Happiness quotation from Aristotle.

“Men are what they are because their characters, but it is in action that they find happiness or the reverse.” –Aristotle

Current scientific research indicates that happiness is about 50% determined by genetics, and about 30-40% is a product of how a person thinks and acts. In other words, you are what you are because of your inborn character, but it is in action that you push yourself up to the top of your range or down to the bottom of your range.

Check out Productive Magazine — a free online magazine, with lots of great articles (including one from me) about how to live more productively and happily.

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.

Your Happiness Project: Abandon Your Self-Control.

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 challenge about keeping my happiness-project resolutions is that it takes a lot of self-control. “No nagging,” “No fake food,” “Exercise better,” “Sing in the morning”…so many of my resolutions require me to control myself.

Relying on will power is very hard – so whenever possible, I abandon it. Instead of resisting temptation, I avoid it entirely.

Studies indicate that we have a limited amount of self-control, and it can be depleted. If you use a lot of self-control at work to resist the urge to yell at a co-worker, it might be harder to push yourself to go for a run when you get home.

So, because self-control is a precious resource, try to use it as little as possible. Look for ways to engineer situations so they don’t test your will power at all.

If you don’t want to get into the ice cream, don’t buy ice cream. If your family insists on having dessert, buy a dessert you don’t like much. If you have to buy ice cream, tie it up in a bag so it’s a pain to open and so you don’t see the enticing tub when you open the freezer. Maybe you’ll even forget it’s in there.

If you don’t want to spend money, don’t go into stores. If you don’t want to add to your credit card debt, leave your credit card in your sock drawer. If you have to shop, take a list and go by yourself. If you don’t want to get drunk, don’t meet your friends in a bar. If you don’t want to spend your Sunday morning sleeping, put your alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.

Sometimes the easiest way to abandon self-control is to give something up altogether. Like Samuel Johnson, who said, “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult,” I find it much easier to abstain rather than to indulge moderately. When you NEVER do something, it doesn’t take self-control; when you do something SOMETIMES, it takes huge self-control.

Examine the occasions for your self-control. Maybe you need to re-think them entirely. For example, my weight-training instructor told me about a client who was trying to lose weight, who said, “Can’t I have a single-serving bag of potato chips each day? After all, what am I going to eat when my kids are having their potato chips after school?” Her answer: “Your kids should be eating something else, too!” Instead of trying to resist ordering fries with your burger, maybe you should stop eating at McDonald’s.

Another reason to abandon self-control is that – at least in my case – just thinking about self-control tends to weaken it. If I think, “Congratulations, Gretchen, what good self-control with not buying Tasti D-Lite!” the next thing I know, I’m buying three mini Tootsie-Rolls. This happens to a lot of people when they try to economize: they’re so pleased with themselves for looking for the best buy on tuna fish that they splurge by buying a DVD. Not an efficient outcome!

Try to avoid situations that test your self-control. Instead of exercising will-power, forget about it.

Have you found any good strategies for maximizing your self-control? Self-discipline, I think, is one of the KEYS to happiness; it shows up in many different ways, and not always in the way that you’d expect.

Several thoughtful readers sent me the link to the interesting New York Times article, What Happy People Don’t Do. In a nutshell: happy people don’t watch as much TV as unhappy people. However, as the article points out, the study doesn’t show that correlation is causation (especially given the fact that TV-watching depends a lot on whether a person has a job, and unemployment is a major happiness challenge). I think the relationship between TV and happiness is a bit more complicated than most people say…

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.

A True Rule about life — from an engineer.

My father often talks about “True Rules.” For example, when I started working after college, he said, “It’s one of the True Rules – if you’re willing to take the blame, people will give you responsibility.” And in my experience that rule has certainly turned out to be true. I love True Rules, and I recently started writing them down whenever I heard them. These aren’t general rules for living, like “Enjoy every day.” They’re more specific and concrete. So I’ve started the True Rules series — on video!

This True Rule is from Saul, a friend of mine from the days when we both worked at the Federal Communications Commission (my last job as a lawyer).

If you can’t see the video, Saul says, “This True Rule comes from my days as an engineer, where we learned that if something wasn’t working one way, you turn it around. So my True Rule is: if it’s not working one way, you have to turn it around.” Obviously this is as useful on a metaphorical level as on a device level.

Note: one of my happiness-project insights is that novelty and challenge bring happiness. Also frustration and annoyance. Notice that I managed to give the video clip a title for the first time! Ah, so satisfying.

