A Fake Ad — For a Drug for the “Insufferably Cheery.”

Several thoughtful readers sent me this fake ad for Despondex, a “prescription depressant for the insufferably cheery.”

According to the ad, Despondex is “effective at reducing a range of symptoms,” such as:

  • talking to people in line at the grocery store
  • participating in community theater
  • Christmas caroling
  • collecting ceramic animal figurines
  • organizing neighborhood potlucks

The fake ad plays off Happiness Myth #1: Happy People Are Annoying and Stupid. It’s also pretty funny.

(Here’s the URL if you need it.)

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A very smart guy told me that there’s no overlap between blog readers and book readers. “Two completely different types of people,” he insisted. “The people who read blogs don’t bother with books.” I’m not so sure. I get the sense that the people that read this blog, at least, also read books. Then it occurred to me — I could just ask. If you have a second, please answer the survey question:

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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.

A Happy Family — According to Adam Smith.

“With what pleasure do we look upon a family, through the whole of which reign mutual love and esteem, where the parents and children are companions for one another, without any other difference than what is made by respectful affection on the one side, and kind indulgence on the other; where freedom and fondness, mutual raillery and mutual kindness, shew that no opposition of interest divides the brothers, nor any rivalship of favours sets the sisters at variance, and where everything presents us with the idea of peace, cheerfulness, harmony, and contentment?”
— Adam Smith

* I just came across the blog Rock Your Day and am looking forward to cruising around it. “Stop settling for less, start changing your life” — sounds like my kind of thing.

* 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.

Want to Feel Happier? A Menu of Resolutions.

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 reader sent me the link to Jonathan Haidt’s article, It’s More Fun to Work on Strengths Than Weaknesses (But It May Not Be Better For You), from May 2002. I was particularly interested to read it because I very much liked Haidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis.

The purpose of the article was to examine whether people benefited more from working on their strengths or working on their weaknesses, drawing upon the Values in Action Classification of 24 strengths/virtues, but what interested me most was the article’s Appendix. It provides a big menu of suggested activities for people to consider as they work on their strengths or weaknesses.

If you’re trying to think of resolutions for boosting your own happiness, this list is a great place to get ideas. (The list is aimed at college students living in Charlottesville, but it’s easily adapted to other situations.)

What I like about this list is its specificity. Making resolutions like “Have more joy” or “Live more deeply” are abstract, and so it’s harder to act on them. Resolutions are more effective when they direct you to a very concrete action.

1. Curiosity and Interest in the World
a. Ask question in class
b. Discover new places
c. Explore the stacks in the library; browse widely, or pick an interesting looking book each day, and spend 20 minutes skimming it.
d. Eat something new that you never otherwise would have tried
e. Go to a meeting or hear a speaker

2. Love of Learning
a. Discover one new place in C’ville every day
b. Read a newspaper other than the Cav Daily
c. Go to a professor’s office hours without a question
d. Ask a question in class
e. Go to an online search engine like Ask Jeeves-ask a question and explore sites you never otherwise would have discovered
f. Every day, read a chapter of a book that is not an assigned class text
g. Read a book about something you’ve always found intriguing but never found the time to learn more about

3. Judgment, Critical Thinking and Open-Mindedness
a. Go to a multi-cultural group or event.
b. Play devil’s advocate and discuss an issue from the side opposite to your personal views
c. Take a hall/suitemate out to lunch who is different from you in some way.
d. Go to a different church or religious event
e. Every day, pick something you believe strongly, and think about how you might be wrong.

4. Creativity, ingenuity and originality
a. Keep a journal, work on a picture or poem
b. Submit a piece to a literary magazine or newspaper
c. Decorate a notebook or your room
d. Pick one object in your room and devise another use for it rather than its intended use
e. Find a new word every day (perhaps at dictionary.com) and use it creatively every day.
f. Change your profile on IM daily

5. Social Intelligence
a. Meet one new person each day by approaching them
b. Go into a social situation in which you would normally feel uncomfortable and try to fit in
c. Whenever you talk with someone, try to figure out what his or her motives and concerns are.
d. Encounter someone by themselves and by being friendly, include them in your group

6. Perspective (Wisdom)
a. Get a quote a day online
b. Give advice to an upset friend
c. Think of the wisest person you know. Try to live each day as that person would live.
d. Look up prominent people in history and learn their views on important issues of their day and/or find a significant quotation that they said.

