If you’ve emailed me in the last week…

If you’ve emailed me in the last week to ask for a copy of my personal Resolutions Chart or to be put on my newsletter list, there’s a good chance I never received your note. Some of my emails went undelivered. Now the problem seems to be fixed, so if you think of it, email me again at grubin AT SYMBOL gretchenrubin DOT COM. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” or “Newsletter” in the subject line.

Sorry for the inconvenience. Talk about re-framing! I was complaining about getting too much email — but I’ve learned that it’s better to get too much than not to get it at all.

Happiness interview with Ben Casnocha.

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.

This interview is with blogger, author, and entrepreneur-since-age-12 Ben Casnocha. I have an especially fond feeling for Ben, because he was one of the first people I met in real life after meeting him in blogland – I was flabbergasted when he actually turned up as real person, looking just like the photo on his site.

What’s astonishing to me is that Ben is only twenty years old, and a full-time college student, and yet he seems to be everywhere and doing everything. For example, he has started two companies, wrote a terrific book, My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley, and speaks and consults. He has a very popular blog, Ben Casnocha, and a large readership for his newsletter.

If you read his stuff, you know that he does a lot of thinking about happiness.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Ben: Stimulating, soulful, laughter-filled conversation.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Ben: Dwelling on a negative thought that seems to just cycle through my head. Wish I had better mind control so I could say to myself: “Accept thoughts on X, deny thoughts on Y.” The passage of time, I’ve found, is the only reliable way a negative thought flushes out of my system.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Ben: I collect tons of quotes and mantras. One I read yesterday I liked: “The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable.” – Martin Buber. Not sure it’s my ultimate mantra, but it’s a good one. I spend most of my cycles trying to figure out why things work they way they do, and I need to remind myself that some things just *can’t* be rationally, logically explained.

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Ben: Treadmill and push-ups. Talking to family and long-term friends. And trying to cheer other people up (in the process, I cheer up myself).

Gretchen: 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?
Ben: I’m more even keeled. I think I have a high set point. But, the past few months I’ve felt more funks than usual, and while it has been difficult I think hitting lower moments makes you appreciate the highs more. How am I dealing with it? Confronting the unhappiness directly and moving swiftly to eliminate what I see as the causes — the events, people, things, etc — from my life. And trying to be at peace with the fact that life is cyclical and some days / months / years will be better than others.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Ben: I think about it / work on it. If you don’t actively think about it, you outsource what it means to others, like the media, and they tend to promote a materialistic conception of the word. So I do think it’s possible to pursue happiness without ever really knowing what it means, or without ever thinking you’ll actually *arrive*.

Of course, one of the main ways I think about happiness is by reading the blog The Happiness Project. Have you heard of it? Some great stuff there. 🙂

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This probably relates to the happiness of very few people other than myself, but I was happy to see John Tierney’s Tips From the Potlatch, Where Giving Knows No Slump. Many, many years ago, on my lunch hour, I saw a diorama display on potlatch in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. — and for years after, I was obsessed by the question, “Why do people destroy their own possessions?” (It is rare and beautiful to be obsessed by a question that way.) I wrote a paper about it in law school, I wrote a bad novel about it, and finally I got a chance to write a short book about it, Profane Waste, with my friend, photographer Dana Hoey. I will never tire of the mystery of potlatch.

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Happiness is…blogging for Slate.

I’m extremely HAPPY because, as of January 12, the Happiness Project will be a blog on the fabulous online magazine Slate. Zoikes! I’ve been a huge fan of Slate for a very long time, so I was thrilled to be asked to join the fantastic writers there.

My posts will appear first on Slate, then after an eight-hour delay, will appear on this blog as usual. If you get my posts through Feedblitz or RSS, you’ll get them just as you do now.

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Check out Slate! So much good material there.

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If you haven’t seen my one-minute movie, The Years Are Short, you might enjoy it.

Happiness quotation from Christopher Alexander.

I once saw a simple fish pond in a Japanese village which was perhaps eternal.

A farmer made it for his farm. The pond was a simple rectangle, about 6 feet wide, and 8 feet long; opening off a little irrigation stream. At one end, a bush of flowers hung over the water. At the other end, under the water, was a circle of wood, its top perhaps 12 inches below the surface of the water. In the pond there were eight great ancient carp, each maybe 18 inches long, orange, gold, purple, and black: the oldest one had been there eighty years. The eight fish swam, slowly, slowly, in circles—often within the wooden circle. The whole world was in that pond. Every day the farmer sat by it for a few minutes. I was there only one day and I sat by it all afternoon. Even now, I cannot think about it without tears. –Christopher Alexander

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Few books that I’ve read have made an impression on me as profound as Christopher Alexander’s brilliant, strange A Pattern Language, though this quotation is actually from The Timeless Way of Building.

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I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.

Gratitude: Write your Acknowledgements page or your Acceptance speech.

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 great perks of writing a book is that you get to write an Acknowledgments page where you thank everyone who helped you as you were writing your book. Winners of the Academy Award get to give their Acceptance speech, where they thank the most important people in their lives. It’s too bad that other professions haven’t developed similar practices – it’s a wonderful tradition.

Philosophers, religious leaders, and contemporary scientists all agree that GRATITUDE is a key to happiness. Studies show that consistently grateful people are happier and more satisfied with their lives; they even feel more physically healthy and spend more time exercising. Gratitude brings freedom from envy; when you’re grateful for what you have, you’re not consumed with wanting something different or something more. That, in turn, makes it easier to live within your means and also to be generous to others. Gratitude fosters forbearance—it’s harder to feel disappointed with someone when you’re feeling grateful toward him or her. Gratitude also connects you to the natural world, because one of the easiest things to feel grateful for is the beauty of nature.

But I find it hard to stay in a grateful frame of mind—I take things for granted, I forget what other people have done for me, I have high expectations. To cure this, I tried keeping a gratitude journal, something recommended by countless happiness experts, but I found it annoying, not helpful. I have a resolution to “Think about how much I love my ordinary day each time I turn on my computer”; that works pretty well. Keeping my one-sentence journal helps me remember to be grateful. My one-minute video, The Years Are Short, is a meditation on gratitude.

I just handed in the second draft of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT book to my editor, and I figured I’d work on the appendix, bibliography, and other back matter while I was waiting for her comments. When I started to write the Acknowledgments, however, I got anxious: I realized that I’ve been helped by just about everyone I had a conversation with over the past few years. So many people passed along their insights, or gave advice, or said or did something that shed light on happiness. Not to mention my family and friends who give me general support. And all the people I’ve never actually met, but have “met” through blogging. The more I thought about it, the more names I added.

I haven’t figured out how to handle this issue. I’m worried about overlooking someone, but at the same time, it would look ridiculous to thank a million people. But I can’t NOT have an Acknowledgements page.

Well, I’ll figure something out. As a consequence of doing this, however, I realized that writing your Acknowledgments page (or your Acceptance speech, if you want the more glamorous version) is a great exercise. If you had a chance publicly to thank the people who support and help you, who would be on the list? Can you think of a way to acknowledge them, even if you don’t have an official Acknowledgements page and you’re not getting an Oscar?

Or have you found other ways to cultivate a grateful spirit?

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Wow, via Paul Raeburn’s About Fathers blog on the Psychology Today blogs site, I was let to the Divorce Calculator devised by behavior economist Betsey Stevens. It tells you your risk in ten seconds! My score:

People with similar backgrounds who are already divorced: 14%
People with similar backgrounds who will be divorced over the next five years: 3%

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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. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.