Your Happiness Project: Track Your Progress.

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.

One strategy that I find hugely helpful in many aspects of my life is to track my progress. Having some concrete proof of advancement gives me the gold stars I crave, and the accountability of charting my progress – or lack thereof – keeps me diligent.

One key way I track my progress is through my Resolutions Chart. The boxes below each resolution show me where I’m making progress and where I need to work harder.

I’ve found other ways to keep track of progress, too. As I’ve worked on the draft of my Happiness Project book (self-promotion alert: it comes out in January), I kept a pile of all the print-outs I’ve made. I work almost exclusively on the computer, but every once in a while I have to read it in a hard copy — somehow, words look so different printed on a page. Keeping a stack of my evolving manuscript was a way to remind myself visually of how far I’ve come since I started.

As the photo here shows, the pile was also fairly unattractive, so after taking this picture I rewarded myself for completing the copy-edited version by tossing the entire stack. Now, in a reversal, the absence of the pile is a different sign of progress.

Keeping track of progress can help deter you from doing things you don’t want to do – for example, snacking mindlessly. In Brian Wansink’s fascinating book Mindless Eating, he describes an experiment where students were served free chicken wings while they watched the Super Bowl. When the tables were bussed so that people had a clean table in front of them and no evidence to remind them of how much they’d eaten, they ate 28% more chicken wings than the people did when the leftover bones were left piled in front of them. A friend applied this strategy herself. She is a big candy fan, and for a week, after she ate candy, she saved the wrapper in her purse. At the end of the week, she was horrified by the number of wrappers she’d accumulated, and she was inspired to cut back on her candy consumption.

Another way to keep track of progress is to keep a one-sentence journal. The thought of keeping a real journal – the kind written in beautiful script in a parchment journal – is daunting, but keeping a journal of one daily sentence is manageable. My one-sentence journal is just general family news, but other people use them to track progress in a specific area: the launch of a new business, brainstorming ideas for a project, tracking training for a marathon.

Have you found any good ways to track your progress? –and does it help you achieve your goals and keep your resolutions?

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I love reading the Communicatrix blog. It’s full of insight and useful information, and it’s funny.

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Nine Tips for Dealing with a Happiness Emergency–in the Next Hour.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine tips for dealing with a happiness emergency.

I posted originally posted this tips list on on the fabulous Zen Habits, but I wanted to put it here, as well.

What do you do if you’re feeling blue because of the financial crisis? Or if you’re just having an extremely lousy day? Here are nine strategies that can boost your mood right now in a happiness emergency. In the next thirty minutes, check off as many of the following items as possible. Each one will lift your spririts, as will the mere fact that you’ve tackled and achieved some concrete goals; by doing so, you boost your feelings of self-efficacy, which can boost happiness.

1. Boost your energy: stand up and pace while you talk on the phone or, even better, take a brisk ten-minute walk outside. Research shows that when people move faster, their metabolism speeds up, and the activity and sunlight are good for your focus, your mood, and the retention of information. Plus, because of emotional contagion, if you act energetic, you’ll help the people around you feel energetic, too.

2. Reach out to friends: make a lunch date or send an email to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Having warm, close bonds with other people is the KEY to happiness, so take the time to stay in touch. Somewhat surprisingly, socializing boosts the moods not only of extroverts, but also of introverts.

3. Rid yourself of a nagging task: answer a difficult email, do an errand you’ve been putting off, or call to make that dentist’s appointment. Crossing an irksome chore off your to-do list will give you a big rush of energy and relief.

4. Create a calmer environment: clear some physical and mental space around yourself by sorting papers, pitching junk, cleaning a closet, stowing supplies, sending out quick email responses, filing, or even just making your piles neater. A large stack of little tasks can feel overwhelming, but often just a few minutes of work can make a sizable dent. Try to get in the habit of using the one-minute rule — i.e., never postpone any task that can be completed in less than one minute. And always make your bed in the morning! For most people, outer order contributes to inner peace.

5. Lay the groundwork for some future fun: order a book you’ve been wanting to read (important: not something you think you should read) or plan an excursion to a museum, hiking trail, sporting event, gardening store, movie theater—whatever sounds like fun. Studies show that having fun on a regular basis is a pillar of happiness, and anticipation is an important part of that pleasure. Try to involve friends or family, as well; research shows that people enjoy almost all activities more when they’re with other people than when they’re alone.

6. Do a good deed: make an email introduction of two people who could help each other, or set up a blind date, or shoot someone a piece of useful information or gratifying praise. Do good, feel good — this really works. Also, although we often believe that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. When you act in a friendly way, you’ll strengthen your feelings of friendliness for other people. Along the same lines…

7. Act happy: put a smile on your face right now. Research shows that even a fake smile has a positive influence on your emotions — turns out that just going through the motion of happiness brightens your mood. In the same way, a recent experiment suggested that people who use Botox might be less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry faces. If you’re smiling, other people will perceive you as being friendlier and more approachable.

