What is “The Only Payment That Can Never Fail”? Guess.

“These testimonies of a good conscience are pleasant; and such a natural pleasure is very beneficial to us; it is the only payment that can never fail.”
–Montaigne

Less poetically, I remind myself, “Do good, feel good.”

* Design Mom has a very specific focus (a quality I appreciate in a blog); if the intersection of parenthood and design interests you, you’ll love it.

* 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 when the book hits the shelves, 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!

Act the Way You Want to Feel.

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 of the most surprising, and useful, things I’ve learned from my happiness project is my Third Commandment: Act the way I want to feel.

Although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. More than a century ago, philosopher and psychologist William James described this phenomenon: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” By acting as if you feel a certain way, you induce that emotion in yourself.

I use this strategy on myself. If I feel shy, I act friendly. If I feel irritated, I act lovingly. This is much harder to do than it sounds, but it’s uncannily effective.

Lately, I’ve been feeling low. I had various justifications for my blue mood, but just last night it occurred to me – maybe it’s due to my persistent case of viral conjunctivitis (which has been on my mind a lot).

As a consequence of the conjunctivitis, my eyes well up constantly, and I wipe tears off my face many times through the day. Maybe that’s contributing to my feelings of sadness.

It sounds far-fetched – that I feel sad because my eyes are watering as a result of eye inflammation – but I have indeed caught myself wondering, “Why am I feeling so emotional, why am I tearing up?” My mind was searching for an explanation that justified such a tearful response.

Actions, even involuntary actions, influence feelings. Studies show that an artificially induced smile can prompt happier emotions, and an experiment suggests that people who use Botox are less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry, frowning faces.

Usually, however, I invoke the act-the-way-I-want-to-feel principle not in the context of involuntary action, like tearful eyes, but in the context of self-regulation. When I’m feeling an unpleasant feeling, I counteract it by behaving the way I wish I felt — when I feel like yelling at my children, I make a joke; when I feel annoyed with a sales clerk, I start acting chatty.

It really works. When I can make myself do it.

How about you? Have you ever experienced a situation where a change in your actions has changed your emotions?

* Last weekend was the New York City marathon, which is a very big deal for everyone living in New York City. It creates a festive feeling, even when you’re not running, or watching the race, or even following it on TV. It’s a very happy event. I loved watching this time-lapse video on Gimundo of a single city block during the race.

* I send out short monthly newsletters that highlight the best of the previous month’s posts to about 28,000 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.

Which Websites and Blogs Boost Your Happiness?

On the Inspiration Board of the Happiness Project Toolbox, people have posted a staggeringly interesting array of happiness-related quotations, images, book suggestions, and website recommendations.

It seems like a good idea to create a place here where people can shine a spotlight on happiness-boosting blogs and websites. Voila, here’s a chart. To suggest one, list your favorite here! And don’t feel shy about adding yourself to the chart.


There is such a treasure trove of material out there; it’s hard to keep up with all the great sites to visit. I hope this list will be a good resource.

* I’m a huge fan of the writer Daniel Pink, so was very interested to watch his TED talk on motivation. I can’t wait to get my hands on his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us — but will have to wait until it comes out in December. I may be slightly distracted at that point, because my book hits the shelves on the very same day. What a coincidence.

* Speaking of the Happiness Project Toolbox — check it out! It has eight free tools to help you launch and track your own happiness project.

Eight Tips for Feeling More Energetic.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for feeling more energetic.

Feeling energetic is a key to feeling happy. Studies show that when you feel energetic, you feel much better about yourself. On the other hand, when you feel exhausted, tasks that would ordinarily make you happy—like putting up holiday decorations—make you feel overwhelmed and blue.

When my energy feels at a low ebb, I try one of these techniques (well, first I drink something with caffeine in it, but if I feel like I need to take further steps, I try these strategies):

1. Exercise—even a quick ten-minute walk will increase your energy and boost your mood. This really works! Try it!

2. Listen to lively music.

3. Get enough sleep. If the alarm blasts you out of a sound sleep every morning, you’re not getting enough—and it matters. (Here are some tips for getting good sleep.)

4. For some people, taking a 10-30 minute nap is a big help. I can’t nap, myself, but my father has been known to take three naps in one day.

5. Act energetic. Research shows that when people move faster, their metabolism speeds up. Also, because the way we act influences the way we feel (to an almost uncanny degree), by acting energetic you’ll make you feel more energetic.

6. Talk to friends. I’ve noticed that if I’m feeling low, and then run into a friend on the street, I walk away feeling much more energetic. Reach out if you need a boost. This is true for introverts and extroverts alike.

