Video: Find an Exact Place for Things. It Saves a Lot of Time--and Is Surprisingly Satisfying.

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- last resolution was to Follow the one-minute rule. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?  This week’s resolution is to Find an exact place for things.

Tell Other People about What Makes You Happy -- a New Feature of the Happiness Project Toolbox.

A few days ago, I wrote about the happiness of creative collaboration. Another collaborative project which has been a huge source of happiness, novelty and challenge, and fun for me has been the creation of my companion website, the Happiness Project Toolbox. What is the Happiness Project Toolbox? As I was working on my happiness project, I invented several methods that helped me to boost my happiness. My one-sentence journal, my Personal Commandments, my Secrets of Adulthood, and of course – most important of all – my Resolutions Chart.

Find a Vehicle for Creative Collaboration.

A while back, I read Daniel Pink’s The Adventures of Johnny Bunko. This short, engaging book is quite striking, because it’s a career guide written in the form of a manga comic book. Terrific! It blew my mind. I was so inspired by it, in fact – by this engaging way to tell a story and to convey information – that I became determined to do a comic myself. It took me some digging to find the right person with whom to collaborate, but at last I found the brilliant, funny, and (appropriately) very happy young cartoonist, Chari Pere.

"There's a Huge Difference Between Pleasure and Satisfaction."

Tony Schwartz's new book just hit the shelves this week: The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance. Tony is very interested in the question of how to create a work environment that helps people be not only more productive, but also more engaged, more creative, and happier. He focuses on four areas: sustainability/physical; security/emotional; self-expression/mental; and significance/spiritual. I'm fascinated with the relationship between work and happiness, so I was very interested to hear what Tony had to say about his own approach to happiness.

10 Tips for Living a Better Life, One Day at a Time--from Pope John XXIII.

One of the most important strategies of my Happiness Project has been keeping my Resolutions Chart. It provides accountability, it prompts me to review all my resolutions once a day, it gives me the gold stars I crave -- when I manage to follow my resolutions. (If you'd like to see a copy of my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com].) I love reading other people’s resolutions and their personal commandments, and I was very interested to read the daily decalogue of Pope John XXIII (a "decalogue" is a set of rules having authoritative weight). Pope John XXIII was pope from 1958-1963 and was known as “The Good Pope.”

Video: Want To Keep Clutter under Control? Follow the "One-Minute Rule."

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- this month's theme is Order. Last week’s resolution was Don't get organized. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness? This week’s resolution is to Follow the one-minute rule. This rule holds that if I can do a task in less than a minute, I should go ahead and do it -- no procrastinating. Scan a letter and toss it, put a dish in the sink, hang up my coat, etc. Following this rule means that, to a large extent, the scum of clutter in my life is under control, and for me, as for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm.

Did Your Parents Make You Take Piano Lessons? If So, Have They Made You Happier?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my urge to sign up my children for lessons -- piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, etc. I feel extremely lucky that I can choose to provide lessons for my daughters -- that I can afford to do it. Absolutely! But is it a good idea? I'd like to hear adults' reflections on their own experiences with lessons. If you have a minute, I'd appreciate it if you'd answer three quick questions. For these purposes, don't consider any lessons that you, as a child, asked to take; here, I’m interested in parent-initiated lessons. Also, don’t consider religious school. Sunday school, Hebrew school, CCD, etc. are in a different category from soccer practice.

"People Do Best What Comes Naturally."

“A man marries a woman, not a first lady. If he becomes president, she must fit her own personality into her own concept of a first lady’s role. People do best what comes naturally.” --John F. Kennedy * A terrific blog, Love That Max, "a blog about kids with special needs and the parents who adore them," is up for a well-deserved "best parenting" award. Vote early and often!

Enjoy the Fun of Failure.

I’m very competitive, and perfectionist, and also insecure, and I hate, hate, hate the feeling of failure -- but I know that failure is a necessary part of creativity, of risk-taking, of aiming high. I remind myself that if I’m not failing, I’m not trying hard enough.  So one of my happiness-project resolutions is to “Enjoy the fun of failure.” I really think that repeating this idea over and over has helped me to be more light-hearted about taking risks.

"People Who Knit Are Usually in a Good Mood. People Who Stare into Their iPhones AND Demand Your Attention Aren't as Much Fun."

I’m a longtime fan BoingBoing, that hugely popular, wonderful website that’s “mischievous fun for higher primates," so a few years ago, when I got a link and a nice email from founder Mark Frauenfelder, it was a huge thrill. Mark has a fascinating book that just came out, Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. As you can tell from the title alone, this book has a lot to do with happiness, work, DIY, and...handiness, learning to make and do things with your own hands instead of running out to get cheap, mass-produced items that provide no larger meaning or connection. If you're a Seth Godin fan, it's interesting to take a look at Seth's thoughtful, short commentary.

