation for group leaders — that’s a good resource if you’re getting started.

Eleven Myths of De-Cluttering.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day (or Quiz Day or List Day).
This Wednesday: Eleven myths of de-cluttering.

One of my great realizations about happiness (and a point oddly under-emphasized by positive psychologists) is that outer order contributes to inner calm.

But as much as most of us want to keep our home, office, car, etc. in reasonable order, it’s tough. Here’s a list of some myths of de-cluttering that make it harder to get rid of stuff.

Myths of Cluttering:
1. “I need to get organized.” No! Don’t get organized is your first step.

2. “I need to be hyper-organized.” I fully appreciate the pleasure of having a place for everything, and perhaps counter-intuitively, I believe it’s easier to put things away in an exact place, rather than a general place (“the third shelf of the coat closet,” not “a closet.”) However, this impulse can become destructive: if you’re spending a lot of time alphabetizing your spices, organizing your shoes according to heel height, creating eighty categories for your home files, etc., consider whether you need to be quite so precisely organized. I find this particularly true with toys – I’ve spent hours sorting pretend food, Polly Pockets pieces, and tea sets, only to find everything a jumble the next day.

3. “I need some more inventive storage containers.” See #1. If you get rid of everything you don’t need, you may not need any fancy containers.

4. “I need to find the perfect recipient for everything I’m getting rid of.” It’s easier to get rid of things when you know that you’ll be giving them to someone who can use them, but don’t let this kind intention become a source of clutter, itself. I have a friend who has multiple piles all over her house, each lovingly destined for a particular recipient. This is generous and thoughtful, but it contributes mightily to clutter. Try to find one or two good recipients, or if you really want to move your ex-stuff in multiple directions, create some kind of rigid system for moving it along quickly.

5. “I can’t get rid of anything that I might possibly need one day.” How terrible would it be if you needed a glass jar and didn’t have one? Do you have gigantic stores of things like rubber bands or ketchup packets? How many coffee mugs does one family use?

6. “I might get that gizmo fixed.” Face it. If you’ve had something for more than six months, and it’s still not repaired, it’s clutter.

7. “I might learn how to use that gizmo.” Again, face it. If you’ve had a gizmo on the shelf for a year, and you’ve never used it to make gelato or label a sugar jar, it’s clutter.

8. “I might lose a ton of weight and then I’d fit into these clothes again.” If you lose a bunch of weight, you’ll want to buy a new pair of jeans, not a pair you bought seven years ago.

9. “I need to keep this as a memento of a happy time.” I’m a huge believer in mementos; remembering happy times in the past gives you a big happiness boost in the present. But ask yourself: do I need to keep all these t-shirts to remind me of college, or can I keep a few? Do I need to keep an enormous desk to remind me of my grandfather, or can I use a photograph? Do I need fifty finger-painted pictures by my toddler, or is one enough to capture this time of life? Mementos work best when they’re carefully chosen – and when they don’t take up much room!

10. “I need to keep this, because the person who gave it to me might visit my house and be hurt when it’s not on display.” Is that person really likely to visit? Is that person really likely to remember the gift? Will the person really be upset by the lack of viewing of the gift?

11. “If I have any available space, I should fill it up with something.” No! One of my Secrets of Adulthood is Somewhere, keep an empty shelf. I know where my empty shelf is, and I treasure it.

* Today I had coffee with the fabulous Pamela Redmond Satran, author of many books, including the recent New York Times bestseller How Not To Act Old and the absolutely hilarious blog of the same name. Enter at your own risk — dangerously addictive, book and blog both.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Wednesday! This is the 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
Pre-order the book for a friend
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.
(Note that various links in the comment box, just below, make some of these steps easier.)

Happiness: Summing Up a Big Idea in a Short Sentence.

Although it may seem reductive, I think people grasp and remember great truths better when they’re snappily summed up. I love epigrams, aperçus, apothegms, and aphorisms of all sorts, and I try to to sum up my happiness conclusions in catchy, yet of course profound, axioms.

My greatest success so far: The days are long, but the years are short. That short sentence says it all. (If you haven’t seen my one-minute video, check it out.)

I was thinking about my Second Splendid Truth. Just getting it down to these two statements took enormous effort on my part. It sounds so simple, but there is a circularity to these ideas that confused me for a long time:
One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make someone else happy;
One of the best ways to make someone else happy is to be happy yourself.

So true, so true. But not very snappy.

But yesterday I hit on this!
Happy people make people happy.
This simple language almost makes this point sound trivial, but the epigram actually conveys what I think is one of the most important arguments about happiness — and it also refutes pernicious Happiness Myth #1.

