Tag Archives: The Happiness Project

Tips For Adulthood: Five Self-Help Books That Changed My Life

self helpOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve never been much for self-help books.

As a general rule, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. And for a long time I think I was a bit of a snob where self-help books were concerned, thinking they were somehow low brow.

I was wrong. In the past few months, I’ve had occasion to read a couple of self-help books that have had a profound impact on how I want to move forward with my life. And in reflecting back, I realize that there have been a few others along the way that also left their mark.

So today I’m going to share five self help books that changed my life – organized by theme – in the hope that one of these might motivate you to change some aspect of your life that you’re not entirely satisfied with either.

Before I begin, If I can offer one piece of (self-help) of on my own, it would be that you not “dabble” in these books. While it’s fine to start and stop and/or to read them alongside something else, be sure that you read each one start to finish, because each one has its own internal logic which builds, chapter by chapter.

Above all: do the exercises. They are there to force you to confront tough questions about yourself and you won’t progress if you don’t use these tools to identify your strengths – as well as whatever it is that’s holding you back.

Finally, be patient:  some of these books are deceptively short. You might spend an entire month on one page before moving on to the next chapter. That’s just fine.

To wit, five self-help books that changed my life:

1. Happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s happiness franchise needs no introduction. She has a popular blog, several books and a podcast, all geared towards how to be happier in life. Gretchen’s basic philosophy is that through better self-understanding, most of us can make even tiny changes in our daily life that would make us happier, regardless of our baseline. So it’s not necessarily about rushing out and buying a new espresso machine or embarking upon an extreme sport vacation. Rather, small things like figuring out if you’re a chronic under-buyer or over-buyer and shopping accordingly or adopting a personal motif to inspire your creativity can improve your mood on a daily basis. Personally, I found her advice about singing in the morning to work wonders.

2. Career Change. I’m a huge fan of one of the most well-known guides to career change ever written: What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles. This book is so famous it has almost become a cliché. But when I left academia to go into journalism, I locked myself in a café several hours a day for several months and did nothing but follow this book’s script. The book’s basic premise is that to make a meaningful career change, you need to zero in on two variables: what you like and what you’re good at, and where these overlap (harder than it sounds). Six months later, I had a great job as a producer with Chicago Public Radio. I still recommend this book every time someone asks me if I have any advice on how to change careers without spending more than $15.

3. Creativity. I’m shouting to anyone who will listen about Elle Luna’s amazing The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion. Like “Parachute,” this book is also partly about how to finding meaningful work and/or embark upon a career change. But it’s so much more. It’s about going to the very core of who you are and figuring out how to be authentic to that self – what Luna calls our “must.” It isn’t an easy or comfortable journey. (Try the “write your own obituary” exercise and you may well end up in tears.)  But the book is utterly inspiring because Luna believes so firmly that each of us really does have an amazing gift inside. We just need to figure out how to unlock that creativity and release it into the world. Bonus: because the author is a visual artist, the layout and design of this book are worth the shelf price in and of themselves.

4. Decluttering. Yeah, yeah I know. The whole decluttering thing is soooo…now. But Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way to Banish Clutter Forever is another deceptively short and simple book that’s loaded with so much more. Kondo’s essential message is that most of us are living with untold amounts of clutter in our lives that simply doesn’t “spark joy.” Sure, as one of the friends I recommended this book to put it: “Your socks need to ‘relax’? Has it crossed your mind that this lady might be a teensy bit OCD?” (If you google her video on how to fold the perfect underwear drawer, you might find yourself agreeing…) But by the last chapter you will forgive her everything because what she’s really trying to do is to use tidying as a vehicle for achieving clarity in our lives (e.g., change careers/get a divorce/take up windsurfing/etc.) If we can get rid of all our excess stuff, and pare down to the things that we really love, we’ll not only see our lives more clearly, we’ll be happier and more relaxed.

5. Platforms. This one is for all you aspiring writers out there who think you have a book in you. I’m currently reading Christina Katz’ Get Known Before The Book Deal. It’s the second time I’ve read this book and I’m finding it much more useful this time around, possibly because I have a much clearer idea for a non-fiction book proposal now than I did when I picked this up several years ago and was vaguely thinking about writing a novel. This book is written for all those aspiring non-fiction writers who want to be an “expert” in something but haven’t yet created their platform. It shows you how to do this, step by step. I found the chapters on identifying your target audience to be particularly useful.

How about you. What self-help book would you recommend?

Image: Self Help Books by Angie via flickr.