Can TV Make You Happy? 9 Tips To Ensure that TV Is Boosting, Not Undermining, Your Happiness.

In terms of hours, watching TV is probably the world’s most popular pastime. Among Americans, it’s the most common free-time activity – for an average of about five hours a day. It’s a source of relaxing fun. But while television is a good servant, it’s a bad master. It can swallow up huge amounts of time, without much happiness bang for the buck.

Video: Don't Get Organized.

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- last month’s focus was Mindfulness. Last week’s resolution was to Keep a food diary. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness? This month's theme is Order, and this week’s resolution is, perhaps counter-intuitively, Don't get organized. That's right, I know the impulse, but resist the urge to organize all your stuff! Here's why:

“Accepting Oneself Does Not Preclude an Attempt To Become Better.”

“Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” -- Letters of Flannery O'Connor This reminds me of one of the paradoxes of my happiness project: I want to accept myself, but also expect more from myself.

Imitate a Spiritual Master.

One of the most universal spiritual practices is the imitation of a spiritual master as a way to gain understanding and discipline. For example, in Christianity, many people study The Imitation of Christ and ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?” In the secular world, I suspect, people often read biographies for spiritual reasons: they want to study and learn from the example of great lives. As a writer, I steeped myself in the lives of Winston Churchill and John Kennedy, and it seems to me that much of the fascination in these two towering figures comes from people’s desire to imitate their great qualities (though of course they both also had some not-so-great qualities).

"Cycling, Writing, Walking -- and Living in the Right City."

I became interested in the work of economic development expert Richard Florida when I read his fascinating book, The Rise of the Creative Class. He has a new book, just out, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity. Richard writes a lot about the how community, place, work, and the economy interact to affect people’s happiness and career satisfaction. I was curious about how he thinks about happiness in the context of his own life.

Happiness Question: What's an obstacle to your happiness?

If you’re doing a happiness project, it’s worth spending a fair amount of time thinking about…unhappiness. Although it’s helpful to focus on the positive, to count your blessings, and to remind yourself of what makes you happy, it’s also very important to pay attention to what’s undermining your happiness.

Video: Keep a Food Journal.

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- this month's theme is Mindfulness. Last week's resolution was Use cues to cultivate mindfulness. Did you follow that resolution? How did you do? Did it boost your happiness? This week’s resolution is Keep a food journal. I've tried several times to keep a food journal, because so many studies show that writing down everything you eat is a great way to improve your eating habits: when you're mindful of what you eat, you eat differently.

In Which I Go to a Dance Parade and Reflect on Happiness.

This Saturday, my husband suggested that we all go downtown to watch the annual dance parade. I’d never heard of it, but for the past three years, New York City has had a dance parade, where thousand of dancers, from all sorts of dance organizations, dance their way down a parade route. Some of the dancers were from “real” dance schools or groups, others were from dance/exercise classes, and many groups, we suspected, had been organized for the sole purpose of marching on Saturday. This outing turned out to be tremendously fun. We found a place where we could perch on a high railing, so we had a good view and a place to sit. The weather was lovely. And the dancers were more fun to watch than practically any parade I’ve ever seen.

"Do Not Fail To Do What Ought To Be Done, and Do Not Do What Ought Not To Be Done."

“Do not fail to do what ought to be done, and do not do what ought not to be done. Otherwise your burden of suffering will grow heavier.” --The Dhammapada One of my Twelve Personal Resolutions is Do what ought to be done, but I'd never come across this particular enunciation of that idea. It sure covers a lot of situations.

Think About Your Routines -- Daily, Weekly, Yearly.

One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” But it’s easy to kid myself about what I do every day, as part during my usual routine, and what I do once in a while. If I’m not careful, I can convince myself of statements like: “Most days, I go to the gym.” “I eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day.” “I rarely show my exasperation to my daughters.” A reason my Resolutions Chart has helped my happiness is that it keeps me honest about what my daily routine actually looks like – not what I think it looks like, or what I wish it looked like. When I see on my chart that I haven’t really been getting enough exercise, I can make sure to head to the gym.

"Conversation (Real and Virtureal), Pajama Parties, and Avoiding Self-Criticism."

Aidan Donnelly Rowley and I were set up on a blind coffee date, as writers who live in the same neighborhood, by the indefatigable Danielle LaPorte. Which is a bit odd, because at that time I'd never even met Danielle, who lives in Vancouver, but only knew her through the internet. When I met Aidan, we discovered that we have another mutual friend right here in our neighborhood...small world! Aidan is a novelist who also has a blog, Ivy League Insecurities, so it was a lot of fun to talk shop about balancing book-writing and blogging. At last, her terrific novel, Life After Yes, has hit the shelves. Other people's books seem to get written so fast! (Just the way other people's pregnancies seem to speed by.)

