One of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood: Outer order contributes to inner calm. Clutter seems like a trivial matter, but I always find that I feel more serene and cheerful if my apartment and office aren’t too messy.

Along those lines, I’ve learned from my happiness project to be wary whenever I have the urge to “treat” myself, because often my treats don’t make me happy in the long run. For instance, one of my “treats” is to let piles of papers, clothes, books, and dishes pile up–which ends up making me feel less happy.

In fact, when I want to calm myself, or cheer myself up, I often take an hour and clean my office. For instance, this morning. My office had become a wreck, because I wasn’t taking the time to put anything away. I kept putting off little tasks, thinking, “It’s more important to answer my emails,” “I need to get this little piece written first,” “I need a break, I don’t want to deal with this now,” but finally, I got down to it.

I set aside an hour and tackled the mess. Methodically I entered reading notes, copied information, filed, wrote emails, tossed papers, wrote a thank-you note, took coffee cups to the kitchen, got rid of empty yogurt containers, etc. One of my daily habits is to take notes on a scratch pad–mostly to-do reminders–and these multiply quickly. I worked my way through the items on those sheets so I could toss them out.

I even dusted.

Now when I look around my office, I feel a shock of relief. All those clean surfaces! No more stacks of papers and books teetering on the edge of the desk! No more feeling harassed by uncompleted tasks! It gave me a real boost.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

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