Tag Archives: Happiness Project

Get More Sleep

Once again The Happiness Project taps directly into my brain w/ this prescient suggestion I always forget I should remember:

Get more sleep!

It’s easy to become accustomed to being sleep-deprived, but it’s not good for you. Many researchers argue that not getting enough sleep has broad health consequences, such as raising your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even obesity, but in addition to those, it has a profound effect on your happiness.

One study showed that a bad night’s sleep was one of the top two reasons for being in a bad mood at work (the other? Tight work deadlines). Another study suggested that getting one extra hour of sleep each night would do more for your daily happiness than getting a $60,000 raise.

Roger. Halloween makes this a bad weekend to set this resolution into effect, but the time change makes this a good week to remember to remember.


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Coppola on Sins

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project quoted Coppola’s book on sound and film editing today.

Coppola’s notes for the script of The Conversation include this line:
There is always the idea that the sins a man performs are not the same as the ones he thinks he has performed…

I was raised Catholic and have had to re-confess a number of times (“My apologies, Father; last week I didn’t tell the full story”).

Is virtue, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder?  I detest the idea of moral relativism, but here I am, far from black and white, exploring the idea of virtue as with an unknown.

Of this I am certain: The purpose of virtue is to hone some strong sentient core that can go and do good.  If we never find an opportunity to learn, we will never have an opportunity to teach, and we will all fade to automatons or worse, to spineless seekers of living morality that bends and sways with the tide.

Perhaps the entire point of that quote is to suggest that virtue requires more probative thinking.  Or perhaps it suggests that we reconsider the idea that sins are no more than indulgences, forgivable with appropriate penance.

You’ll forgive me; it’s difficult for someone as perfect as I to think too deeply into the nature of sins.  But what I have learned is that acting on choices we know are wrong does not represent a series of harmful actions as much as it represents a sort of rot.  It changes the way we approach life, ourselves.

For what it’s worth, I’d conclude that this quote just asks us to look into why we’re doing what we do.  To ask more than merely whether the end justifies the means.  We’ve come very far from black and white, but this does not permit disregard of hard edges.

Then the key, per Coppola, is in finding and tending those hard edges.

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Rhoda has rocked her ships to shore. Whether they have anchored, whether they have foundered, she cares no longer.”

I find myself often searching for Inspiration.  In some situations I’ve found myself on fire — totally enthusiastic, engaged.  Unflagging.  Other positions leave me weary from the start.

It’s not hard to identify inspiration; it is hard to commit to it.  It’s hard to discern between character-building inspiration-less endeavors and those satisfying influences that tend to stoke the personal fire.

The quote above comes from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, but more immediately from Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project that I cite rather relentlessly around here.  Woolf’s quote is so evocative because it captures both of the two kinds of inspiration while pointing subtly to the difference between them.

Inspiration can be fleeting.  What I picture for this first variety is the whole of that lovely French film, La fabuleux destin d’Amelie Poulain, but particularly the scene where Amelie dips her hand in a sack of dry lentils.  It’s completely sensual and it makes my brain run, with all the words that spring to mind at the idea of being immersed in dry lentils.

Connected tangentially to that is the bigger idea of Inspiration — a mission, some goal that refreshes even as it challenges.  This bigger “Inspiration” is the reason for this entry, and the reason I open with that terrific Woolf quote.

Inspiration isn’t critical merely because it blows refreshing life into one’s work.  It’s much more basic than that.  Indeed perhaps the best way to avoid problems like drift is to identify and commit to what inspires in this big way.  Commitment to first order inspiration requires leaving discretionary time to pursuing “second order,” smaller inspiration that won’t act like red herrings and interfere with first-order big dogs.

I recently came across the word bashert, a Hebrew idea of destiny.  Google tells me that “bashert” refers primarily to having found one’s perfect match in a spouse, the test being:

1. Are we attracted to one another?

2. Do we share common goals?

3. Do we bring out the best in one another?

For me the idea of searching for one preordained partner seems like a dangerous fiction designed to keep starry-eyed young girls chaste.  Though of course the question of “is this  meant to be?” haunts every relationship, my more urgent questions have always been: What will I be when I grow up?  I’m in my fifth year of graduate school.  Questioning my path is no small task.

So I fall back to inspiration.  In business school I loved classes like Finance and Economics.  I liked to put things together and see how markets react.  But I remember hating some classes — most notably Accounting — so much that once I crossed a street without looking both ways, reasoning: The worst that can happen would at least keep me out of Accounting class!

Law is completely different.  I adore working on the cleavage between almost-imperceptibly discrete moral arguments.  Every legal question has the propensity to fall into a series of cracks — jurisdiction, standing, mootness, technicalities — but even these “cracks” reflect a much broader pattern.  Every case suggests that there’s rhyme and reason even to the most mundane parts of our lives.  True, Tax is not as sexy as Torts, but reflecting on the funding relationship individuals have with the State still represents an intellectual conundrum worth exploring.

Lately though I’ve been returning to my roots.  I’ve gone back to practicing Rachmaninov.  I’ve stayed up long hours reading the kinds of books that I haven’t made time to read in years.  Lately I’ve been considering this concept of bashert and needing increasingly tangential nourishment to get my inspiration fix.

I ask myself the three bashert questions and I have to admit that I feel a little more like the best version of myself when there’s some poetry to round things off.  Does this suggest that I should quit law school to devote myself full-time to the Rach II?

In fact it may better suggest that I work harder at law school, so I can finagle a position as a Tax attorney, so that I can afford the time and the Steinway necessary to make Rach sound his best.  All of morality and all philosophy concerning trade-offs centers around this same ends/means disconnect.  As I get older and work harder the more I wonder whether there’s a disconnect at all.  Perhaps the whole point is to find one’s way along through that dichotomy, and trust the chips to fall where they may.

