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The Happiness Project

AdventureMan and I have subscribed to Bottom Line for many years and we often learn from the Bottom Line Secrets newsletter they send us. This was in today’s Bottom Line Secrets e-mail: The Secrets to Happiness!

The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin

Philosophers, psychologists and self-help gurus all have advice on how we can be happier — but what really works? Journalist Gretchen Rubin decided to find out. She devoted a year to “test-driving” happiness strategies and gathered feedback from visitors to her popular Web site. She called her research “The Happiness Project.” Different happiness strategies work for different people, but a few strategies stand out…

Seek novelty and challenge even if you value consistency and comfort. I didn’t expect exploring new challenges to make me happier — familiarity and comfort are very important to me — but I was wrong. Trying new things is one of the most effective paths to happiness that I have encountered.

The human brain is stimulated by surprise and discovery. Successfully coping with the unfamiliar can provide a high level of happiness. Repeating what we’ve done many times before can be comfortable, but comfortable is not the same as happy.

Example: Launching and updating a daily blog have brought me great happiness, though initially I feared that I lacked the necessary technical skills.

Challenge yourself to do something that sounds interesting — even if it’s different from anything you’ve done before or it requires skills that you’re not sure you have. Take a class… try a new hobby… learn a language… or visit a different town or museum every weekend.

Try doing whatever you enjoyed doing at age 10. The person we are in adulthood has more in common with the person we were at age 10 than we realize. Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung started playing with building blocks as an adult to recapture the enthusiasm he had felt in his youth. If fishing made us happy when we were 10, odds are it will make us happy today… if playing the drums made us happy then, it probably still will.

Example: I was given a blank book when I was a child and really enjoyed filling it with clippings, notes, cartoons, anything that interested me. So as part of my happiness project, I bought myself a scrapbook and started clipping items from magazines and newspapers to paste into it. I was amazed by how much happiness I still could derive from this.

Read memoirs of death and suffering. Paradoxically, sad books can increase our happiness. These books put our own problems in perspective and remind us how fortunate we are.

Examples: I became happier with my own life when I read Gene O’Kelly’sChasing Daylight, the former CEO’s memoir about learning that he had three months to live… Stan Mack’s Janet & Me, about the death of the author’s partner… and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, about the death of her husband.

It’s not that I’m happy that other people have been unhappy. It’s just a way of appreciating everything that I do have.

Declutter your home. A few minutes of cleaning can substantially improve one’s mood by giving us the sense that we have accomplished something positive. Cleaning also creates an impression of order that can contribute to serenity. And it helps remove a source of stress — conspicuous clutter is a visual reminder of a responsibility that we have neglected.

Try a brief burst of cleaning the next time you feel overwhelmed or anxious even if you don’t think it will work for you. Even people who are not particularly fastidious discover that this boosts their mood.

Examples: For me, cleaning out a drawer… organizing my medicine cabinet… or just making my bed in the morning provides a real boost to my happiness.

Be appreciative of people’s good traits rather than critical of their bad ones… be thankful for what they do for you, and stop blaming them for what they don’t.

Example: I stopped getting angry at my husband for forgetting to withdraw cash before we went out. Instead, I started taking it upon myself to make sure that we had the necessary cash. I also made a point to be more appreciative of all the things that my husband does do, such as dealing with the car.

Enjoy today even if there’s still work to do. Many of us assume it’s normal to live with limited happiness until some major milestone is reached — we earn that big promotion, have a family or retire. We tell ourselves, I’ll be happy when I achieve my goals.

Example: As a writer, I imagined how happy I would be when the book I was working on was finally published.

Unfortunately, people who pin their happiness on a distant goal usually spend most or all of their lives less happy than they could be. Often they set ever more distant goals as the original targets approach… or they discover that the goal that they thought would bring happiness actually brings added stress. Some never reach their goals at all.

I’m much happier now that I remind myself to be happy about making gradual progress toward my goals, even if the goals themselves remain far in the distance

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Gretchen Rubin, an attorney and former Supreme Court clerk. Based in New York City, Rubin is founder of The Happiness Project, a blog and newsletter, and author of the best-selling book The Happiness Project (Harper), for which she personally tested happiness strategies.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | Aging, Character | 3 Comments