YOUR Happiness Project: Keep a one-sentence journal.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should 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.

Yesterday was the Little Girl’s last day in the “Purple Room,” which is what her nursery school calls the class for the school’s youngest children. She only went twice a week, for less than three hours, but the Purple Room was a very big part of her life.

There’s something so inexpressibly sweet about this age and this first experience of school. I’m having an emotion that I can only describe as preemptive nostalgia for this time. Her last morning there was yesterday, but already, I feel deeply sentimental about it.

The days are long, but the years are short.

For that reason, I’m so happy that I started keeping my one-sentence journal; otherwise I would worry that I wouldn’t remember any of the details about this time – the teeny tiny sinks, the coat hooks in the hallway marked with the children’s photos, the play kitchen and the board books.

Two years ago, I started keeping a one-sentence journal because I knew I would never be able to keep a proper journal with lengthy entries. I just don’t have the time or energy to write a long entry – even two or three times a week.

Instead, each day, I write one sentence (well, actually, I type on the computer) about what happened that day to me, the Big Man and the girls.

I can imagine one-sentence journal dedicated to more specific topics, as well. It might be useful to have one-sentence journal about your career – especially useful if you were starting a new business. It might be helpful to keep a one-sentence journal as you were going through a divorce, a cancer treatment, or other kind of catastrophic event. It would be lovely to keep a one-sentence journal when you were falling in love.

I posted about how one reader keeps a journal for his children.

I like keeping a one-sentence journal because it’s a manageable task, so it doesn’t make me feel burdened; it gives me a feeling of accomplishment and progress, the atmosphere of growth so important to happiness; it helps keep happy memories vivid (because I’m much more inclined to write about happy events than unhappy events), which boosts my happiness; and it gives me a reason to pause thinking lovingly about the members of my family.

One thing is true: we tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term, if we do a little bit at a time. Writing one sentence a day sounds fairly easy, and it is; at the end of the year, it adds up to a marvelous record.

My goodness, I SO want to look through the the Telectroscope. You think you’re looking through a telescope from London to New York City! Fabulous.

I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter 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.

Eight tips for making yourself happier IN THE NEXT HOUR.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Eight tips for making yourself happier in the next hour.

You can make yourself happier – and this doesn’t have to be a long-term ambition.
Over the long term, habits like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and making time for friends and family make a huge difference to your happiness. But if you’re experiencing a blues emergency, you can lift your spirits right now by using some of the following strategies. The more items you tackle, the bigger the boost you’ll receive.

When you’re feeling blue, it can be hard to muster up the physical and mental energy to do the things that make you happier. Plunking down in front of the TV or digging into a tub of ice cream seems like an easier fix.

However, research shows (and you know it’s true) that these aren’t the routes to feeling better. In the next hour, check off as many of the following items as possible. Each of these accomplishments will lift your mood, as will the mere fact that you’ve tackled and achieved some concrete goals.

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 one of the keys to happiness, so take the time to stay in touch. Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that socializing boosts the moods not only of extroverts, but also of introverts.

3. Rid yourself of a nagging task: answer a difficult email, purchase something you need, 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 cheer, and you’ll be surprised that you procrastinated for so long.

4. Create a calmer environment: clear some physical and mental space around your desk by sorting papers, pitching junk, stowing supplies, sending out quick 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 sizeable 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. An uncluttered environment will contribute to a more serene mood.

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, but something you want to read) or plan a weekend 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; 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.

7. Act happy: put a smile on your face right now, and keep smiling. Research shows that even an artificially induced smile has a positive influence on your emotions—turns out that just going through the motion of happiness brightens your mood. And if you’re smiling, other people will perceive you as being friendlier and more approachable.

8. Listen to your favorite music. Studies show that listening to music is one of the most effective ways to boost your energy and mood (second only to exercise). In fact, in one study, 92% of people felt happier when they listened to music they liked. For an added boost, dance around the room, too.

Some people worry that wanting to be happier is a selfish goal. To the contrary. Studies show that happier people are more sociable, likeable, 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. In fact, I think we have a duty to be happy.

Feel happier yet?

What joy! Through Shelf Awareness, an email newsletter about the book trade which I read every day, I found this site that provides a pronunciation guide to the names of famous people. Soooooo helpful.

