As an intellectual challenge, I often pose questions to myself like,”What’s the key to happiness?” As Lytton Strachey observed, “Perhaps the best test of a man’s intelligence is his capacity for making a summary.” The subject of happiness can feel complex and overwhelming; forcing myself to answer fairly simplistic questions in a few words helps me clarify my thinking. Of course, thoughtful answers to these questions could go on for pages, but it helps me sometimes to keep it simple.
If you had to identify a single element as the key element to happiness, what would it be?
Strong relationships with other people.
What’s your most important Personal Commandment?
When other people start a happiness projects, which resolution do they most often try themselves?
Make your bed. Surprising, right? Not what I would’ve predicted, but there it is.
What’s the quickest, easiest way to give yourself a mood boost?
Listen to an upbeat song you love, or jump up and down a few times.
What’s the most pernicious happiness myth?
That it’s selfish and self-absorbed to try to be happier.
What’s the most common mistake people make when trying to do a happiness project?
Making resolutions that are abstract and vague; resolutions work better when they’re very concrete, and when it’s easy to tell whether you’ve stuck to it or not. Instead of resolving to “Get more joy out of life,” resolve to “Have lunch with a friend twice a week,” “Play with my dog outside every day after work,” or “Rent a classic movie and watch it every Sunday night.”
What surprised you most in your research about happiness?
The importance of novelty and challenge. When I started my project, I expected to discover that for me, mastery and familiarity made me happy, but I discovered that even for someone like me (who doesn’t like to travel, doesn’t like new foods, does just a few things all the time, etc.) was made much happier by novelty and challenge.
If you had to recommend one resolution for everyone to consider, what would you suggest?
Get enough sleep. I’ve become a real sleep zealot.
* If you love to read, check out DailyLit — the site that allows you to read books online by email and RSS. For free!
* Check out the companion site, the Happiness Project Toolbox — it has eight free tools to help you launch and track your own happiness project.. And you can see what other people are doing, which is fascinating.