August 17, 2010 at 5:33 am | Posted in Goal Progress, Links | 1 Comment

In this post from The Simple Dollar, Trent urges his readers to start — to stop dreaming and act. In his exordium, he urges us to spend two hours today working towards achieving a dream. How wonderful, I thought. I will do that right now.

I ground to a halt before I got started, however, when I realized that I don’t actually have any dreams right now. I mean, I want to have a more normal life, with friends and so forth. I’m so focused on the details of survival — getting into the climbing gym, practicing yoga, cooking rather than starving myself, showing up to appointments with my shrink, not drowning at work, and so on — that I couldn’t really tell you what I’m working towards. In other words, I don’t know why I want to be healthy.

That’s unlike me. I am usually the personification of goal-directed behavior. While it could be argued that thrown myself behind some dubious goals — getting a Ph.D. in an obscure field from an elite university comes to mind — it’s unprecedented to find that I’m marching briskly in no particular direction. In fact, I think that this has been the case since I left academia.

There’s a difference, I think, between intending to engage in particular activities regularly and setting a goal. “I want to climb three days a week” is not a goal in the way that “I want to climb an eight” is (climbing routes are rated between 5.5 and 5.12). Goals may be specific, measurable, and so forth, but they also culminate in a one-time event (filing a dissertation, say). Climbing three times a week isn’t a goal, since I’m not going to stop or set a new goal once I’ve done it. Instead, it’s a routine. Funny that I never saw this before.

OK, off to shower and get ready for work. Perhaps my way of following Trent’s advice will be to spend two hours developing a few goals.


Hang on Tight — We’re Going Off-Topic

August 14, 2010 at 5:10 am | Posted in Links | Leave a comment

Trent, the personal finance guru of The Simple Dollar, takes on a touchy topic in this post which concerns how others often react defensively to his financial choices. Apparently he gets a rash of bitter comments every time he earnestly advocates such thrifty practices as rinsing and reusing Ziploc bags. In “Minimalism, Frugality and Confrontation,” he observes that many people take his frugality to be a judgment on their own spending practices. It is odd — no one finds it extreme to spend thousands on a home theater system, but woe betide the person who indulges in extremes of frugality.

No one has ever accused me of moralistic frugality, but I’ve seen a similar phenomenon in other areas of life. For instance, many, many people assume that anyone who’s as thin as I am must spend a lot of time noticing and other people’s weight and disapproving of it. (In fact, I often overlook 20 or 30-lb weight swings in people I know well.) When I turn down doughnuts at the office, it’s as if I’m doing it to show off. As a result, I try to avoid revealing that I don’t drink and don’t own a TV, for example, since these eccentricities seem to put people on the defensive.

I’m not certain what my point is there. I just felt compelled to bring up the problem.

In other news, there’s amazing wisdom in Gretchen Rubin’s interview with Chris Yeh, a dot-com entrepreneur. I won’t summarize it — just take a quick look if you have time.

Love to all.

How to Fake Happiness, Followed by the Three Types of Fun

August 11, 2010 at 4:27 am | Posted in Links, Sociability, Wellness | 6 Comments


Controlling your expression is the first step towards faking happiness.

Every morning when I sign into this blog, I look at my readership stats, including the most common search terms that send people to this space. Today I noticed that some poor soul came here looking to find out how to fake happiness. Wow, I thought, that’s one of those crucial skills that no one teaches you explicitly. I’ll have to try to fill that gap. So here goes.

For us gloomy folk with minimal spare energy, it’s worth going over the benefits of faking positive emotions of all types.

1. You may fool yourself into a better mood, since, to a surprising degree, emotion follows behavior rather than vice versa. If you fake a smile or a laugh, you will cheer up measurably, while adopting a severe expression can help you to focus.

2. It’s a brutal fact that people are drawn to people who are self-confident and cheerful. If you can fool others, they will respond more positively to you than if you simply expressed all of your misery.

3. Even if people aren’t fooled, they will appreciate the effort. Mood is contagious, and it’s wearing to spend time with someone who is consistently crabby.

4. Discipline is rarely wasted effort.

So, what are the mechanics of deliberate cheer?

1. Control your demeanor. Fake a smile. Don’t just grimace — involve your cheeks and eyes.

2. Control your conversation. Replace complaints and criticisms with positive remarks. If you start conversation on a negative note, others will follow your lead, and a downward spiral may result. Along the same lines, notice and follow others’ attempts to keep things positive. Don’t be that person who counters every upbeat remark with a “Yes, but….”

