Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Happiness Project: January

I've summarized the book and though it's a bit overdue, I thought it's worth sharing.

JANUARY
Boost Energy
VITALITY 

GO TO SLEEP EARLIER.
Turn off the light. “Near your bedtime, don’t do any work that requires alert thinking. Keep your bedroom slightly chilly. Do a few prebed stretches. Also—this is important—because light confuses the body’s circadian clock, keep the lights low around bedtime, say, if you go to the bathroom. Also, make sure your room is very dark when the lights are out. Like a hotel room.” Two of my most useful getting-to-sleep strategies were my own invention. First, I tried to get ready for bed well before bedtime. Sometimes I stayed up late because I was too tired to take out my contacts—plus, putting on my glasses had an effect like putting the cover on the parrot’s cage. Also, if I woke up in the night, I’d tell myself, “I have to get up in two minutes.” I’d imagine that I’d just hit the snooze alarm and in two minutes, I’d have to march through my morning routine. Often this was an exhausting enough prospect to make me fall asleep.
And sometimes I gave up and took an Ambien.


EXERCISE BETTER.
Among other benefits, people who exercise are healthier, think more clearly, sleep better, and have delayed onset of dementia. Regular exercise boosts energy levels; although some people assume that working out is tiring, in fact, it boosts energy, especially in sedentary people—of whom there are many. Just by exercising twenty minutes a day/three days a week/for six weeks, persistently tired people boosted their energy. Achieve 10,000 STEPS A DAY. Buy a pedometer. “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking,” Even five minutes of daylight stimulates production of serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that improve mood.



TOSS, RESTORE, ORGANIZE.

They all needed to be placed in their proper homes. Or tossed or given away.

As I contemplated the magnitude of the job before me, I invoked my Tenth Commandment: “Do what ought to be done.” First was nostalgic clutter, made up of relics I clung to from my earlier life. Second was self-righteous conservation clutter, made up of things that I’ve kept because they’re useful—even though they’re useless to me. One kind of clutter I saw in other people’s homes but didn’t suffer from myself was bargain clutter, which results from buying unnecessary things because they’re on sale. I did suffer from related freebie clutter—the clutter of gifts, hand-me-downs, and giveaways that we didn’t use. I also had a problem with crutch clutter. These things I used but knew I shouldn’t. I felt particularly oppressed by aspirational clutter—things that I owned but only aspired to use. The flip side of aspirational clutter is outgrown clutter. I discovered a big pile of plastic photo boxes piled in a drawer. I used them for years, but even though I like proper picture frames now, I’d held on to the plastic versions. The kind of clutter that I found most disagreeable was buyer’s remorse clutter, when, rather than admit that I’d made a bad purchase, I hung on to things until somehow I felt they’d been “used up” by sitting in a closet or on a shelf.

Closet: First, I got rid of items that no one should be wearing anymore. Next I pulled out the items that, realistically, I knew I wouldn’t wear. Those are for donation or garage sale. I emptied each drawer completely, and I put back only the items that I actually wore.

I also hit on a few daily rules to help keep the apartment from constantly falling into disorder. First, following my Fourth Commandment, “Do it now,” I started to apply the “one-minute rule” I didn’t postpone any task that could be done in less than one minute. Along with the “one-minute rule,” I observed the “evening tidy-up” by taking ten minutes before bed to do simple tidying. Tidying up at night made our mornings more serene and pleasant and, in an added benefit, helped prepare me for sleep. Putting things in order is very calming.


TACKLE A NAGGING TASK.
I had to accept the fact that some nagging tasks would never be crossed off my list. I would have to do them every day for the rest of my life. Finally I started wearing sunscreen every day—well, most days. Finally I started flossing every day—well, most days. An important aspect of happiness is managing your moods, and studies show that one of the best ways to lift your mood is to engineer an easy success, such as tackling a long-delayed chore. I was astounded by the dramatic boost in my mental energy that came from taking care of these neglected tasks.


ACT MORE ENERGETIC.
To feel more energetic, I applied one of my Twelve Commandments: “Act the way I want to feel.” This commandment sums up one of the most helpful insights that I’d learned in my happiness research: although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act. Although a “fake it till you feel it” strategy sounded hokey, I found it extremely effective. When I felt draggy, I started to act with more energy. I sped up my walk. I paced while talking on the phone. I put more warmth and zest into my voice. Sometimes I feel exhausted by the prospect of spending time with my own children, but one tired afternoon, instead of trying to devise a game that involved my lying on the couch (I’ve managed to be astonishingly resourceful in coming up with ideas), I bounded into the room and said, “Hey, let’s play in the tent!” It really worked; I did manage to give myself an energy boost by acting with energy.

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