- Outrageous & memorable adventures
- Wonderful friends
- Good health
- Work that you're passionate about
- Enough of life's challenges to make you stronger, wiser, and kinder
- Kids who are above average, sleep through the night, are easy-going and lots of fun
- The gift of balancing your life, your work and your family
- Enough money to feel both secure and generous. Not so much that you become out-of-touch & spoiled.
- The knowledge that it's your friends, family & experiences that will bring you your greatest joys. Invest your time and money accordingly.
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This week I happened upon three separate articles that neatly wrap-up some old-fashioned wisdom about the nature of happiness. Hint: It's not money, new electronics, or long hours at work that bring us our greatest happiness. But we already knew that. Right?
- Dr. Peter Pronovost's Personal Daily Checklist. Pronovost was one of Time Magazine's 2008 Most Influential People of the Year--the Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist & internationally prominent patient safety researcher who developed a simple five item checklist to be used in intensive care units. It's intended to minimize human error, cut down on preventable infections & patient mortality. Pronovost's simple five item checklist, now expanded to a 19 item checklist, has slashed post-surgical infections & deaths, beyond anyone's wildest expectations. Without adding a single piece of equipment or spending one extra dollar, hospitals that used the checklist saw complications drop by 36%, and deaths drop by 47%. Where did Pronovost come up with the idea? From the checklists that all pilots use to clear their planes for take-off! For more about Pronovost, click here and here.
- The 2010 reissue of two 1913 marriage manuals, Don'ts for Husbands and Don'ts for Wives. Turns out that 21st century couples can learn a thing or two from our parents' or grandparents' generation. Suzanne Wright, a writer for WebMD has put together a list of twelve 1913 retro tips for a happy marriage, with marriage professionals weighing in to explain why they work. After being married for almost 39 years, I'm here to tell you that these are gems. As marriage expert Gerard Leeds says, "There's a lot of wisdom to be gained from our parents or grandparents. They had companionship marriages, but we've raised the bar--we want romance, great sex, and more intimacy. We can reconcile these two approaches--with some of the gentleness and graciousness of previous generations and the technology and savvy of today's marriages. Click here for the article.
- But Will It Make You Happy? Stephanie Rosenbloom's August 7, 2010 New York Times Business Section article. The days of full employment, annual raises, bigger-and-better houses, and conspicuous consumption may be long gone--and they may never come back. Turns out there is a definite upside to having less money to spend on "more things"--and getting out of debt. Bottom Line: Working more to be able to buy more isn't going to bring anyone lasting happiness. It's relationships, experiences, and having more free time to enjoy them that will "bring home the bacon". And there is a whole slew of research to back this up!
What's on Dr. Peter J. Pronovost's Personal Checklist
It's simple. It can be eye-opening. And after trying it out myself, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
According to Pronovost, his checklist is all about ensuring that his relationships with God, his family, himself, and others get the necessary attention. Why? Because, he knows they are what he needs to thrive--and the only way that can happen is if he puts in the time to nurture them.
1. Set aside time every day for spiritual reflection. (me: A walk, meditation time, prayer, or dipping into spiritual writings. It takes so little time, but gives so much reward. So, why is it so hard to find the time?)
2. Ask my wife and children at the end of every week how I've done as a husband and father. It's humbling: My son will say, 'When you're with me, I don't want you on your BlackBerry'. (me: Now, this item can definitely feel a little humbling. I had to brace myself. After asking son #2 Pronovost's question I was surprised to learn that he appreciates my interest in his work & life. After asking my husband the same question I realized I can sometimes have a too-critical tone, and I need to make the time to clean off my dusty hardly-used golf clubs, and replace my 23 year-old too-heavy bike--before the summer is over. Golf & outdoor biking are 2 activities he'd like us to share.)
3. Stay healthy, physically and emotionally. I keep my weight even by prohibiting snacks and forgoing cocktails, which reduce my willpower. And I bolster my emotional health by reading only for pleasure after 9 PM. (me: The reading for pleasure is definitely advice I needed to hear. My shelves are packed with medical journal articles and non-fiction. Bring on the novels. Just started Next for next month's book club. Anyone read it?)
4. Make a lunch date every week with someone new or even just someone I haven't seen in a while. (me: I just had lunch last week with a woman a met by chance last year at my local beauty shop. We literally spoke for 7 minutes but instantly knew we had so much in common. One year later (this past Friday) we met for a delightful two hour lunch.) Pronovost is right--make those lunch dates!)