7. Valor
a. Talk in class (if you don’t normally)
b. Go against peer pressure or social norms
c. Stand up for someone even if you disagree with him/her.
d. Ask someone out or to dance
e. Introduce yourself to a stranger next to you in class
f. Speak up for an unpopular idea (if you believe in it)

8. Industry diligence and Perseverance
a. Finish work ahead of time
b. Notice your thoughts about stopping a task, and ignore them. Focus on the task at hand.
c. In class, resist daydreaming and distractions.
d. Plan ahead- use a calendar for assignments and tests.
e. Set a high goal (e.g., for exercise, or studying) and stick to it.
f. When you wake up in the morning, make a list of things that you want to get done that day that could be put off until the next day. Make sure to get them done that day.

9. Honesty, Authenticity and Genuineness
a. Refrain from telling small, white lies, to friends (including insincere compliments). If you do tell one, admit it and apologize right away.
b. Monitor yourself and make a list of every time you tell a lie, even if it is a small one. Try to make your daily list shorter every day.
c. At the end of each day, identify something you did that was attempting to impress people, or put on a show. Resolve not to do it again.

10. Zest, Enthusiasm, and Energy
a. Go out of your way to become more involved in an organization you are already a part of
b. Take up a greater interest in one of your classes, i.e. volunteer for a class activity
c. Do something because you want to, not because you are told.
d. Get a good night’s sleep and eat a good breakfast, to give yourself more energy during the day.
e. Do something physically vigorous in the morning (e.g., jog, push-ups)

11. Kindness and generosity
a. Leave a huge tip for a small check.
b. Do a random act of kindness every day (a simple, small favor). Make it anonymous if possible.
c. Be a listening ear to a friend. Ask them how their day was and actually listen to the answer before telling them about your own day.
d. Send an e-card to a different friend each day.
e. Pay the whole tab when you are out with friends.

12. Capacity to Love and be Loved
a. Tell boyfriend/girlfriend/sibling/parent that you love them
b. Send a loved one a card or e-card to say that you were thinking about him/her.
c. Give loved ones a big hug and a kiss
d. Write a nice note where someone you love will find it sometime during the day. Do this in a new place, or for a new person, every day.

13. Citizenship and Teamwork
a. Volunteer at Madison House
b. Take on added responsibility within an organization you are already a part of
c. Pick up litter that you see on the ground
d. Clean your suite, hall, or lounge (anywhere communal)
e. Organize a hall/suite dinner
f. Do your share in a group work/as a facilitator

14. Fairness, Equity and Justice
a. Allow someone to speak their peace while keeping an open mind by not passing judgment
b. Stay impartial in an argument between friends despite your beliefs (be the mediator)
c. Notice when you treat someone based on a stereotype or pre-conception; resolve not to do it again.

15. Leadership
a. Organize something special for your friends or suitemates one evening.
b. Organize a study group

16. Modesty
a. Don’t talk about yourself at all for a full day.
b. Dress and act modestly, so as not to attract attention to yourself.
c. Find a way in which someone you know is better than you. Compliment him or her for it.

17. Self-Control and Self-Regulation
a. Set aside 2 hours (or other designated amount of time) and ACTUALLY study in a quiet place.
b. Work out four days a week (if you don’t already)
c. Clean or organize your room. Every day, make sure that you pick up whatever mess you made during the day.
d. Leave something unfinished on your plate that you usually regret eating afterwards.
e. When something upsets you, attempt to block it out of your mind and instead focus on the good things in your life.
f. Make a resolution to not gossip. When you feel the urge to talk about someone behind his or her back, remember your resolution and stop yourself before you talk.
g. In the evenings, make an agenda for the following day. Stick to that agenda.
h. When you get overly emotional about something, calm down and calmly consider all of the issues again.

18. Caution, Prudence and Discretion
a. During a conversation, think twice before saying anything. Weigh the probable effect of your words on others.
b. Think about the motto “Better safe than sorry” at least three times a day. Try to incorporate its meaning into your life.
c. Before you decide to do something important, reflect on it for a moment and consider if you want to live with its consequences 1 hour, 1 day, or 1 year later.