4. Control your movements. Move briskly like a happy person would, and choose activities that you would do if you were in a good mood.

5. Control your thoughts. Resolve to focus on the good and turn away from the bad. During this last hospital stint, I noticed that when mental patients suffer a slight or things don’t go their way, they tend to magnify the effect of the setback by talking about it endlessly and insisting that no one understands their pain. When you’re tempted to fume or ruminate, change the subject before you’re fully ready to let go. The good news is, if you smile and talk about other things, your thoughts will almost certainly follow.

How do you fake happiness? I’d love to hear about your efforts in the comments.

Moving along, there’s a good deal of wisdom in this post from The Happiness Project on the three types of happiness. In her tripartite division, Rubin identifies challenging fun, accommodating fun and relaxing fun. It’s worth reviewing all three briefly.

The first and best sort encompasses ongoing efforts to master a skill. In her book, Rubin tells of taking a drawing class when she hadn’t tried to draw a figure since childhood. She’s often self-conscious and anxious during the class, but it proves to be a source of pride and the skills she gains provide long-term pleasure. This is challenging fun: It entails difficult emotions, but provides long-term rewards.

Accommodating fun happens when you make the effort to enjoy yourself around other people. For example, when you take your kids to a movie that you’d rather not see or go to a good deal of trouble to plan a birthday celebration for a coworker. In the moment, you might prefer to be reading a good book, but by enhancing social bonds you’re providing for future fun.

The easiest and most common sort of enjoyment is pure relaxation, which comes from engaging in activities that require little effort or planning. Watching television is the obvious example here: It doesn’t require a huge investment of skill or effort, but the benefits end the minute you switch of the TV or finish that novel.

At the end of a rough day at work, we tend to gravitate towards relaxing fun exclusively. Rubin argues that one secret of lasting happiness is to push yourself towards the first two types instead. If you’re like me, you’ll cry. “But how can I do that when I’m tired all the time?” She ends her post with perhaps the best point of all: To improve your general level of happiness, you need to increase your energy levels by ensuring that you’re exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating healthfully. I found myself nodding along with that one — I’ve been shorting myself on sleep since I got back to work, and the results aren’t pretty.

Tips for Boosting Your Energy Level — Now

August 6, 2010 at 4:58 am | Posted in Links, Productivity, Work Life | Leave a comment

How sad it is that when I’m tired, it’s usually because of something I’ve been doing wrong for several days. (Sleepless nights, anyone?) It often seems like I can only beat back exhaustion and guarantee some level of productivity by slugging down some coffee or eating an evil food. That’s why I was glad to see this post from The Happiness Project with some concrete and, I think, workable suggestions that will reliably raise your energy in the short term without undermining your health in the long run.

Today is the last day of my first week back at work. It’s gone extremely well. Not surprisingly, though, the last couple of days have reminded me exactly how easy it is to let myself be pushed into a miserably unhealthy lifestyle. Human beings were simply not meant to work nine and a half hours a day and commute for another hour. It takes an unholy level of planning and discipline to prepare healthy meals, get eight hours of sleep, work out, and take regular breaks.

Love to all.

An Excellent Guest Post on Modern Life from Get Rich Slowly

August 4, 2010 at 5:24 am | Posted in I Hate the 21st Century, Links | Leave a comment

Robert Brokamp of The Motley Fool considers the new “necessities” of 21st Century life here. Another excellent argument against The Way We Live Now.

Excellent Suggestions from The Happiness Project and Illuminated Mind

July 30, 2010 at 6:47 am | Posted in Links | 1 Comment

I don’t know about you, but I’m often overwhelmed by my blog feeds. Every morning I’m confronted with more good advice and information than I could implement in a lifetime. Today, though, I found two entries that justified slogging through the happy tips and lists.

The Happiness Project is still one of my hands-down favorite blogs — Gretchen Rubin gives excellent advice made palatable by a charming tone. Here, she gives a list of actions that may tempt you in the moment, but that will actually intensify your unhappiness in the end. Like all excellent advice, it’s simple but it’s not easy. Learning to avoid just the first two — treating yourself and letting yourself off the hook — is a life’s work.

This guest post from The Illuminated Mind gives a quick list of ways to jolt yourself out of complacency and pay more attention to your life.

