Gretchen Rubin

Guess: What Arguably Trivial Habit Gives a Giant Boost of Happiness?

Is it...getting enough sleep? Yes, but that's not what I'm thinking of.

Is it...getting some exercise? Yes, but that's not what I'm thinking of.

Give up?

It's....putting things away in the proper place! Zoikes, this (admittedly fairly insignificant) habit gives a disproportionate boost of happiness. Just this weekend, I tried to find:

-- the cord that connects my camera to my computer
-- the headphones for my husband's iTouch
-- my younger daughter's swimming goggles
-- a copy of Patricia Clapp's novel, Jane-Emily, for my older daughter (a terrific young-adult book, by the way)
-- a business card I'd picked up at a meeting I attended three weeks ago
-- the flight information for my upcoming trip
-- a legal pad
-- a pair of AA batteries
-- my video camera

It gives me a small but real jolt of happiness to walk straight to a thing and lay my hands on it, without having to hunt around. Knowing where things are stored saves time; gives me a feeling of orderliness and comfort at home; saves me from frustration and worry -- not to mention redundant purchases.

Also, I find that just as it's deeply satisfying to be able to find something when I want it, it's also surprisingly satisfying to put something away in the right place. One of life’s small pleasures is to return something to its proper and precise place; placing the flashlight on the second shelf in the coat closet gives me the archer’s satisfaction of hitting a mark. Have you ever seen those peg boards where people have outlined their tools or their kitchen implements, to show where each thing belongs? (I think Julia Child had one.) That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Now I strive to have an exact place for everything in my whole apartment (except toys – I just throw plastic dishes and stuffed animals into whatever box, drawer, or shelf is closest, or else I'd never have time to do anything else). Obviously, this system makes it easier to find the things I need without frustration, which boosts my happiness, but it also boosts my happiness to have that deep sense of placement.

It can be tiresome to decide, "Where exactly does this belong?" when I'm putting away a particular thing. Often, it would be easier just to chuck it into a closet or a drawer someplace. But taking the time to put things away in a proper place is worth the effort -- more than I would've expected.

How about you? Do you get satisfaction out of having an exact place for your possessions? Or do you think it's not very important?

* There's always a lot of interesting material on Flavorwire -- "cultural news and critique." For instance, I loved this link to Slate's color wheel of cartoon characters, which I found there.

* Sign up for the Moment of Happiness, and every weekday morning, you’ll get a happiness quotation in your email inbox.

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