Making people happy makes people happy.
Again, the language is simple, but the argument is one made throughout the ages by great philosophers, religious readers, and scientists.

I especially like the first one. Zoikes, I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from inventing these epigrams.

In other happy news: The Happiness Project got a mention in the new issue of Vanity Fair magazine, in the “FanFair” section. Yippee! (Oh, sorry, did I forget to mention that my book is coming out next month?) In case you want to run right out to see it, it’s in the issue that has Robert Pattinson on the cover – very appropriate because yes, I am going to see New Moon on opening night.

* I was fascinated by this post by Christine Whelan, Self-Help Isn’t for Dummies. According to her research, and contrary to what some folks assume, people who tend to buy self-help books are people who already have a fair measure of self-control, and want even more.

* If you’re in a book group and think you might choose The Happiness Project as a reading selection, please let me know. I’ll send you a discussion guide, plus I plan to give away some free advance copies of the book, and I’ll choose addresses from these emails.
–Email me at gretchenrubin1[at]gmail.com (don’t forget the “1”) with the message “book group”
–include your name and address if you’d like to be eligible for a free book
–if you’re willing, I’d love to know a little about your group: how many members, what you read, etc. No particular reason, I’m just curious about book groups!

How to Make Yourself Happier.

My First Splendid Truth is: To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Although this sounds like a simple and rather obvious formula, it took me a huge amount of time and thinking to work it out.

Even once I’d come up with it, however, I didn’t understand the true importance of the fourth element, the atmosphere of growth. But the more I think about the elements of a happy life, the more convinced I’ve become of its importance.

How do you cultivate an atmosphere of growth? You can fix something broken; clean something up; help someone who’s in trouble; make something; help someone move forward; learn something new; start something; plan and execute something. Having a place in your life where you are “growing” will make you feel much happier – plus these kinds of activities tend to foster other happiness-boosting actions, like spending time with people, making new friends, anticipating something fun, trying something new and challenging, etc.

One of my favorite ways to “grow” is to read something that changes the way I view the world. Suddenly, everything comes into focus more clearly, and my understanding deepens.

I felt this way when I read McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Bataille’s The Accursed Share: Consumption (I thought my head would explode when I read that, still have never been able to re-read it), Woolf’s The Waves, Canetti’s Crowds and Power, Koestenbaum’s Jackie Under My Skin

I have a special fondness for analysis that’s heavy on lists, categories, and schemes. That’s how I think myself – whether about power, money, fame and sex, or the life of Winston Churchill, or a happiness project, I always impose a very strict explicit order on my subject.

I’m enjoying this experience of intellectual revelation right now, because I’m halfway through the extraordinary book, Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order: Book One: The Phenomenon of Life. I already had this experience reading Alexander before, because I still haven’t recovered from the ecstasy of reading A Pattern Language. I’m slowly working my way through everything Alexander wrote, and The Nature of Order is not disappointing me.

In a nutshell, Alexander is outlining the qualities that give “life” to design – in the man-made world and in the natural world. Since I began this book, I find myself looking at buildings, fabrics, shells, everything, in a new way. One of the great, fundamental interests of my life is the relationship between people and objects (why, I have no idea, but this subject fascinates me) – plus I have an obsession that I call “symbols beyond words” which incorporates some of Alexander’s ideas.

Alexander identifies “fifteen structural [and also, he argues, objective] features which appear again and again in things which do have life”:
1. levels of scale
2. strong centers
3. boundaries
4. alternating repetition
5. positive space
6. good shape
7. local symmetries
8. deep interlock and ambiguity
9. contrast
10. gradients
11. roughness
12. echoes
13. the void
14. simplicity and inner calm
15. non-separateness

Considering his arguments is giving me tremendous intellectual pleasure — in particular, because I’m not a visually oriented person, they’re giving me a very satisfying tool for looking at the world and understanding what I find pleasing. (Though I have to admit, I just don’t appreciate a good Turkish carpet design the way Alexander does.)

The atmosphere of growth can be particularly useful to consider when you’re feeling unhappy, because it’s an area that’s directly under your control, right away. You can do something now to create an atmosphere of growth.

True, when you’re feeling blue, it can be tough to push yourself to learn something new, or get something started, or whatever. So start small. Search for an area where you can foster a bit of growth.

* I always find a lot of interesting, and funny, material on RealDelia — “finding yourself in adulthood.”

* Volunteer as a Super-Fan, and from time to time, I’ll ask for your help. Nothing onerous, I promise! But a big help to me.