7 Surprising Ways to Be Happier at Home
Underreact to a Problem
I adopted one of my favorite happiness boosters from a resolution suggested by a reader who wrote from a research ship in Antarctica. Her team leader, she reported, had urged them to "Underreact to problems": not to ignore or minimize problems, but just to underreact to them. By "underreacting to problems," and acting in a serene and unflappable way, I'd help myself cultivate a calm attitude. I also found that underreacting to little household incidents made them less irritating, because after all, they were only as annoying as I allowed them to be.
Suffer for 15 minutes
While many of my resolutions were meant to add more feeling good to my life, I decided to devote fifteen minutes a day to rid myself of something that made me feel bad. Fifteen minutes! I could do anything for fifteen minutes.
I knew exactly what I wanted to tackle first. My failure to cope with our family photographs was a constant, gnawing worry. I'd been promising myself that I'd organize an album "in my free time," but the fact is, I never have any free time. Since making the album was a priority for me, I wrote it in my calendar like a visit to the pediatrician.
Each afternoon, I set the timer on my phone for fifteen minutes and doggedly used the time to work on my photos. My fifteen-minute sufferings showed me how much I could accomplish when I did a manageable amount of work, on a regular basis.
Control the Cubicle in Your Pocket
Technology allows me to work anywhere. But technology has created new kinds of work that seem to demand constant, immediate attention. I should answer my emails. I should look at that link. I should check Facebook and Twitter.
The real problem wasn't the switch on my computer, but the switch inside my mind. To be more focused, I had to come up with rules for controlling the cubicle in my pocket [in my case, my smartphone]. I always had the uncomfortable feeling that if I weren't sitting in front of a computer typing, I was wasting my time -- but I pushed myself to take a wider view of what was "productive." Time spent with family and friends was never wasted.
Give a Knock
I thought more about interruptions and knocking when I learned about "bids." It struck me that my husband Jamie needed a different kind of knock from me.
In his book The Relationship Cure, relationship expert John Gottman emphasizes the importance of responding to "bids"; when someone makes an attempt to connect with a touch, question, gesture, comment, or look, we should answer with a comment, a laugh, or some kind of acknowledgment. His studies suggested that the more Jamie and I responded to each other's bids for attention, the stronger our marriage would be.
I decided to see if I could give Jamie a metaphorical "knock" to help him be more responsive. When I wanted him to respond thoughtfully to a particular bid, I told him outright.
"Hey, can you put that down?" I asked, pointing to his phone, the next time I wanted his full attention. "It would help me to talk something over with you."
The conversation that followed between us put my mind at ease -- mostly. And because I'd warned Jamie that the issue was important to me, not just a typical background conversation, he'd responded more appropriately.
One morning, as I waited outside the door of my daughter Eleanor's kindergarten class, I saw one mother give a little skip as she walked down the hallway, and I was struck by the exuberant charm of that unconscious gesture. My feet, by contrast, rarely left the ground. In an instant, I decided I needed more jumping in my life.
Every day, whenever the thought occurred to me, I gave some kind of jump. I jumped in a silly way to make my daughters laugh, I gave a little secret skip on my way to the drugstore, I hopped up and down in my office, I did jumping jacks after I woke up in the morning. The sheer goofiness of it always made me feel cheerier, and the energy of the gesture made me feel more energetic. Energy creates energy.
Have an Uncomfortable Conversation with Your Parents
When my husband Jamie and I had finally sat down to write our wills, we both felt uncomfortable -- it's not a fun exercise -- but in the end, I felt happier knowing that we'd done it. Now I wanted to tackle a similar task with my parents.
The next time we were all together, drinking coffee in the kitchen of my parents' apartment, I gingerly introduced the subject. "Have you two ever filled out those forms for financial power of attorney, medical power of attorney, living wills? Maybe it would be a good idea to do all that."
Although my parents were willing to discuss these topics, actually getting the forms completed would be tiresome, so I appointed myself the family noodge. In the long term, completing this process would make all of us happier.
Cultivate a Shrine
With my resolution to "cultivate a shrine," I meant to transform areas of my apartment into places of super-engagement.
Calling my own areas "shrines" sounded a little grandiose, but the word helped me approach the task more enthusiastically: Creating a shrine sounded more intriguing than sprucing up the apartment. By "shrine," I didn't mean a niche with candles, flowers, and a statue, but rather, an area that enshrined my passions, interests and values. A shrine is arranged with care. It entices people to particular activities and moods. It's a sign of dedication.
I began my resolution by creating a Shrine to My Family -- and for that shrine, photographs would be most important. To eke out the most happiness from an experience, we must anticipate it, savor it as it unfolds, express happiness, and recall a happy memory, and photographs are a very helpful tool for prompting happy memories.