Though I’m not familiar enough with Virginia Woolf’s work to recognize the context of that opening Rhoda quote, the whole thing reeks of destiny.  More often than not in life the goal is to look back and say: It all seemed obvious.  We knew this from the start.  It was always meant to be.

Sometimes it seems that I explore the same concepts over and over, rehashing because I never get to the bottom of things.  Last year I posted an email conversation I had with five of my best girlfriends responding to a very old Atlantic article, “I Choose My Choice.”  We all rehash.  We are all conflicted.  Making and re-making critical choices is simply part of what we’re here to do.

Everything worth having demands some fairly surgical comparison among valuable, mutually-excluding options.  I am frequently tempted to throw up my hands and just determine to “do the best I can,” waiting for whatever is meant to be to happen.  But choice like any other “muscle” requires exercise, restraint, and attention.  The first step down the path of what’s meant to be is making some active choice.

Choice, of course, acknowledges that trade-offs are part of it.  Part of life.  Getting paid to do what you love usually requires some lower pay than you’d earn if you keep your hobby a hobby.  Working longer hours is a kind of toll that permits things like piano lessons for your kids, but precludes that extra time with them.

I suppose that on a quotidian basis it’s just a matter of following the inspiration and trusting that it will all paint the right picture in the end.  I love Borges more than I love Tax, and my unwillingness to forego Borges for Tax will likely preclude a career in Tax law, which will permit reading more Borges in the future.  It’s not signals.  It’s reaping the seeds we sow.

“Rhoda has rocked her ships to shore. Whether they have anchored, whether they have foundered, she cares no longer.”

Woolf’s quote inspired this entry because I too have rocked my ships to shore.  I  am still very much responsible for active anchoring, for preventing floundering.  I accept all of that; I embrace the responsibility.  And yet I am starting to accept that some “floundering” is part of the process.  It, too, is meant to be.

Perhaps this blog entry solves nothing; perhaps I’ve devolved into that detestable category of “diary” blogs.  But there is something worthwhile about embracing what comes.  About acknowledging that even the “floundering” represents direction.  That even an anchor provides only a fluid kind of stasis.

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Gretchen Rubin: Manifest Destiny

Sundays are when I learn Tax law, so you’ll forgive me if I plagiarize one more entry. Here’s one of my favorite works in progress, Gretchen Rubin’s “Happiness Project,” suggesting that we establish a Mission:

Writer Jean Stafford scoffed, “Happy people don’t need to have fun,” but in fact, studies show that the absence of feeling bad isn’t enough to make you feel good; you must strive to find sources of feeling good. Research shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life; people who have fun are twenty times more likely to feel happy.

Recently, I noticed a pattern among activities that people find fun: Have a mission. There’s something about having a playful purpose, of trying to achieve something, that makes an activity more fun.

For example, a friend told that she loved visiting flea markets and antique stores to look for old globes – not fancy ones, cheap ones. She has a rule that she’ll never pay more than $20. She’s the kind of person who loves poking around in those kinds of shops in any case, but having a mission makes it more fun, less aimless.

For that matter, having a collection of any sort is a very popular way to have a mission. You get the little zap of satisfaction whenever you find another piece of blue sea glass on the beach or another out-of-print book by Charlotte Yonge. Or you collect experiences, like attending a game in every Major League Baseball stadium or running in as many marathons as possible.

Taking photos is a common way to incorporate a mission into traveling. Not only does this help keep memories vivid, it also makes you more attuned to your environment while traveling. (Although for some people, taking photos can become a barrier to experience; they get so focused on getting the photos that they don’t enjoy the reality.)

For example, during my most recent visit to New Haven, I had a lot more fun wandering around once I set myself the mission of taking tourist photos of my own romance.
Some people have a mission to take photos during everyday life: taking a photo of people’s bare feet whenever they get the chance, taking a photo of every red barn they see. Artist Nicholas Nixon did a series called The Brown Sisters, a series of black-and-white photos of his wife and her three sisters taken every year from 1975-2006. It’s absolutely riveting.

Why is this true? The First Splendid Truth holds that to be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.

The more I’ve thought about happiness, the more surprised I’ve been at the importance of the “atmosphere of growth.” I think this is a huge engine of happiness, and when you have a mission, you create an atmosphere of growth whenever you pursue that mission.

Have you found a way to have a mission? What is it – and does it boost your happiness?

P.S. I’m chuckling away at my choice of image [Star Trek ship]. Get it?

* On Gimundo, I read about a very reassuring study that concludes that workers who are permitted to spend time each day (less than 20% of total time) puttering around the internet are actually more productive than those who aren’t allowed to do so. Phew.

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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Happiness and Drift

Yet another brilliant piece from The Happiness Project.  I love the author’s expert identification and description of the issues.  I love her for having “drifted” into Yale Law School.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the problem of drift in happiness. Drift is the decision you make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which you don’t take responsibility. (“Drift” isn’t an actual psychological term, like situation evocation or emotional contagion; it’s just a word that I use).

An engaged friend couldn’t have made it more plain that she didn’t want to get married. I asked her, “Imagine that something happened, and you couldn’t get married next month. Your fiancé absolutely had to move to China for a year, alone, or you had to have a big operation. How would you feel?” “Relieved,” she said. And yet she went through with the wedding, and got divorced a year later.

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Improving Interpersonality

Nope, not married, but I still always love interpersonal-improvement analyses:

Five big mistakes I make in my marriage” (and explanations for how she addresses them).

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