According to Pronovost, checklists should be communal--pulling people together so we can all improve our health.
Source: Prevention September 2010. "Meet the Expert Who May Have Saved Your Life." pg. 10Go Retro: 12 Tips for a Happy Marriage
Read the whole article by Suzanne Wright, here.
My favorite pieces of advice:
1. Reinstate Civility. "Please," "thank you,", "pardon me" and "may I" are phrases that seemed to have all but disappeared from present-day vocabularies, especially with our loved ones. From long-time marrieds Lilo and Gerard Leeds, "When speaking to your spouse, don't be rude, be respectful. Use a combination of old-school civility and modern frankness. Try adding more sweetness and tenderness by saying more things lovingly."
2. Hit the Dance Floor. From Paul Bolotovsky, "The old days of ballroom dancing and swing have a lot to offer today's couples. The touch, teamwork, energy, music, anticipation, and companionship are all wonderful byproducts after a night of dancing." (Swing, square, contra, & jitterbug are my personal favorites.)
3. Have Couple Fun. Bridge, pinochle, poker, and board games were all common activities shared by our parents & their friends--but not so much any more. The same can be said for "just visiting"--remember that 1950's quaint activity? From Rhonda Fine, PhD, "Play board games with other couples! It's fun and a great way to be social with others, and playful with one another." My new game recommendation recently played with Tess & Les, is Hit or Miss. The Game Where Great Minds Think Alike.
4. Give Compliments. To give a compliment, you've got to pay attention--really notice something about someone. Psychotherapist, Tina Tessina, PhD, notes, "It costs nothing to say, 'You look good,' 'You did a great job,' or 'I like your shirt'. Face it, who doesn't feel reassured, and happier when they receive a sincere specific compliment? We can all give more of them. And giving compliments just plain feels good.
5. Cut Back on Complaints. Couples of past generations knew when to hold their tongues. According to therapist & author Terrance Real, a stumbling block in modern marriage is the constant soundtrack of discord. "Our generation thinks that closeness comes from sharing everything, letting each other know how miserable you are. But it doesn't motivate me to treat you better." Relaying every annoyance is a bad idea. Instead, pick your battles. "Not everything needs to be addressed."
6. Hold Hands. Tessina says: "There's an actual electrical connection that passes between us when we touch. You can use that electrical connection to provide juice in your marriage. Give each other little pats and gentle touches and hold hands frequently when you're walking or driving and you'll keep the energy--and the sweetness--flowing between you."
7. Maintain Same-Sex Friends--and Interests. "It's only during the past couple of decades that couples expected to share a bulk of their free time together. Couples in past generations didn't necessarily want to participate in each others hobbies." Kathy Stafford, a North Carolina relationship expert advises couples to keep close ties with their same-sex friends throughout marriage. "My parents had separate interests. Dad belonged to a men's club, and Mom belonged to a ladies-only club. This gave them both time to cultivate their own interests, and they weren't totally reliant on each other for their entertainment." Backpacking & running fall into that men-friend activity category, as far as I'm concerned. Mahj & chick-flicks fall into the women-friend category, as far as my husband is concerned.
8. Try Thoughtful Little Acts. "Back in the day, with fewer stresses, limited technology and less multi-tasking, couples were more "present" in their relationships. The presence of little, daily thoughtful acts showed caring and appreciation for one another." How's this for retro: making breakfast for your spouse or packing their lunch, bringing them coffee in the morning or a drink or glass of wine at the end of the day, warming up their car or putting their keys and other personal effects on the the hall table, ready to go? Retro, sure. But, who wouldn't appreciate these little kindnesses? My husband gets huge points in this department for: filling up my gas tank & checking the air in my tires when he borrowed my car this week, cleaning up the kitchen after I cooked dinner, picking up the CSA box, making cucumber soup (thank you Susan for the recipe) and an amazing pumpkin penne pasta dish, calling to see if I needed anything at the grocery store, making the coffee when he got up first, and so much more.New York Times: Money. Will It Make You Happy?
I've always said that the best gift my parents gave me was the opportunity to grow up on a shoestring--but not realize how little money we had. It's great preparation for lean times.
We had "just enough". Half of a duplex in a community with good schools, plenty to eat, and bargain basement clothes that weren't an embarrassment. My mom definitely had fashion sense & could dress us on a shoestring. One used car, one shower-less bathroom, shampooing in the kitchen sink--but our house was paid off.