I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter. 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.

Happiness interview with Vital Juice Daily’s Amanda Freeman.

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. There’s something peculiarly compelling and instructive about hearing other people’s happiness stories. 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, than by any other kind of argument.

Today’s interview is with Amanda Freeman of the popular health and wellness daily email, Vital Juice Daily. It delivers a daily shot of info and tips in the areas of fitness, nutrition, healing, green living, social responsibility, and beauty. Lots of great material there, delivered painlessly into my in-box each morning.

Amanda is the friend of a friend, so we met for coffee and had a terrific conversation. (Triadic closure at work!) Now that I’ve sent out my first monthly newsletter, I’m staggered at the thought of sending out a newsletter every day, but Amanda makes it seem fun.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Amanda: It’s cliché, but I would have to say the doing some form of exercise always lifts my spirits. I try to vary my workouts as much as possible, because I’ve also found that variety also makes me happier. I’m big into having lots of experiences, so no matter where I am, I try to make exercise an experience.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Amanda: I’ve certainly gotten more reflective about happiness since my more carefree younger years. Back then, happiness just sort of happened and came more naturally to me. Now, it’s more of a challenge to make the many decisions I face on a day to day basis in my quest for happiness. So, I guess I’d say that I’ve learned that happiness requires work and effort.

Gretchen: Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Amanda: Oh, yes! I think regret and guilt are my two biggest obstacles towards happiness. I waste a lot of energy rehashing the past and feeling badly about things that I’ve done or haven’t done. I also spend time worrying about present decisions and whether our regret or feel guilty about them in the future.

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? Amanda: I’ve definitely seen my happiness quotient fluctuate over the past few years and I’ve found that it’s when I have an unclear vision of the new future that I’m the most unhappy. I’m the type of person who likes to plan, and when I don’t have a plan it’s very unsettling. But, I’ve also found that if I insist on sticking too closely to my plan and am unwilling to “go with the flow” than I’m not happy either. There’s a happy medium.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Amanda: As of recently, the exploration of what makes me happy has become my #3 priority (behind my loved ones and my business). I totally agree with something I read on The Happiness Project recently, that novelty and challenge are two of the keys to happiness. As a result, I am constantly making the effort to try new things. Recently I’ve started to take Bridge lessons. And I have a mental list of other things that I want to have tried at some point in my life. I’m also trying smaller, every day things like smiling more and being friendlier to strangers. I used to never converse with strangers sitting next to me on an airplane, but now I make sure that I’ve at least been friendly and learned a bit about who they are. I’ve also become more open to the idea of self-help books, which I used to be very cynical about. For me, this happiness exploration is about trial and error.

There’s always so much good information on LifeRemix. I’m never sorry that I jumped over there to take a minute to explore.

I’ve started sending out a short monthly newsletter. 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.

Why I decided to go to my college reunion – and why it made me happy.

I wasn’t planning to go to my college reunion. I took a year off during college to work, so I graduated a year behind a lot of my friends; this enlarged my circle but also diluted my experience to a degree.

A friend said, “Come on, you have to go! It will be fun. You live so close – you can just take a two-hour train ride to get from New York to New Haven. You should do it.”

And I thought of all my happiness-project resolutions: Connect with my past, “Show up,” “Only connect,” “Embrace novelty,” Spend money on happiness priorities, etc. I also thought of the scientific finding that people are more inclined to regret the things they don’t do than the things they do – which suggested that I’d regret skipping the reunion more than attending.

So I decided to go.

As I took the train up on Saturday, though, I had second thoughts. No one had emailed me to urge me to come. No one had contacted me through Facebook. Would anyone be glad to see me? I’d heard from more than one person that it was important to go to a reunion with at least a few close friends, so you felt anchored – but a lot of my close friends weren’t coming. I worried that I would feel adrift, friendless, and ignored.

But I had an excellent time. From noon until midnight, I stood talking to people, many of whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was great.

I tried to figure out why it was so much fun. I’m not sure I’ve quite put my finger on it, but I think there are several things:

 There’s an ease in relationships that go back a long time, even if they aren’t intense relationships. Somehow, the fact that we’d all known each other for a long time gave a special quality to our interactions.