I would add a fifth item: Take care of a task that you know will suck, but that will be life-improving in the end. For example, almost daily I regret that my iTunes collection is too large for my iPod, and that mediocre songs have crowded out some of my coolest play lists. Sadly, this is not one of those things that I’m putting off for no rational reason, that will prove gratifyingly easy in the end. I’m pretty certain that I’ll hate every minute of it the hour or two of frustration and tedium. How nice it will be in the end, though! (Of course, the real challenge is to do something hideous when there’s no particular reward — I think of wading through endless voice mail menus to straighten out the unjust hospital bill I got last week. That takes true dedication.)

More later, and love to all.

Check Out This PRI Forum with Ethan Watters

May 18, 2010 at 5:06 am | Posted in Book Reviews, Links, Philosophical Problems | Leave a comment

I’ve been so obsessed with Robert Whittaker’s work that I’ve lost track of how Ethan Watters’ excellent book, Crazy Like Us, has fared recently. I got a very flattering invitation to participate in this PRI forum on America’s most profitable non-defense export: mental illness. I’ve already posted once, and I’ll probably return before the forum closes on May 31.

Many of the people writing in have not read Watters’ book, and as a result he’s been answering some of the most obvious questions and objections, which may be more valuable to the average reader than a detailed engagement with the nuts and bold of his argument. In any case, check it out.

I’ve had all sort of wacky symptoms since I cut out the meds a month or so ago. It’s a cheaper and less time-consuming madness than what I’ve had for the last several years, though, so I’m trying to ride it out.

Love to all.

A Fantastic Article on Mental Health and Finances from The Simple Dollar

April 11, 2010 at 9:07 am | Posted in Finances, Links | Leave a comment

I really recommend this brief article from Trent at The Simple Dollar. It’s so funny — I know intellectually that bipolar people face specific financial difficulties, but I experience tremendous shame and frustration about my relationship to money. I’ll take the time to write a full-length post about this later today. For now, I invite all of you to think about how mental illness — or even just normal emotional ups and downs — have affected your financial life.

You Have to Take Your Shots

April 3, 2010 at 3:22 am | Posted in Links | 1 Comment

I love this post from Knowledge Is Necessity, and not just because he uses basketball, a sport I adore, as a metaphor for life. He examines the playing style of Shane Battier, a small forward whose scoring stats are unimpressive, but whose defensive game is spot-on. Battier may not win every game, but his process guarantees that at least he can say he’s given it his best effort.

This is another way of getting at a truth that I’ve mentioned before in this space: you have to take your shots. Basketball players miss lots of shots — many more than they make. If they don’t accept and embrace failure, they will never taste success. Here’s how Michael Jordan puts it:

I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why… I succeed.

Another basketball quote I love, this one from Jerry West:

“You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.”

Ain’t that the truth.

And Derek Jeter:

“There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.”

Finally, Larry Bird:

You never make any of the shots you never take. 87% of the ones you do take, you’ll miss too.

All basketball quotes are from Great-Quotes.com, a fine resource.

A Great Phrase from The Happiness Project

March 20, 2010 at 1:57 am | Posted in I Hate the 21st Century, Links | Leave a comment

I love Gretchen Rubin’s name for technology: the cubicle in your pocket. So true. I’ve detailed here how I’ve been trying to use technology strategically. When I have the luxury of limiting online time, I enjoy myself immensely. I find, however, that most days I simply have to mow through a lot of work that I necessarily accomplish at my terminal. Also, if I’m depressed I don’t care what I stare at blankly — a computer screen is as good as anything else. Despite these issues, I’m committed to using technology more selectively.

Speaking of which, I simply must get off. I’m bored of my hunching-over-my-laptop sore back, and am ready for a revitalizing-my-yoga-practice sore back.

Two more quick notes: What with one thing and another, I’ve been connecting more with people at work. I had lunch with my friend Robin (the surreptitious progressive) and with a colleague from my company’s association for disabled people, and arranged to have tea on Sunday with my two favorite data managers. I even hung out with some of the cool IT folk while they did a weekly audit of a couple of laptops that I hold. I’m even in the beginning stages of a crush on one of the software engineers (I haven’t looked at his left ring finger yet — he probably has two wives and 10 kids). So, yeah, more in-person contact, less on-screen living.

My Intensive Outpatient Program has been a remarkable success. I find myself oddly reluctant to find happiness, however. On some level I feel that if I get better now, I have to feel guilty and responsible for not having done so sooner. Ugh.

A final note: my sister will be in town next week with my niece and nephew in tow. Yay! I love them so.

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