Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tips for Happiness in 2010

These are from Gretchen Rubin, writer of The Happiness Project. These tips don't address the more serious issues of depression, poor health, or severe life stress, but they are useful reminders for most of us as we make plans for the new year.

1. Do buy happiness.
Well, maybe money can't buy happiness, but spent wisely, it can buy things that contribute mightily to happiness. Some of the best things in life aren't free. To be happy, we need to feel loved, secure, good at what we do, and have a sense of control. Money doesn't automatically fill these requirements, of course, but it sure can help.

2. Don't get organized.
When I faced tackling the intimidating piles of clutter in my apartment and office, my first impulse was to run to a supply store to buy lots of organizing gizmos. Then I realized -- no! My first task was to get rid of things that I didn't need or didn't work. The most important tool in my clutter-clearing arsenal turned out to be trash-bags. (Here are 27 bonus tips for keeping your house in order.)

In many cases, after sorting through a pile, I found myself left with nothing to organize. Conquering clutter is a happiness booster because for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

3. Do let the sun go down on my anger.
In the past, I'd always conscientiously aired every complaint before bedtime. Studies show, however, that the notion of "anger catharsis" is nonsense. Venting anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies bad feelings; not expressing anger often allows them to dissipate.

4. Don't insist on "the best."
There are two types of decision makers: satisficers seek to satisfy certain criteria; maximizers seek to make the best possible decision. Once satisficers find a tent or a watch that meets their requirements, they buy it; maximizers want to find the best tent or the best watch. Maximizers tend to be less happy than satisficers, because they agonize over their choices. I often remind myself of one of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood (cribbed from Voltaire): Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

5. Do embrace the fun of failure.
Positive psychologists tell us that challenge and novelty are key elements of happiness. Studies show that people who do new things -- learn a game, travel to unfamiliar places -- are happier than people who stick to the familiar. When I tested this proposition, I figured it wouldn't be true for unadventurous, routine-loving me, but to test it, I launched a blog. True, the novelty and challenge of my blog initially often brought me frustration and anxiety, as I had to face failing at multiple tasks until I figured them out, but mastering those tasks made me extremely happy.

6. Don't practice "random acts of kindness."
We've all been urged to practice random acts of kindness -- pay the toll for the next car in line, feed a parking meter, buy a stranger a cup of coffee. And studies do show that if you commit a random act of kindness, you'll feel happier. However, the person who is the beneficiary of your random act probably won't feel happier.

Research indicates that many people reacted to receiving a random act of kindness with -- suspicion! It's not the kindness of the act that's the problem; it's the randomness. We're on guard when we don't understand a person's actions. Of course, it's always nice to be nice, but if you want to boost other people's happiness as well as your own, practice non-random kindness. Help a co-worker who has a tight deadline. Let someone with a few items cut in front of you in the check-out line. If you look, you can probably find enough opportunity for non-random kindnesses to keep you busy.

7. Do "fake it till you feel it."
Although we assume that we act because of the way we feel, we often feel because of the way we act. An almost uncannily effective way to change my emotions, I discovered, was to act the way I wanted to feel. If I feel resentful, I act thoughtful. If I feel lethargic, I act energetic. If I smile, I feel happier. One experiment showed that people who used Botox may feel less angry, because they aren't able to make angry, frowning faces! Although it may seem insincere at first, controlling your actions is an effective way to change your feelings.

Byron Russell

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