19. Forgiveness and Mercy
a. Think of someone that you found it very hard to forgive. Try to see the situation from their perspective. Then consider, if you had been the one to do the offensive act, would you have expected to be forgiven?
b. Keep a journal, and every night, describe someone who made you mad, or against whom you have a grudge. After writing about the grudge, describe why you are resistant to forgiving them. Then look at the situation from that person’s point of view, and forgive the person.
c. Make contact with someone who has made you mad in the past. Let them know that you forgive them, or just be kind to them in your conversation.
d. When someone does something that you do not understand, try to fathom his or her intentions in the actions.

20. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
a. Go to a museum (e.g., the Bailey) and pick out a piece of artwork or a display that has aesthetic value and touches you because of its beauty.
b. Write down your thoughts about a piece of art, or something beautiful you see around grounds.
c. Take a walk with a friend and comment on something pretty that you see
d. Attend a concert and enjoy the sound for its musical value. Or pick out the most moving music you know of, and listen to it appreciatively on headphones every night. Or ask a friend to recommend the most beautiful music he or she knows.
e. Keep a journal, and every night, record something you saw during the day that struck you as extremely beautiful, or skillful.
f. Find something that makes you happy, in aesthetics or value, a physical activity or an object, and let it inspire you throughout the day.
g. Visit the Fine Arts Library and browse through the art books.

21. Gratitude
a. Keep a journal, and each night, make a list of three things that you are thankful for in life
b. Every day, thank someone for something that you might otherwise take for granted (e.g., thanking the janitor who cleans your hallways).
c. Keep a record of the number of times you use the words “thank you” in a day. Over the course of the first week, try to double the number of times that you say the words.
d. Call a parent/sibling/friend each day and thank him/her (e.g., for helping you to become who you are, or for always being there for you.)
e. Send someone a “thank you” e-greeting.
f. Leave a note on your roommate/apartment mate suitemate/hall mate that thanks them for something about them that you appreciate.

22. Hope, Optimism, and Future-Mindedness
a. Keep a journal, and every night, record a decision you made that day that will impact your life in the long run
b. When you are in a bad situation, turn it around to see the optimistic side of it. You can almost always find some good in a situation, regardless of how awful it seems at the time.
c. Make a list of bad decisions you have made. Forgive yourself and move on in life realizing that you cannot go backwards, only focus on the present and future.
d. Notice your negative thoughts. Counter them with positive thoughts.
e. Reaffirm yourself that you can and will succeed at whatever you put your mind to.

23. Spirituality and Sense of Purpose, and Faith
a. For five minutes a day, relax and think about the purpose of life, and where you fit in.
b. For five minutes a day, think about the things you can do to improve the world or your community.
c. Read a religious or spiritual book, or go to a religious service every day
d. Explore different religions. You can do this by going to a library, looking on the Internet, or asking your friends about their religions.
e. Spend a few minutes a day in meditation or prayer.
f. Invest in a book of affirmations or optimistic quotes. Read a few every day.

24. Humor and Playfulness
a. Every day, make someone smile or laugh.
b. Learn a joke and tell it to your friends.
c. Watch a funny movie or TV show.
d. Read the comics
e. Learn a magic trick and perform it for your friends

Once you choose your resolutions, just make sure you remember to stick to them. That’s even trickier than choosing the right resolutions.

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If you’re interested in starting a happiness-project group, where you meet with other people to work on your own happiness projects, 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 “Happiness-Project Group” in the subject line. I’m preparing a starter kit for anyone who is thinking about starting a group.

April Fool! How a Prank Can Make You Happy.

My happiness-project resolutions include “Cultivate rituals and traditions,” “Spread family cheer,” “Take time for projects,” and Be a treasure house of happy memories.

This cluster of resolutions runs together – meaning that doing a single action means I can give myself a gold star in several boxes (and yes I love those gold stars).

Last year, I decided to start doing holiday breakfasts, so these days I decorate the breakfast table for each holiday. This is easy, fun, and festive. I also decided to start playing April Fool’s pranks.