Terrific new site launched today, by the inimitable Jonathan Fields! Career Renegade is definitely worth your attention. The much-anticipated book is coming out soon, but the site gives lots of preview material. I’m off to read the intriguingly titled Fire Fly Manifesto right now.

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.

Relationships: 7 tips to avoid annoying other people.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Seven tips to avoid annoying other people.

Most of us would like to get along well with others — whether friends or strangers. One thing to keep in mind is that certain habits tend to get on other people’s nerves. Now you might say, “If someone’s annoyed when I talk on the phone in the grocery store, I don’t care, because that’s ridiculous!” The fact is, whether or not you think it’s ridiculous, some people will be very annoyed. Just know that. Here are some common aggravations to keep in mind:

1. As I say to my three-year-old just about every day, “Don’t use a whiny voice.” Some people make a habit of talking in a whine, even when they’re making a perfectly innocuous comment. Some people whine ALL THE TIME. Once I started paying attention, I realized that I do this far too often, myself, and I try to remember to say things like, “Have you seen my keys?” in a nice tone, not in a whiny tone.

2. Watch your cell phone use. You may think it’s acceptable to talk in a store, or on a bus, or wherever, but remember that many people still find it extremely annoying when others use a phone in a public place.

3. Don’t curse. I’m astonished by how many people use very bad language in crowded situations. You may feel fine about using the f-word in conversation with your friends, but if you’re in the subway, other people are going to hear you, too.

4. Clean up after yourself.

5. Think about whether you’re being interesting. Certain topics are very interesting to the speaker, much less interesting to the listener: descriptions of dreams, fond discussions about your children, re-tellings of the plots of movies or plays.

6. Watch the eye-stray. When you’re talking to someone in a crowded room, it’s tempting to keep looking around at the other people. This is very annoying to the person to whom you’re speaking; it feels like you’re hoping to find a more interesting conversationalist. Maintain eye contact, or if you’re looking around for a reason, explain it. I was very annoyed by a woman who kept glancing over my shoulder, until she explained, “My husband is coming, and he doesn’t know anyone here, and he’s very shy, so I’m looking for him.” Then I didn’t mind.

7. Most importantly: remember that different things annoy different people. Unfortunately, the ways that we annoy others reflect our personal proclivities – so it’s hard to be aware of how other people might react. E.g., if you’re the kind of person who talks on the phone all the time, you probably aren’t aware of how annoying other people find it. Or if you talk about your kids all the time, you probably don’t know that a lot of people find that boring. As a person who scores low on Agreeableness, I’m not naturally very considerate – but I’m trying to be more mindful of my actions.

Zoikes, it just occurred to me that I may never have mentioned Fly Lady. I get a big kick out of that site and that approach to organizing your life. Baby steps!

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.

When is the right time to think about happiness? Before or after a catastrophe strikes?

When I started The Happiness Project blog, something worried me: I feared that people who faced major happiness challenges – like a serious illness, job loss, chronic pain, divorce, addiction, depression — would be put off by this site. Would they think: Who was I to talk about happiness, when everything in my life was fine? How helpful could my views be, unless I faced circumstances that made it very difficult to be happy?

I realized, however, that one of my main goals for my happiness project was to prepare for adversity — to develop the self-discipline and the habits to deal with a bad thing when it happened. Because that wheel was going to turn. The time to start exercising, stop nagging, and work on photo albums, I decided, is when everything was going smoothly; I didn’t want to wait for a crisis to re-make my life.

Since March 2006, when this blog launched, I’ve been very gratified to hear from many readers who wrote to let me know that the strategies I talk about here did help them during particularly hard times. I’d be very interested to hear people’s views on this topic. Are you more likely to think about happiness – and to take action to try to build happiness – when everything in your life is going well, or when you’re facing a catastrophe?

If you’re facing a catastrophe, does it help to think about taking little, ordinary steps to build happiness (having lunch with a friend, making your bed in the morning, going outside for a quick walk)? Or are activities like that dwarfed by the magnitude of what you’re facing?

My hope is that the Happiness Project (blog and book) can help people trying to be happier within their ordinary life, and also help people trying to be happier in the context of a major happiness challenge.

If some particular resolution or approach has helped you deal with a big happiness challenge, I’m sure it would be helpful for everyone to hear about what worked for you – if it’s not too private.

Lots of interesting material at My Simpler Life.

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