The Movie “Twilight” Inspires Me to Do A Better Job with Some of My Resolutions.

Following my resolution to Enter into other people’s interests, last week I watched the movie Twilight with my older daughter. This wasn’t a sacrifice for me; I love Stephanie Meyer’s books (oh, how I love children’s literature), so I was curious to see the movie.

I found the movie interesting for many reasons not relevant here (other than to say I’m thinking about Jung generally, Frazier’s The Golden Bough, and George Orwell’s discussion of “good bad poetry” in his essay, “Rudyard Kipling”), but in particular, I loved the depiction of wordless, instantaneous, passionate love.

Many of my happiness-project resolutions are meant to help me be more tender, more loving, more-lighthearted, more appreciative…more romantic.

My husband and I met when we were in law school. I still remember the first time I saw him walk into the library – a shock ran through me, and I could practically feel my pupils dilate. He was wearing jeans and a rose-colored Patagonia pull-over (which I still keep in my closet). I walked over to a friend and whispered casually, “Who is that guy?”

Our law school is small, and our social circles magically started to overlap, so I met him, and my crush deepened. One important night, we sat next to each other at a dinner party. There was that afternoon when we ran into each other on the law-school staircase in front of the stained-glass windows.

But he had a girlfriend, and I had a boyfriend. Then he broke up with his girlfriend. A week later, on May 1 (I just looked up the exact date in my calendar), I broke up with my boyfriend. It happened in the morning, and I went out into the courtyard and made a general announcement of the break-up to a bunch of friends — to see what his reaction would be.

No reaction. “Hmmmm,” I thought. “Maybe I misread this situation.” Had I imagined what I thought was between us? After all, the two of us had never talked about anything of importance, certainly not about “us”; we’d never spent any time alone, only in chaperoned groups (except that once he’d asked me to breakfast at the Copper Kitchen before our Corporations class, an occasion so thrilling to me in prospect that I slept only a few hours the night before); and neither of us had ever made even the smallest romantic overture toward each other.

But that same afternoon after my break-up, he told me he was going to walk to Wawa’s (the New Haven version of QuikTrip) to get a Coke, and did I want to come? I did. We walked to Wawa’s, then back to the law school, and sat on a bench beneath some blooming magnolia trees. He said something completely incoherent, then took my hand; this was the first time we ever touched. At that moment, if he’d asked me to marry him, I wouldn’t have been at all surprised, and I might well have said “Yes.” (We did get engaged several months later.)

Now, so many years later, is it the same? Yes and no. Yes, because I still love him passionately, and more deeply, because I know him so much better. No, because he’s passed through my heart and into my soul, and he pervades my entire life, so now sometimes it’s hard to see him. Married people are so intertwined, so interdependent, so symbiotic, that it’s hard to maintain that sense of wonder and excitement.

If I’ve learned one thing from my happiness project, it’s that if I want my life to be a certain way, I must be that way myself. If I want my marriage to be tender and romantic, I must be tender and romantic.

Am I tender and romantic? Am I appreciative, thoughtful, forbearing, fun-loving? Or do I march around the apartment snapping out reminders and orders? Am I quick to feel annoyed or aggrieved? When we first met, I honestly wondered whether it would ever be possible for me to read when we were sitting in a room together; I found it so hard to concentrate that I couldn’t make sense of anything more complicated than the newspaper. Now, I find it hard to tear myself away from my work and my email to hold up my end of a marital conversation.

So, inspired by the springtime, and the memories of early love brought back to me by Twilight, I’m going to redouble my usual efforts to keep my resolutions related to love. Think of small treats or courtesies. Leave things unsaid. Give proofs of love. Don’t expect praise. Take time to be silly. Admire. Fight right.

Have you found any good ways to stay tender and romantic in a long relationship?

Here, to me, is the great mystery: we’re perfectly suited to each other – but how did we fall in love before we knew each other at all? How is that possible?

* The movie also reminded me to Be Gretchen and accept my own taste in music, and not to wish that my taste is different from what it is. I loved the song from the Twilight piano scene, “Bella’s Lullaby,” and instead of dismissing that pleasure, I let myself enjoy it – and in the process, came across this engaging post by the composer Carter Burwell. (To listen to the song, listen to the clip on his post, or this preview.)

It reminds me of another soundtrack song I love, The Promise, from the mindblowing movie The Piano. The pairing of the two songs/movies is interesting, because The Piano is about wordless passion between adults, with their complications, instead of teenagers.

What’s Essential To Happiness?

“It is essential to happiness that our way of living should spring from our own deep impulses and not from the accidental tastes and desires of those who happen to be our neighbors, or even our relations.” –Bertrand Russell

That’s why the first of my Twelve Commandments is to Be Gretchen.

If you love the performing arts, my friend Bob Hughes, the polymath culture junkie, has started a blog Hughes Views on Classical TV, “the greatest performing arts online.” Tons of great material to read there.

Considering doing your own happiness project or just want to join as a fan? Join the discussions on the Facebook Page.

Be Happier: Embrace the paradoxes of a happiness project.

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.

I’ve been very struck by an observation by physicist Niels Bohr: “There are trivial truths and great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”

This is very true in the area of happiness, and in particular, I’ve noticed it with my resolutions. In many cases, my most important resolutions come paired with the opposite resolutions, and yet both are important to my happiness.

