A psychological principle that works like magic: Act as I would feel.

I’m doing pretty well with the week of Extreme Nice. Yesterday, I hardly saw the Big Man, but I did do good deeds on his behalf. My main goal for today is to mail a big box for him. What a pain.

Now, although it might seem that the Big Man is the sole beneficiary of the week of Extreme Nice, I get a huge benefit as well.

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my happiness research is that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act.

As a result, one of my Twelve Commandments is “Act as I would feel.” And as improbable as it may sound, it really works. Try it. If you don’t like the way you’re feeling, act as you’d like to feel—and your feelings will change. Like magic.

William James sums up the phenomenon nicely: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”

So while you might expect that lavishing Extreme Niceness on the Big Man might make me feel resentful or smug, in fact, by being extremely nice, by acting very loving, I boost my feelings of love and tenderness.

For example, today, on my way to a meeting near Grand Central, I happened to walk by the Big Man’s office building. So, as I’d done once before, I called him and told him to look out his window at the steps of St. Bartholomew’s Church. I stood on the steps and waved up to him on the 18th floor. I felt quite self-conscious, waving up at a skyscraper as pedestrians gave me curious looks—but of course in New York City, I’d have to do something far quirkier than that to make anyone stare.

I’m sure the Big Man thought it was nice of me to wave to him, but he probably didn’t think about it for more than a minute or so. But taking the time to make that silly, affectionate gesture filled me with good feelings that have persisted for hours.
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