Friday, August 01, 2008

How to be Happy

Yes, I'm serious. I'm going to talk about how to be happy, but just to clarify before I get started, let me lay out a few qualifications.

First, even though I'm a Christian and am tempted to talk about the ultimate happiness of heaven, I don't mean that kind of happiness (but if you are interested in becoming a Christian, see here).

Second, I don't mean swooning bliss; all I mean is the everyday kind of happiness that millions of people already have but is a little harder for some of us.

Third, there are some people who have an talent for being happy while laying on the beach or watching television all day. I'm not talking to them. I'm talking to people who start to get a bit antsy after spending an hour and a half in the cool breezes watching the palms sway and the waves crash on a beautiful beach in Maui. In other words, slightly driven people who are kinda like me.

Okay, ready for the very simple secret? Here it is:

Make a daily to-do list and work through it.

Wait! Don't go away yet. I know it sounds stupid, but hear me out.

For some of us, there is a lot of satisfaction in accomplishing tasks and scratching them off our list. It's what makes us everyday-happy. Maybe we're psychologically stunted, or maybe other people are. Whatever. But we gotta work with who we are.

Here's a little more detail.

Get a little notepad (I use a 3" x 5" spiral notepad) and in the evening (or early morning), write down everything you want to do the next day, from the important to the trivial. Then put an A, B, or C in front of each item, depending on its level of importance. (Or, sometimes, I number them in the order that makes sense to do them.) Then, start working on the most important item (or the first item if you number them) and work your way through the list, scratching each item off the list as you complete it.

It may not sound exciting (who said anything about excitement?) but there is a lot of satisfaction in scratching off each item and at the end of the day seeing a bunch of completed tasks.

Now the really interesting thing that I've discovered is that it really doesn't make much psychological difference how important the items are! It is as satisfying for me to scratch off "Have coffee with Dad" as it is to scratch off "Complete programming task for Ann."

I have had long periods of not having a regular job and therefore not having anything important to do, and yet if I write a list of trivial tasks and mark them off throughout the day, the psychological effect is much the same as if the tasks were actually important.

Now, one objection I can anticipate is that I'm suggesting we all become workaholics. No! Not in the least!

I already mentioned "Have coffee with Dad." I assure you, that is not work. How about these:

Take nap
Go swimming
Go on bike ride
Paint cat (a picture of a cat, not a real cat)
See Batman movie

See? Just list goofing-off things along with the productive things and you get the pleasure of taking a nap and the pleasure of marking it off your list as an accomplished task.

What could be better?

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I've been doing this for over 40 years, writing down everything I can think of to be happy about! Others call it gratitude lists, but whatever you name it - it is about stopping to smell the roses, every one of them!