Who needed vacations when we had a community pool where we could swim everyday, a street full of kids, a front porch to hang out on, parks, and day-trips to the beach?
My parents taught me the pleasure of not-spending, and getting enjoyment out of the weekly trip to the library, or the occasional ice cream cone.
So, when I saw Saturday's New York Times piece by Stephanie Rosenbloom, "But Will It Make You Happy?", I felt a rush of nostalgia. Finally, we're seeing a throwback to those simpler less-emphasis-on-money-we're-now-all-in-the-same-boat, it's hip-to-be-cheap days! Hooray!
"SHE had so much.
A two-bedroom apartment. Two cars. Enough wedding china to serve two dozen people.
Yet Tammy Strobel wasn’t happy. Working as a project manager with an investment management firm in Davis, Calif., and making about $40,000 a year, she was, as she put it, caught in the “work-spend treadmill.”
So one day she stepped off.
Inspired by books and blog entries about living simply, Ms. Strobel and her husband, Logan Smith, both 31, began donating some of their belongings to charity. As the months passed, out went stacks of sweaters, shoes, books, pots and pans, even the television after a trial separation during which it was relegated to a closet. Eventually, they got rid of their cars, too. Emboldened by a Web site that challenges consumers to live with just 100 personal items, Ms. Strobel winnowed down her wardrobe and toiletries to precisely that number.
Her mother called her crazy.
Today, three years after Ms. Strobel and Mr. Smith began downsizing, they live in Portland, Ore., in a spare, 400-square-foot studio with a nice-sized kitchen. Mr. Smith is completing a doctorate in physiology; Ms. Strobel happily works from home as a Web designer and freelance writer. She owns four plates, three pairs of shoes and two pots. With Mr. Smith in his final weeks of school, Ms. Strobel’s income of about $24,000 a year covers their bills. They are still car-free but have bikes. One other thing they no longer have: $30,000 of debt.
Ms. Strobel’s mother is impressed. Now the couple have money to travel and to contribute to the education funds of nieces and nephews. And because their debt is paid off, Ms. Strobel works fewer hours, giving her time to be outdoors, and to volunteer, which she does about four hours a week for a nonprofit outreach program called Living Yoga.
“The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false,” she says. “I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn’t bring about happiness.”
Sure, we all need enough money to meet our basic needs--kind of like what I had growing up in the 1950's & 60's. But, once those needs are met, it turns out that you're better off with more time than money.
The nutshell on "money well-spent" in the happiness department:
- Spend your money on experiences--not things. Concert tickets, piano lessons, cooking classes, or renting a house for the family vacation where you can do your own cooking & exploring. "It's better to go on a vacation than buy a new couch," according to University of British Columbia psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, who is at the forefront of research on consumption & happiness.
- Spending money on leisure activities, rather than consumer goods, strengthens social bonds, makes people less lonely & increases their interactions with others. And stronger relationships is the the name of the game, if happiness is what you're after.
- Why you get more mileage out of money spent on experiences---the residual benefits. Think memories, reminiscing, photos, bonding.
- Spend your money on small pleasures--not big expensive ones if you want continual happiness boosts. A massage, a special gourmet food, a new book, a day-trip to the beach, or pricey Italian sorbet. Remember when an ice cream cone was a special treat? We quickly adapt to our newest shiniest purchase--and the thrill is soon gone, so be cautious when you spend big. Exception: something that will bring you continual daily pleasure--like buying a house next to hiking trails, a move that will cut down your commuting time, or a bike you'll use daily.
- Strong relationships are the single trait that's common among every single person who is happy. That's from Roko Belic, an LA filmmaker who has traveled the world to film his documentary, "Happy".
- If you want to retain the pleasure you get from simple inexpensive things, you better curb your spending habits. According to Elizabeth Dunn's study published in Psychological Science, June 2010, "wealth interferes with people's ability to savor positive emotions and experiences, because having an embarrassment of riches reduces the ability to reap enjoyment from life's smaller everyday pleasures, like a chocolate bar.
- Keeping up with the Joneses is old school. New school is spending your limited money to enjoy experiences & activities with your friends--not compete with them. Camping trips, themed pot-luck dinners, hikes, sharing wine & stories on the backyard deck.
- Take it from Tammy Strobel, queen of the down-sized-simple-life. "My lifestyle now would not be possible if I still had a huge two-bedroom apartment filled to the gills with stuff, two cars, and 30 grand in debt. Give away some of your stuff. See how it feels."