Further Secrets of Adulthood:
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Further Secrets of Adulthood:
I'm deep in the writing of my next book, Before and After, about making and breaking habits, and there's nothing more satisfying than reading the success stories of people who have changed a habit. If you have a Before-and-After story of a habit you changed, and you're willing to share it here on the blog, please contact me here. Once a week, I'll post a story. We can all learn from each other.
Happiness interview: Jenny Lawson, also known as The Bloggess.
Last week, amid a lot of buzz, Jenny Lawson’s new book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir) hit the shelves. I couldn’t wait to read it, because I’m a big fan of her wildly popular blog, and the book made me laugh out loud. (If you’ve read it, I will just say “whimsy” was my favorite scene–you know the part I mean.)
Jenny’s book is very funny, but it’s also very serious, and the theme of happiness runs through it.
Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Jenny: Drinking? That’s probably not a good answer though so let’s change it to “watching Anchorman so many times I can say the lines before the actors do.”
What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
When I was 18 my severe anxiety disorder was still undiagnosed, so I guess what I didn’t know then was that one day I would be happy. I wish I could have gone back and told that me that it would get better.
Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Drinking? Also, I have a hard time convincing myself I’m worthy of being happy. There’s something about being happy that seems somewhat lazy to me. Like I must be ignoring something terrible if I’m actually happy. It’s something I’m working on. Happiness shouldn’t be associated with guilt.
Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself, “No calculation.”)
There is one that Neil Gaiman shared with me when I was having a terrible time working on my audio book. I was so afraid of messing up that I couldn’t appreciate something that should be so fun so he told me “Pretend you’re good at it.” I wrote it on my arm and it worked. I used that mantra every damn day.
If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children’s books).
Actually if I need a good happiness boost I watch horror movies. It sounds weird, but there’s something about watching people get murdered at summer camp by hatchets that makes me think, “Well, things could be worse.”
Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
I always encourage people to follow whatever seems silly because that’s going to bring happiness. Jumping in a fountain that wasn’t meant to be jumped in is always fun. Unless it’s a drinking fountain. Then you’re probably going to get arrested.
Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I have clinical depression so it’s not unusual for me to spend a few weeks a year in bed unable to be happy. I can usually rely on my family to understand and to remind me that depression lies and that it will get better. Also, I have a great therapist who has really helped me to cope with depression in a healthier way. For me it’s all about giving myself time to be sad so that I know I’ll be able to give myself time to be happy again soon.
Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?
My daughter’s bedroom. It’s bright and filled with paper butterflies and every time I’m in there we’re always playing or making up new games or plays. My daughter is the brightest spot in my life.
Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
It’s always the silly little things…bringing home a 5 foot chicken to ring the doorbell, taking an alligator on a plane, saying the word “lady-garden” on CNN…those things bring me the most happiness. The bigger things like winning awards and such never bring as much joy. I figure though that I’m lucky to know what works for me so that I concentrate on the things that really matter to me.
Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or Quiz Day.
I’ve posted this quiz before, but because I think it’s such a very helpful thing to know about yourself, I’m posting it again. Recognizing this distinction has been one of the most important insights that I’ve had into my own nature–more helpful, say, than understanding that I’m an under-buyer, not an over-buyer.
A piece of advice I often see is, “Be moderate. Don’t have ice cream every night, but if you try to deny yourself altogether, you’ll fall off the wagon. Allow yourself to have the occasional treat, it will help you stick to your plan.”
I’ve come to believe that this is good advice for some people: the “moderators.” They do better when they try to make moderate changes, when they avoid absolutes and bright lines.
For a long time, I kept trying this strategy of moderation–and failing. Then I read a line from Samuel Johnson, who said, when someone offered him wine: “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult.”
Ah ha! Like Dr. Johnson, I’m an “abstainer.”
I find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately. When I admitted to myself that I was eating my favorite frozen yogurt treat very often, two and even three times a day, I gave it up cold turkey. That was far easier for me to do than to eat it twice a week. If I try to be moderate, I exhaust myself debating, “Today, tomorrow?” “Does this time ‘count’?” etc. If I never do something, it requires no self-control for me; if I do something sometimes, it requires enormous self-control.
There’s no right way or wrong way–it’s just a matter of knowing which strategy works better for you. If moderators try to abstain, they feel trapped and rebellious. If abstainers try to be moderate, they spend a lot of time justifying why they should go ahead and indulge.
However, in my experience, both moderators and abstainers try hard to convert the other team. A nutritionist once told me, “I tell my clients to follow the 80/20 rule. Be healthy 80% of the time, indulge within reason, 20% of the time.” She wouldn’t consider my point of view–that a 100% rule might be easier for someone like me to follow.
People can be surprisingly judgmental about which approach you take. As an abstainer, I often get disapproving comments like, “It’s not healthy to take such a severe approach” or “It would be better to learn how to manage yourself” or “Can’t you let yourself have a little fun?” On the other hand, I hear fellow abstainer-types saying to moderators, “You can’t keep cheating and expect to make progress” or “Why don’t you just go cold turkey?” But different approaches work for different people. (Exception: with an actual addiction, like alcohol or cigarettes, people generally accept that abstaining is the only solution.)
You’re a moderator if you…
– find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure–and strengthens your resolve
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something
You’re an abstainer if you…
– have trouble stopping something once you’ve started
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits
Now, sometimes instead of trying to give something up, we’re trying to push ourselves to embrace something. Go to the gym, eat vegetables, work on a disagreeable project.
Perhaps this is the flip side of being an abstainer, but I’ve found that if I’m trying to make myself do something, I do better if I do that thing every day. When people ask me advice about keeping a blog, one of my recommendations is, “Post every day, or six days a week.” Weirdly, it’s easier to write a blog every day than it is to write it three or four times a week. I don’t know how moderators feel about this. (Moderators–what do you think? Is it easier to go for a half-hour walk every day, or four times a week, for you?)
So…do you identify as an abstainer or a moderator? Do these categories ring true for you?
Each week, I post a video about some Pigeon of Discontent raised by a reader. Because, as much as we try to find the Bluebird of Happiness, we’re also plagued by the Pigeons of Discontent.
This week’s Pigeon of Discontent, suggested by a reader, is: “No one appreciates me.”
If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
How about you? Do you often feel unappreciated or unacknowledged? How do you deal with it? Gold stars! I crave them.
You can post your own Pigeon of Discontent at any time; also, from time to time, I’ll make a special call for suggestions.
You can check out the archives of videos here.
Assay: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of small treats, small pleasures. They’re fun to experience, of course, and I think they also have a very important role to play in happiness.
When we feel depleted and drained, and when we have no time or energy devoted to the things that give us pleasure, we start to feel exhausted, resentful, and angry. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
But it can be surprisingly hard to think of what little treats you want to give yourself. So many pleasures come at a cost: cookies cost calories, movies and books take time and focus, a museum costs the price of a ticket. It’s good to have a list of treats and pleasures that have a very low cost in time, energy, or money.
For instance, I’ve become obsessed with the sense of smell, and I love the fact that a good smell can be enjoyed in an instant, with no cost. My latest favorite “treat,” which I save for moments when I need a bit of extra comfort or reassurance, is the fragrance “Hay” from CB I Hate Perfume. It’s a warm, sweet, summer smell…of hay. I only put it on as a special treat. (Of course, it did cost me something to buy it, but not much, and never again.)
What small treats and pleasures have you found for yourself? Be honest! Not things that you think you should consider a treat, or what you wish you considered a treat (you may or may not find going for a run to be a treat), but things that you actually do consider a treat. Even if these aren’t particularly estimable.
I want to lengthen my own list.