8. Count your blessings. Take ten minutes to think about all the things in your life that are going right, about all the things that other people do to help you, about all the things that you’re thankful for. In the tumult of everyday life, it’s very easy to focus on the negative and to lose sight of what really matters.

9. Perform an action that reflects your values. Do you think organ donation is a good idea? Sign up online to be one yourself; it takes less than a minute. Worried about climate change? Refill your water bottle from the tap instead of buying a couple of bottles throughout the day. The First Splendid Truth holds that to work on happiness, we should think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Living up to your values will help you “feel right.”

Some people worry that wanting to be happier is a selfish goal. To the contrary. Studies show that happier people are more sociable, likable, healthy, and productive — and they’re more inclined to help other people. So in working to boost your own happiness, you’re benefiting others as well.

Feel happier yet? Have you found any other effective strategies to give yourself a quick jolt of emergency happiness?

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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.

Mindfulness Exercise: Look Down Third Avenue, Avoid Getting Hit by Cars.

A concept that comes up all the time in the study of happiness is mindfulness. I’m not a very mindful person (are you? here’s a quiz), and I’m always looking for ways to cultivate greater mindfulness. Except meditation — I just cannot get myself to try meditation. I know, I know, I should.

But even though meditation holds no attraction for me, I’ve found other ways to cultivate mindfulness. For one thing, I’ve been trying to make myself more aware of the very small pleasures scattered through my days. Instead of absentmindedly noticing the smell of hyacinths, for instance, I want to take a moment properly to appreciate it.

I identified a small but real pleasure yesterday. I noticed how much I love to look up and down the long avenues in my neighborhood. I love seeing the buildings rising up on both sides, the long lines of red, green, and white lights, the patterns of people and signs. Now, reveling in this pleasure is slightly dangerous, because it means I’m standing in the middle of the street – so it’s a fleeting pleasure that can last only as long as a red light. But having registered this pleasure, I’m going to try to enjoy it every time I cross an avenue.

Keying into these tiny pleasures gives you a lift even on a happy day. And being in the habit of noticing them can also act as a buffer when you’re feeling blue or angry. One concrete cause of unhappiness is rumination. Studies show that by dwelling on irritating feelings and episodes, you amplify their power in your mind. Taking a moment to distract yourself from bad feelings can help alleviate them.

Samuel Johnson observed, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.” The pleasure of looking south down Third Avenue is little, but it’s real.

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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.

Why I Now Own a Set of Four Heart-Shaped Placemats.

Three of my favorite happiness-project resolutions are Take time for projects, Be a treasure house of happy memories, and “Appreciate the seasons and this time of life.”

A great way to combine all three of these resolutions is to observe family traditions, and as one new tradition (oxymoron?), I’ve started planning holiday breakfasts. I copied this idea from a friend, after I saw how she’d set her table for her Valentine’s Day breakfast last year, and I’ve been doing it for holidays ever since.

For birthdays, I have a special cupcake plate, a special candle, and a big banner. For Halloween, I have special plates, special pumpkin candles, those window-gel decorations that stick on windows and mirrors, and I dyed the peanut-butter black (my daughters eat peanut-butter on toast for breakfast). Etc.

This weekend marked my first Valentine’s breakfast. I put out special placemats, heart-shaped plates, cut the toast into heart shapes and dyed the peanut-butter red, put heart decorations on the window, scattered a few Sweethearts candies around the table, and gave each girl a pack of Valentine’s-Day-themed stickers. As the photo shows (yes, that is an actual photo of what I did), I didn’t do anything fancy.

Now, like most traditions, this was a bit of a pain. I had to make sure I had some decorations (next year, I’ll just re-use what I bought this year). I had to wait until the girls went to sleep to set the table – at a time when I felt like collapsing myself. I had to pre-mix the peanut-butter the night before.

But the preparations weren’t very onerous, and it was a lot of fun the next morning. One of the nice things about kids is that it doesn’t take much for them to feel like something is “special,” so even a simple tradition is very gratifying.

If I didn’t have kids, I’d try to find some other way to celebrate the holidays. These kinds of traditions mark the passage of time in a pleasant way and add a note of festivity to everyday life.

Also, the major holidays can become a lot of work. It’s nice to celebrate in a very manageable way.

* On the subject of Sweethearts candy, Reader’s Digest compiled a list of the last ten year’s worth of sayings. Who knew they ever changed?

* 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.

Happiness Quotation from Charles Kingsley.

“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” –Charles Kingsley

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Adam Gilbert at My Body Tutor has a great happiness-project story: he had a safe, well-paying corporate job and left to follow an entrepreneurial dream, to start a company to help people devise diet and work-out plans — and stick with them! That’s the aspect that interests me most: what can we do to help ourselves keep our resolutions? That’s the tricky part.

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If you’ve never seen my one-minute internet movie, The Years Are Short, you might like to check it out.