Gretchen Rubin

Applying happiness-project resolutions in Paris.

A friend of mine was in Paris recently, and he wrote me an email about how, while sitting in a café, and, as it happens, helping me out by editing a draft of THE HAPPINESS PROJECT book, he decided to apply his own happiness resolutions.

I asked him if I could reprint his email, because I thought it was a great example of how keeping your resolutions active in your mind can help you make small choices that boost everyone’s happiness.

I was in the café across from my hotel. It was kind of overcast and rainy. Next to me were an American mother and her teenage/college-ish daughter. They were not having a good interaction. The mom was saying things like “never mind,” in an irritated tone and the daughter was clicking her tongue and rolling her eyes.

My first impulse was to say, “you two should enjoy Paris — how often are you going to be in Paris?” but I thought that was not necessarily going to help things. So I thought of two things: (1) how I’m very good at providing good energy to other people and (2) how much happier I am when I talk to people when I travel (I am such an extravert that I can almost feel a direct energy infusion when I have an actual conversation with people — and because I can sort of but not really speak French, I sometimes don’t talk much there).

So I turned to them and asked, “Are you guys American?” “Yes we are.” “Is this your first time in Paris?” “The second.” la la la. We agreed that the most fun way to see Paris is just to sit in cafes every day. The daughter was very intrigued by the manuscript. “Are you editing?” I explained that it was my friend’s book on happiness, that she used to be a lawyer but is now a happiness blogger, and basically gave her the whole premise.

So then we went back to our respective things and we were all happier. I felt energized, and I could tell that they had broken through their low moment in mother-daughter relations.

My resolutions include “Reach out,” “Always say hello,” and “Make three new friends,” but this kind of encounter would be very tough for me. A paramount resolution is to “Be Gretchen,” and striking up a conversation with strangers would drain, not energize, me. But for my friend, a short, friendly encounter provides a big boost – and also boosted the happiness of the people he met.

Via the commments to a post on the always-interesting Freakonomics blog, I found a super-fun tool on BabyNameWizard that allows you to enter a name and see a graph that shows how its popularity has changed over the last century. It's interesting information -- and also a great example of data beautifully and meaningfully presented.

Check out my new one-minute internet movie, Secrets of Adulthood.

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