Gretchen Rubin

The hard-earned happiness of learning something new.

Yipppeeeee. I figured out how to podcast. Did it make me happy?

You bet.

A frequent piece of happiness advice is to “learn something new”—and I can attest that this bit of wisdom really is true.

My happiness doesn’t come from the actual ability to podcast, which isn’t particularly important to me. What makes me feel happy—really, exhilarated—is that despite my lack of technical proficiency, I did manage to figure it out. I had to get a lot of help, I had to print out a lot of articles from the internet, I had to try and fail several times, but I did it.

The process reminded me of one of my Secrets of Adulthood: Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy.

Figuring out how to podcast cost me many hours of aggravation and feeling stupid—not to mention that I could’ve spent those hours in other productive ways. But now that that unpleasantness is behind me, I’m left with a feeling of increased mastery. I faced the possibility of failure, I allowed myself to be frustrated—and I triumphed (okay, “triumph” is a little strong, but I did figure it out).

In addition to the intrinsic satisfaction of adding to my skills, I also have the pleasant feeling of increased possibility. Maybe I don’t think this skill is important now, but it may happen that, in the future, the fact that I can podcast will allow me to do something that I really want to do.

This joy-of-learning explains why hobbies bring people so much pleasure. Most hobbies entice enthusiasts into improving their skills and gaining knowledge, and therefore provide a heady sense of growing mastery—something that a passive activity like TV-watching doesn’t offer, unless you watch TV in an unusually engaged and active way.

Alas, despite my own continual search for a hobby, I’ve never been able to find one. The only things I really like to do are to read and write. And I often resist learning something new; somehow, I feel as if new material in my brain will crowd out something important that’s there already. But I know that’s ridiculous. Learning how to load the photos from our camera onto Shutterfly isn’t going to cause me to forget everything I ever learned about Winston Churchill.

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Dear Readers,
One of my resolutions is “Go the extra step.” As part of that, I’m taking extra steps to promote my blog – even when that means doing things that make me uncomfortable. (Like writing this note.)

One of the challenges of a blog is just letting people know that it’s there. And so I’m asking you for a big favor.

If you have the time and the inclination, it would be a huge help if you would email anyone you know who might enjoy the Happiness Project, to give them the link and tell them a bit about it. Word of mouth is very powerful.

My happiness research predicts that if you do this good deed, you’ll feel great! That’s the Samaritan effect: “do good, feel good.”

I really appreciate your help. Be happy, Gretchen

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