Yesterday morning, I combined the two. Before I went to bed the night before, I dyed the milk bright green — in an opaque container. In the morning, when my two daughters were at the table, I got a big gasp when I poured the milk out onto their bowls of Special K. Much excitement. Then the green milk dyed their teeth and tongues green, another source of hilarity.

The happiness pay-off was huge. Both girls got a big kick out of it; they were very excited to tell my husband about it when he came into the kitchen; they were very excited to tell their friends that I had played a real joke on them. The morning felt special and fun.

I took a picture, so we can remember this morning for a long time.

This April Fool’s joke took me about ten seconds to pull off, but I had to decide to do it. Sometimes, even doing the smallest extra thing seems impossible, but it’s worth the effort. I constantly have to remind myself of the Third Splendid Truth: The days are long, but the years are short. I’m always happy when I take the time to observe a tradition, do a family project, spread a little cheer, take a photo.

Last year, I froze my daughters’ bowls of cereal — this year, food dye. Now I am officially out of kid-appropriate pranks. Any ideas? Please post!

* If you’re interested in volunteering as a super-fan, to help me out with various tasks such as the early testing of my super-fabulous new website, you can click here or email me at gretchenrubin1 [at] gmail [dot com]. Just write “super-fan” in the subject line. To those of you who sign up — thanks so much!

Taken for Granted? 5 Tips for Dealing with Feeling Unappreciated.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 5 tips for dealing with feeling unappreciated.

Oh, how I crave gold stars. One of my worst qualities is my insatiable need for credit; I always want the recognition, the praise, the gold star stuck on my homework. I struggle to master my need for gold stars, because it makes me a resentful score-keeper.

Several of my resolutions are aimed at this desire, like Don’t expect praise or appreciation and “Do it for myself.” One of my Twelve Commandments is “No calculation” – it comes from a quotation from St. Therese of Lisieux, who observed, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”

Nevertheless, for all my efforts, I have to admit that I still crave gold stars. Whether or not I should want them, I do. Here are the strategies I use to try to curb my craving:

1. Do it for yourself. For a long time, I self-righteously told myself that I made certain efforts “for the team.” While this sounded generous, it led to a bad result, because I sulked when my husband or whoever didn’t appreciate my efforts. Now, I tell myself, “I’m doing this for myself. This is what I want.” I want to send out Valentine’s cards. I want to organize the cabinets. This sounds selfish, but in fact, it’s less selfish, because it means I’m not waiting for a gold star. No one else even has to notice what I’ve done.

2. Find ways to reward yourself. Maybe other people aren’t giving you credit, but you can give yourself credit. One reason I love my Resolutions Chart is that I get a little jolt of satisfaction when I reward myself with check-mark next to a resolution. I give myself my own gold stars! (True confession: my need for gold stars is so raw that when I started keeping my Resolutions Chart, I considered buying actual gold-star stickers and literally sticking them on. I didn’t go that far.)

3. Tell people you’d like to get a gold star. Once I acknowledged to myself how much I crave gold stars, I was able to explain that to my family – and sometimes even joke about it. Since then, they’ve all been better about doling them out, because they know how important it is to me. Also, it’s easy for people innocently to overlook contributions you’ve made, and if you give a gentle reminder, they might happily load you with gold stars.

4. Express your appreciation for what other people do. One good rule for happiness is that if you wish people would act a certain way toward you, act that way yourself toward others. If you wish people would be freer with praise and appreciation, make sure you’re ladling it out yourself. Also, when you push yourself to feel grateful for what others are doing, you remind yourself of how much they do for you — and that eases resentment.

5. Remember that being taken for granted is a form of praise. It’s ironic: the more reliable you are, and the less you complain, the more likely you are to be taken for granted. If you always meet deadlines, if you never lose your temper, if you’re always prepared, people overlook your efforts. Really, that’s a compliment.

* I really enjoy the blog The Fluent Self — all about “destuckification” in all its forms.

* So many people have written to ask for a starter kit for launching their own Happiness-Project Groups!

I’m working away on creating something to send out — I want the materials to be terrific. I’ll keep you posted.

If you’d like to add your name to the list, email me at gretchenrubin [at] gmail [dot com]. (Sorry to write in that weird way — trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Happiness-Project Group” in the subject line.