I’m a big fan of the Happiness Project blog by Gretchen Rubin. Her post on Wednesday talked about her charts, a la Ben Franklin, and how they can help you be happier. Like many people, I asked for a copy of these charts. She suggested that I, as a fellow-charter, give feedback on what I think of her system.
First, if you’re not familiar with Franklin’s charts, you might want to check out the post.
I like her approach much better than Franklin’s. He tried to achieve general virtues (including Humility, which he had a hard time checking off -Autobiography), but Gretchen breaks her chart down into specific actions. For example, in the month titled “Remember Birthdays (cultivating friendships)” she sets out eight things she can do (every?) day to improve her relationships with her friends. One assumes that assuming relationships equal greater happiness for all involved. Her resolutions were: Remember birthdays; Say hello, use good manners; no gossip; listen, smile, stop talking; Cut people slack; Bring people together; Work to make new friends; and Show up.
It’s a sane way to go about it. She doesn’t tackle too many issues at one time but instead has an overall theme (Franklin wanted all virtues all the time. So do we all, but it’s hard to achieve them and I believe that practicing virtues opens the door for virtuous actions we hadn’t intended) and concrete steps which will help her achieve her goals.
I think I’d use these charts myself. Perhaps I will, I just have to figure out what for and how to design mine.
My suggestions for improvement:
Personally, I’d create the chart in a spreadsheet maker (if you don’t have Excel, Open Office has “Calc” which is essentially the same thing). Then I’d set it up so that there was a comments section after each day. In Word, I might create a second page on which I set things out in bullet points: “May 1,” “May 2,” and so forth.
Then I’d use this extra space to add further achievements. I could look at my chart and think, “Wow, not only did I fulfill my goals today, but I also did all these awesome and happy things. Good job!” I believe very strongly in documenting even the smallest achievements. Such lists helped me deal with a deep depression in college, they foster a sense of self-worth.
Here’s some ideas as to kinds of achievements one might list
- The random and unconnected — It’s not technically a virtue, but it made me happy and I want to record it. “I was scared of this escalator, but I went up it anyway.” or “For the first time today, I didn’t have a panic attack on the escalator.” (true)
- The expanded achievement — it was already on my list, but it had such happy results that I want to document them. e.g. “Lisa told me how much it means to her that I’m willing to listen.” or “The metro driver really screwed up, but I didn’t get angry and felt so pleased with myself for reacting well!”
- The related virtue — not on the list, but connected. “When talking with Anne earlier, I had the opportunity to be generous and offer her our extra table for free instead of selling it on E-bay like I’d intended. I think Anne could really use it.”
Maybe these aren’t the greatest examples. I’m trying to be hypothetical, which can be pretty tough.
Acknowledge your successes! Build on them through discipline! And find a place to record the little extra things that make you happy in the day. Because when you can’t complete the chart, you see the bigger picture.