 I found myself talking to people that I hadn’t seen for years as if I’d seen them last week. It’s nice to realize that I remember these folks, and that they remember me. It makes life seem more continuous. More than one person asked me, “Do you still drink as much Diet Coke?” “Are you still running?” I found that surprisingly reassuring. I’m somehow always astonished to realize that I exist in other people’s minds.

 It was interesting to see how people had changed. From a happiness-project perspective, I noticed two positive trends: first, a lot of people had decided to pursue a career that they were passionate about, and as it turns out, those people are happy with their lives, even if they aren’t always hugely successful in worldly terms; the fact that they’re doing what they love makes them happy. Also, many people have started to re-invent themselves, to tackle something new, and they feel exhilarated, if a little apprehensive, by that. So I was glad to see that a lot of people were made happier by “Embracing novelty and challenge,” “Allowing themselves to enjoy the fun of failure,” and their own personal versions of “Be Gretchen.”

Everyone commented on something: everyone was so nice. That’s one advantage of being older – people tend to have better manners and behave in a more friendly way, and they seem to be less high-strung, generally. And that really does change the atmosphere.

On a less lofty note, I was happy to see that all the boys on whom I once had unrequited crushes were still looking handsome, had interesting jobs, and seemed happy with their lives. Now that I have the best husband in the whole world, and so don’t care about the unrequitedness of said crushes, it was just fun to catch up.

Several thoughtful people sent me the link to this Q-and-A on Spending on Happiness from the Harvard Business weekly newsletter. Bottom line: people who spent money on other people were happier than when they spent money on themselves. I think this article simplifies the relationship between money and happiness a bit too much, but it’s interesting.

TODAY I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. Wish me luck! 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.

YOUR Happiness Project: Throw away some magazines.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should 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.

When I hear people talking about feeling overwhelmed, two tasks come up over and over: clearing out email and reading back issues of magazines.

Let’s focus on the magazines.

If you feel guilty and overwhelmed because you have a huge stack of unread magazines cluttering your living room or engulfing your bedside table — get rid of them! Put them in the recycling bin right now!

Sometimes it’s not realistic to think that you’re going to “catch up.” When are you going to feel like reading thirty issues of the New Yorker?

Maybe, like the Big Man, you’re saving a stack of The New York Review of Books to read on an airplane. Maybe, like my mother, you’re saving a stack of Architectural Digest to use as inspiration. Or maybe you have to read a certain magazine for work, or you take a positive joy in your collection. Fine.

But if you’re feeling guilty about a big stack of magazines that you read “for fun,” get rid of them. Start fresh. You’re supposed to be reading them for enjoyment, and if you’re feeling defeated by the backlog, you’re not enjoying yourself. Sure, you may miss some interesting material, but the sense of oppression just isn’t worth it.

Because we subscribe to so many magazines (25 different magazines, at last count, and three newspapers), I have a strict periodicals policy. We never keep a newspaper overnight, and we never keep a magazine for more than two months, for a monthly, or two weeks, for a weekly.

On a related note, consider storing current magazines out of sight. I keep ours in a dedicated drawer. Most people display magazines on coffee tables or in special magazine racks, but I’ve never understood this. Magazines make a room look cluttered. I keep ours hidden.

I devised a trick that helps us keep our magazines in check: the ripped cover. Because the Big Man and I read many of the same magazines, I hesitated to throw them away after I’d read them, because I didn’t know if he’d read them. Now, when one of us has read an issue, we rip the bottom of the front cover in half. That way, each of us knows if the other is done with it. It has an added benefit: sometimes I’d grab a magazine for the gym or the subway, only to realize too late that I’d already read it. Now, if it’s ripped, I know to check to make sure I haven’t read it before.

One of my Twelve Commandments is “Let it go.” Recognizing when it’s time to let go of a goal or a task is hard for me to do, but always worth thinking about.

Have you found any other simple ways to cure yourself of feeling overwhelmed?

If you’re interested in health, green living, nutrition — all with a chic twist — check out Vital Juice Daily. It’s a daily newsletter that has a lot of great information about living well and living healthfully.

I’m going to start sending out a short monthly newsletter. Wish me luck! It’s trickier than you might think. Ah, I resolve to “Embrace novelty and challenge.”

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.