6 Tips for Coping with Boredom.

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.” Little things make us happy, and little things can drag us down. One “little thing” that can be a source of unhappiness is boredom. Sitting in traffic. Doing laundry. Waiting in a long line at the grocery store.

Video: Use Cues to Cultivate Mindfulness. (If You're Not Very Mindful, You'll Need Reminding.)

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- this month’s resolution is Mindfulness. Mindfulness can bring many benefits. It brings clarity and vividness to present experience. It may help people end unhealthy habits and patterns. It can enhance a sense of well-being and calm troubled spirits. Last week's resolution was to Meditate on koans. Did you follow that resolution? How did you do? What's your favorite koan?

Why It's Helpful To Send Back a Positive Reflection of a Person's Actions.

In his thought-provoking book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself (Essays in Social Psychology), David Dunning describes a very interesting study that compared two classrooms of fifth graders. One class received several messages about the importance of not littering. The other class was told that it was a very neat and tidy class – the janitor told the class they were neatest class in the school, the teacher remarked on it, etc. It turns out that the second approach was much more effective in prompting the children not to litter. Other studies, too, confirm that when people are labeled as kind and generous, they increase their pro-social behavior.

Make It Easy To Do Right.

In order to keep all my happiness-project resolutions – making resolutions is fun, but keeping them is tough -- I’ve been trying hard to follow the resolution to “Make it easy to do right.” I try to make it as easy as possible to do the right thing. Instead of working to exercise my self-control, as I used to do, I abandon my self-control and try to find ingenious ways to make a resolution easier to keep. For example, my husband loves to bake sweets, but I’m happier if I don’t eat them. I used to try to persuade him not to bake tempting treats at all, but now I realize that a) he should be able to bake if he wants, without me pestering him, and b) he’s going to go ahead and bake anyway, no matter what I say. Now though, as soon as he’s finished, I make sure the baked goods are wrapped up and put in a cabinet. That keeps them fresher, and once they’re out of sight, I forget they’re even there.

"Write Drunk, Edit Sober; Drink Coffee While Reading the Paper; Watch the Cat."

When I was at the SXSW Interactive conference a few months ago, I met Larry Smith. He's the editor of SMITH Magazine -- "Everyone has a story. What's yours?" It's the home of the crazy brilliant Six-Word Memoir project -- and a place for passionate, personal storytelling of all kinds. I was so pleased to meet Larry, because I'm such a fan of the six-word memoir form. Reading them is dangerously addictive. Here's a good one for a person starting a happiness project: "Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda. Shall. Can. Will." Yes! I wanted to hear what Larry had to say on the subject of happiness.

8 Tips for Handling Mail (the Old-Fashioned Kind) More Efficiently.

Last week, I posted 5 realistic tips for using email more efficiently, but ye olde paper post continues to deliver a large stack to my door, too. After much trial and error, I developed a system that works very well for me to keep the pile manageable. One key to my system is the physical lay-out of my mail-processing area. I stand in front of a chest-of-drawers in my hallway. It has a wastebasket on one side of it, and it's near the door to our service hallway, which holds our recycling stack, and it has drawers that I use as part of my system. The hall is near the kitchen, where my "special drawer" (see below) is located.

Video: Meditate on Koans.

2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year – and even if you haven’t officially signed up for the challenge -- this month’s focus is Mindfulness. Last week’s resolution was a quiz, How mindful are you? Did you take that quiz? How did you do? This week’s resolution is to Meditate on koans. A “koan” is a question, story, or statement that can’t be understood logically. Zen Buddhist monks meditate on koans as a way to abandon dependence on reason in their pursuit of enlightenment. Even if you’re not seeking satori (or, I should probably say, you’re not seeking it), I’ve found that thinking about a koan stimulates mindfulness. Because koans force me to challenge the usual, straightforward boxes of meaning, they push me to think about thinking.

A "Little Thing" (Very Little) That Makes Me Happy: the Gift Bag.

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," and I’m often struck by how much happiness I get from small, seemingly trivial aspects of my life. Solving a nagging problem, even a very insignificant one, can bring me a sizable boost. One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Identify the problem, because once I recognize a problem, I can often identify a solution. Here’s an example.

“People Need To Be Reminded More Often Than They Need To Be Instructed.”

“People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” -- Samuel Johnson  * Through my friend Laura Miller's great Salon post, A reader's advice to writers: Beware of Mary Sue, I found my way to an extraordinary site, TV Tropes. Oh, my goodness, it's fantastic. If you liked Polti's The Thirty Six Dramatic Situations, you will love it.

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