Twelve paths to happiness, pick one

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Your author, deviating for a day

If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ve found that it’s possible (and even fun) to make big changes in your life. And you’ve taken a little quiz that will help you figure out your unique view of time.

Now we’re going to get down to business. The creators of that quiz worked together with a colleague (author of The How Of Happiness) to group specific happiness-inducing activities into the different time-perspectives.

So all you need to do is look at the following chart, find the time-perspectives you want to work on, and do the corresponding activities. I’ll write a post highlighting each, though I recommend you only pick two or three to work on, and no more than one at a time. (See below for more tips).

Time Perspective
Past Present Future Transcendental Future
Activity Express gratitude Practice acts of kindness Cultivate optimism Practice religion or cultivate spirituality
Avoid overthinking & rumination Nurture relationships Develop coping strategies
Learn to forgive Increase “flow” experiences Set and pursue life goals
Savor live’s joys Take care of your body (exercise/diet)

Those are the twelve (+1, if you include the Transcendental Future) paths to happiness.

I’m going to begin with Meditation in my next post. Why mediate? How to get started?

A note on starting a new habit.

frog and toad willpower

Why is starting a new habit so easy when it’s a bad habit, but hard when it’s a good one? I’m not sure, but I do know a few things about getting good habits to stick.

After training for–and completing–a half-marathon, I realized that running the race was the easy part. It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, for a couple hours. The hard part was the months of training: turning down late-night social events so I could get up in the morning to run, etc.

I did some research on how to set myself up for success (including reading this great book about habits) and found that making changes requires willpower. Willpower is like a muscle, you can make it stronger by exercising it. Also, you use your willpower muscle throughout the day (e.g. by going to work instead of the park, avoiding a second dessert after dinner). By the end of the day it’s worn out! It’s strongest in the morning, so that’s the best time to put a new activity into your routine. (Also, a habit needs a trigger, and “I just got out of bed” is a pretty solid one)

I set up a “motivation station” right next to my bed. It had…

  1. a monthly calendar of each run I was going to do. I could see the previous days’ runs crossed off. (Read up on dopamine to learn why this is such a powerful motivator)
  2. everything I needed to start my run (so I could roll out of bed and not scramble for stuff in the dark)

You can use this pattern “trigger + motivation + preparation” for pretty much any new habit. Also, most habits take about 2 months to stick, so don’t give up!

Catch you on the flipside in 2015, when we’ll start getting happier!

2015 Happiness Project: Step 2


Welcome back to the 2015 Happiness Project. How was your Deviate for a Day? Let me know in the comments. Today is Step 2, and hopefully it’ll be fun and very enlightening. All you need to do for this step is take an online survey that’s going to change your life.

In my last post, I mentioned The Time Paradox. The thrust of the book is that there are 5* major dimensions of looking at time. 3 are healthy and 2 are unhealthy:

  1. Past Negative: dwelling on how things in the past went wrong, and how you could have done things differently.
  2. Past Positive: fondly recalling wonderful memories of the past, and keeping family traditions alive.
  3. Present Fatalism: the feeling that nothing you do matters because your life is determined by fate, not by your personal choices.
  4. Present Hedonism: stopping to smell the roses, getting together with friends, being impulsive. Despite the name, this one’s actually healthy to have in the right dosage.
  5. Future: planning, goal-setting, delaying gratification, health/fitness. Typical Type-A stuff.

The following survey (created by the authors) will help you figure out how dominant each time perspective is for you personally. Here’s the survey:

Here are my results:

  1. Past Negative: 2.9 (slightly high)
  2. Past Positive: 4.1 (ideal)
  3. Present Fatalism: 1.7 (ideal)
  4. Present Hedonism: 3.1 (too low)
  5. Future: 3.8 (ideal)
  6. Transcendental Future: 2.2 (too low)

Here are the ideal results (according to the authors), along with percentile distributions:

As you can see, I have to work on living in the present, and also on reinterpreting past life events in a more positive way.

Next post we’ll look at some concrete steps you can take to improve your happiness, no matter what your scores are.

* There’s also a 6th, but it’s uncommon among Westerners: Transcendental Future, or a future beyond the lifespan of our current physical body. You can take a separate quiz to determine your score on this dimension.

Join the 2015 Happiness Project (a fun, effective alternative to New Year’s Resolutions)


I’m doing something different instead of traditional New Year’s Resolutions this year. I just read two amazing books about Happiness: “Stumbling on Happiness” and “The Time Paradox.”

The former has more to say about the crazy quirks of our brains that make happiness so elusive, but it was really the latter book that got me thinking about a concrete plan to improve my happiness. I guess you could say that my New Year’s Resolution is “be happier”, and the following is a plan to make it happen. I call it

The 2015 Happiness Project

From now until the end of December, there’s a bit of prep and homework (it’s fun!), and then in 2015, we’ll spend the year focusing on activities that are proven to make us happier (these are backed by science, and they might surprise you!)

Step 1: Deviate for a Day

(This comes from The Time Paradox)

What makes you happy will change, and you’ll need to change with it. This is a fun and effective exercise that encourages you to embrace change.

Here’s how it works: first make a list of the important aspects of your self-image. Consider your abilities, appearance, and personality. Your task, for one day, is to violate one important aspect of your self-image. If you take pride in your appearance, jump out of bed and go straight to work. If you never swear, throw a few fucking four-letter words into your vernacular. If you’re an atheist, carry around a Bible. Etc.

Once you’ve done this for one day, you can go back to your old ways, but the liberating feeling might stay with you and who knows, maybe you’ll like the new weird You better. Either way, you’ll realize that change is possible, even extreme changes.

My Deviate for a Day:

I take pride in my no-nonsense wardrobe and style, so on Friday, I’m going to take meticulous care in grooming and go to work in my nicest suit and tie. Maybe I’ll post a photo.

Let me know in the comments how you plan to “deviate for a day.” Have fun, and be happy!