7. Get something done. Crossing a nagging chore off your to-do list provides a big rush of energy. For a huge surge, clean out a closet. You’ll be amazed at how great you feel afterward.

8. Do NOT use food. It’s tempting to reach for a carton of ice cream when you’re feeling listless, but in the end, all those extra calories will just drag you down. In general, be wary of the urge to treat yourself when you’re feeling low.

Energy (or lack of energy) is contagious. If you feel energetic, you’ll help the people around you feel energetic, too. And that makes them feel happier. In fact, in his excellent book, The No A***ole Rule, Bob Sutton reports that being an energizer was one of the strongest predictors of a positive performance evaluation at work.

* How great! Groups for people who are doing happiness projects together have launched all over the world, and the group in Singapore, led by Marion, got written up in the magazine Her World. Click here if you want a starter-kit yourself.

* 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.)

Hugging Kids and Drinking Pinot Noir — But Not Going Blonde.

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. 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 or her, than by any other kind of argument.

I’m a new fan of the hilarious blog Mom-101, so I was curious to hear what writer Liz Gumbinner had to say about happiness.

She writes about parenthood and life in general on her blog and in anthologies like Sleep Is for the Weak: The Best of the Mommybloggers, True Mom Confessions, and See Mom Run (just out this week). She’s also the publisher/editor-in-chief of Cool Mom Picks. I was especially interested in Liz when I found out that she also lives in New York City. (I rarely seem to meet any NYC bloggers – why is that?)

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Liz: Oh man, you’re going to make me start this off with the cheesiest, most cliche answer ever — but hugging my kids. There’s something about two little girls squealing and running towards you with arms outstretched that is the singularly most exquisite example of happiness that ever existed. (And to think my former answer was “pedicures.”)

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
I used to have the cause and effect thing all backwards. I thought that if, say, the right boy liked me, it would make me happy. Now I know that it’s happiness that attracts good people into your life. Also, I now know that that right boy grows up to be bald, twice-divorced, and a drunken slob at high school reunions.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
I am the quintessential people-pleaser. I try to make everyone else happy, which often puts me last. I need to stop that. I mean, if you’re okay with that.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?

There’s a story about a king who challenges his wise men to bring him something that, when he’s sad it will make him happy, and when he’s happy it will make him sad. They spend months on the project, and return to him with a small ring engraved with the saying, “This too, shall pass.” It’s a great reminder that everything is cyclical.

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children’s books).
I am now outing the dorky new agey side of myself, but I love the little bag of runes I’ve had since college. If I’m in a tough spot, I draw a rune and it always gives me some much needed perspective on the situation. Of course, there’s always mac n cheese, a glass of Pinot Noir and some bad escapist reality TV which is like the emergency comfort trifecta.

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?
The happiest people seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing. Unhappy people seem to be very focused on what other people are doing. (With the exception of reality TV watching because really, those aren’t actual people, right?)

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?
I think overall I’m a happy person–I once had a coworker ask what medication I was on, because I was always smiling. This was not the same coworker who asked me if my boobs were real. (Aw, those were the days.) But I’ve certainly gone through some dark periods of depression or anxiety or sadness. One of the toughest times for me was when I was pregnant for the first time. I was on bedrest, I gained a lot of weight, my relationship wasn’t the best it’s ever been, and I felt like nothing more than an incubator. I got through it with the support of friends and family who loved me unconditionally, and the knowledge that my situation was finite. See, also: “This too shall pass.”

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
For me, the opposite of happy isn’t “sad,” it’s “anxious.” So I try to avoid the people and situations that stress me out and don’t bring joy into my life. I try to stay off the blogs that exist only to be cruel, I don’t follow drama-starters on Twitter, and I have banished all the energy suckers from my circle of friends. In fact, I think taking inventory of your friends are at any given time is a pretty strong indicator of where your own head is. I’m so lucky right now that Kristen Chase, my partner and co-publisher of Cool Mom Picks (and a great friend!) is so collaborative and positive and supportive in every way as is the rest of our staff. I feel lucky every day to have such positive, wonderful people in my work life day to day.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
I tried going blonde for a while. It didn’t make me happier, although it definitely changed the kinds of guys who tried to hit on me in bars.

* Although I don’t meet many NYC bloggers, I do manage to meet a lot of far-flung blogland friends when they come through New York. I’m a longtime reader of Beyond Blue, so am very happy to be meeting Therese Borchard in person, at last. I predict a long conversation about St. Therese of Lisieux, too. Can’t wait.

* For more discussion about happiness, join the Facebook Page. Lots of people, lots of fascinating conversation.