December 27, 2011

The Happiness Project.

I recently picked up Gretchin Rubin's one-year memoir The Happiness Project because I'm always hot on the trail of happiness, and I thought her concept was fascinating. For a year, she dedicated a different month to diving headlong into a happiness-related exercise, drawing from philosophers, psychologists, the insights of her inner circle and her own gut instincts.

In the end, I found Rubin too pragmatic and perfectionistic in her search for happiness, which I think is unruly by nature. But, also, this was her own personal quest for happiness and she had different things to work toward. My quest would have been different. Each person's would be different, which is something she points out. Still, Rubin gifted me with lots of good ideas about how to bring more joy and order into my life. Here are some that spoke to me; I thought you might enjoy them, too.

1) Do a better job of being Ellen. As in, embrace my idiosyncrasies and accept my true likes (i.e. celebrity gossip and being alone) and my true dislikes (i.e. going to sporting events and staying out really late).

2) Go to sleep earlier. Most people get only 6.9 hours a night (7.9 hours on the weekend); this amount of sleep leads to impaired memory, a weakened immune system, and maybe even weight gain. Mostly, it makes me miserably unhappy to be tired.

3) Quit nagging your husband. Rubin wrote a lot about how making other people happier is key to making oneself happier. As such, she worked hard on nagging her husband and children less and expecting less praise and appreciation from them. I can be guilty of this in my marriage, griping at Nekos about everything from his diabetes to his assertiveness at work and constantly asking him to help me fold this or straighten up that.

4) Quit nagging your kid. I was shocked to read that studies show that 85 percent of adult messages to kids are negative ("no," "stop," "don't") so I've been working on doing less of that. Not so that I'm a more permissive parent but just rewording things so that instead of saying "No, not until after lunch," I can say, "Yes, as soon as we've finished lunch."

5) Employ the "one-minute rule" and observe the "evening tidy-up." Rubin found that her house was leagues neater and she was in turn happier when she applied what she called the "one-minute rule," whereby she didn't postpone any task that could be done in less than a minute. For example, putting a coat on a hanger and into the closet or putting a glass into the dishwasher. Likewise, she began observing an "evening tidy-up" by spending ten minutes before bed to do some simple tidying. She found that the effort of putting things in order was actually calming and helped her go to sleep more easily.

6) Work smart. Because I work from home, I struggle with distractions (Tessa needs this or that, Facebook beckons, the dogs need to be let out) and with prioritizing. Rubin suggests devoting smaller, concentrated blocks of time90 minutes or 15 minutes evensolely to work, finding these periods surprisingly productive.

7) Make time for friends. I love and adore my friends and their presence in my life, and I feel guilty when I'm bad about remembering birthdays or I forget to send wedding presents or to visit new babies. Turns out, I should feel guilty for these things, as these remembrances and generosities are exactly the kind of thing to do if you want to deepen friendships and be happier.