This tension was beautifully illustrated in a novel I love, Vikram Chandra’s mesmerizing Sacred Games. “Sartaj was thinking about how uncanny an animal this life was, that you had to seize it and let go of it at the same time, that you had to enjoy but also plan, live every minute and die every moment.”

I want to Be Gretchen and accept myself, but I also want to perfect my nature (as this entire project demonstrates). I want to think about myself so I can forget myself. I want to work on my own happiness so I can make other people happier.

I want to lighten up and not take myself so seriously — but I also want to take myself more seriously.

I want to spend my time efficiently and not waste it, but I also want to wander, to play, to fail, to read at whim. I want to keep an empty shelf, and also keep a junk drawer.

I want to be free from envy and fear of the future, and live fully in the present moment — but not to lose my ambition.

Control and mastery are key elements of happiness; so are novelty and challenge.

Everything matters, and nothing matters. As Samuel Butler wrote in his Notebooks, “Everything matters more than we think it does, and, at the same time, nothing matters so much as we think it does. The merest spark may set all Europe in a blaze, but though all Europe be set in a blaze twenty times over, the world will wag itself right again.”

Happiness doesn’t always make me feel happier.

The days are long, but the years are short.

Have you found any paradoxes that have been important to your happiness? Contrary resolutions that you try to follow in both directions?

I had fun talking about happiness with Maura Kelly, who is keeping a blog A Year of Living Flirtatiously for Marie Claire. We talked about How to be happy — even if you’re single.

Considering doing your own happiness project? Join the discussions on the Facebook Page to swap ideas, strategies, and experiences.

Life, the Musical: Strangers in a Train Station Sing and Dance.

My mother-in-law has never before emailed me a link to YouTube — that’s not at all her style — but when I watched this clip, I understood why she sent this one. She loves musicals, and this scene from the Central Station in Antwerp is a musical erupting in everyday life.

I’ll say no more; don’t want to be a spoiler – but this video made me very happy.

Or click here.

My brilliant friend Marci Alboher writes about Working the New Economy, and she talked to me for a post she did about networking, Networking tips for the shy or introverted. Figuring out ways to do a better job of networking was a big part of my happiness project, and Marci was one of the people who taught me the most.

Considering doing your own happiness project? Join the discussions on the Facebook Page to swap ideas, strategies, and experiences.

Eight Tips for Conquering Anger and Irritability.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for conquering anger and irritability.

Hah. It’s really quite preposterous for me to offer up a tips list on this subject. A tendency to fly off the handle is one of my most disagreeable and persistent traits, and something I battle with – largely unsuccessfully – every day. For me, anger is the most tempting of the seven deadly sins. At best, you could describe me as “edgy.”

This list shows the strategies I try to use to keep myself patient and mild-mannered, but I certainly can’t claim that they’ve been wholly successful. I still lose my temper far too often; however, I do think I’m doing a better job than I would be if I weren’t following these tips:

1. Pay attention to my body. Being too cold, too hot, and especially being too hungry, makes me far more irritable.

2. Don’t drink. I basically gave up drinking because alcohol makes me so belligerent.

3. Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings (usually this arises with my husband or daughters). Instead of snapping back answers like “I don’t want to hear a lot of whining” or “It’s not that big a deal,” I try to show that I understand what someone is saying.

4. Be realistic. For instance, I often get irritated when someone interrupts me when I’m reading — but I should know better than to try to read the newspaper during my daughters’ Saturday morning breakfast. Of course I’m going to get interrupted.

5. Don’t expect praise or appreciation. I often feel irritated when someone (usually my husband) doesn’t notice and praise some effort on my part. For example, when I went out of town last week, I got my older daughter completely organized for a field trip before I left. I snapped at my husband because he didn’t appreciate this Herculean accomplishment on my part.

6. Squelch my reaction. Not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate. I have trouble with this in person, but often manage to do it if it involves email; the deliberate effort of writing an irritated email often gives me the opportunity to decide not to send it. I find it tougher to bite back an angry retort — but I’m working on it. When I can manage, acting the way I want to feel always helps me to change my feelings.

7. Make a joke. Okay, some of these strategies are more fantasy than reality, but on the rare occasion when I do manage to make a joke during a moment of irritation, it works beautifully to lighten the mood.

8. Try not to be defensive. Many of my most harsh reactions are triggered by some kind of accusation – that I did something wrong, that I did something rude, that I screwed up in some way. If I can admit to fault, or let it go, I can lighten my anger. My anger is tied to my pride, and pride is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

In my case, as this list shows, anger stems from a tendency toward perfectionism. I want to control things, have events unfold exactly as I want, have people behave exactly as I direct, and get lots of credit for everything I do. Surprise! That’s not how the world works.

What strategies have I missed? What helps you defuse anger and irritability? I need more help!

My friend and blogging mentor Jonathan Fields has two excellent blogs: Awake at the Wheel, which has a lot of great material of general interest, and Career Renegade, which is more focused on work and career. Jonathan’s book, Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love, has gotten a lot of buzz.

Considering doing your own happiness project or have some ideas to share? Join the discussions on the Facebook Page to swap insights, strategies, and experiences. Also, people who want to start happiness-project groups have started to post their cities, so if you’re interested in joining or starting a group, look there.