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On Occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. Kindly drop whatever you’re doing and watch the late, great writer David Rakoff give one of his last speeches. You’ll thank me later.

2. I couldn’t have summed up my ambivalent feelings about London vs. New York better. Here’s Sarah Lyall’s take on moving back home after all these years.

3. Deconstructing the French, over at The Guardian.

4. I loved Cecilia’s post on her Only You blog about  what’s on her bookshelf, which was frighteningly similar to my own. (Maybe that’s why we clicked?)

5. And speaking of good reads, I’m all over this new e-magazine, Full Grown People which is all about…adulthood.

6. I was sort of bummed to discover The Death Clock, via The Happiness Project. Did all those cigarettes in my early 20s really take *that* much time off my age?

7. Whenever I die, I sure hope someone writes a song like this for me. (Hat tip: Lisa Romeo Writes)

Have a great weekend!

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

On Friday, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

 

1. Via The Happiness Project, check out City of Words DC, which tracks quotations around Washington, DC.

2. Who knew? Monopoly was once a socialist utopia. Shhhh….don’t tell.

3. Over at A Design So Vast, Lindsey encourages us to embrace the darkness of winter. This is my new mantra. For everything.

4. If you happen to be a Prince fan, watch this entire clip. If not, speed ahead to the last 3-4 minutes and watch how the artist turns the table on the interviewer and – in the most natural way possible – utterly disarms her. (Hat tip: My husband)

5. This poignant post over at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy about a letter from a love gone by really struck a chord.

6. Finally, where would any of us be without The Oatmeal? Here the comic genius muses about what it’s like to be a creative of any sort: writer/blogger/artist/you name it. Love, love, love.

 

Have a great weekend!

Tips For Adulthood: Five Traits Of Successful Bloggers

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’m teaching a bunch of classes on blogging later today at a local university.

So I’ve spent the past 24 hours immersed in “the art of blogging.”

One of the great things about teaching is that it forces you to reflect on all that you’ve learned about a given topic, cull that together and impart it to your students.

I’ve written before about five reasons I love to blog.

But in reviewing my material for today’s lectures, I’ve also reflected on what it takes to be a great blogger.

To wit, five traits of successful bloggers:

1. Curiosity. Contrary to what people may think, you don’t need to be an extrovert to be successful blogger. Susan Cain is a case in point. But you do need to be endlessly curious. The best bloggers I know – Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project comes to mind – never run out of material to write about because the they never run out of things that fascinate them. And they are able to transmit that sense of wonderment onto the page. Don’t believe me? Read this post by Gretchen on cultivating a sense of smell.

2. Perseverance. If I had a dime for every friend or acquaintance who told me that they were starting a blog and then never followed through, I’d be a rich woman. I was combing through my blog subscriptions in my RSS feed just the other day and realized how many of them had gone dormant. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Blogging is a huge commitment and it’s not for everyone. But there’s no question that you can’t succeed at it if you aren’t willing to go the distance. Which is probably why even most blogs that do launch don’t last more than a few months. I point this out because most people who balk at starting a blog are concerned that they aren’t technically up to speed. But take it from me, the technical part is the easy part. (If I can do it, anyone can.) What’s hard is committing to your audience – and yourself – and persevering week in and week out.

3. Generosity. There’s no question that blogging is a more narcissistic activity than straight up journalism. But the best bloggers are those who not only get that blogging is all about community, they actively practice it. One of the things I’m emphasizing in my classes today is the all-importance of the hyper-link to blogging. Sure, it takes awhile when you’re just getting started to figure out which Online community/ies you belong to. But once you’ve identified that space, you need to be actively linking to that community:  through your posts, through your comments, through social media. This isn’t just a practical strategy for building an audience. The dirty secret of blogging is that it’s when you’re generous in crediting the work of other bloggers, it’s actually loads more fun.

4. Humility. Related to #3, the best bloggers are also humble. If they’re smart, they let their work speak for itself, rather than relentlessly and shamelessly self-promoting. I’m personally always wary of bloggers who only show up on Twitter or Facebook when they have their own work to share. It gives the impression that they’re just too self-involved. Another way to demonstrate your humility as a blogger is to own your mistakes and to not be afraid or unwilling to accept criticism. Time and again, I’ve been surprised and delighted to discover that when someone dumps on something I’ve written Online, if I just “show up” in the comments section and address them personally – taking their criticism seriously but also reasserting my own point of view – we can respectfully work through it, or at least agree to disagree. I think readers really appreciate it when bloggers take the time to acknowledge that they may be wrong or why they feel  they’re being misconstrued. The This American Life episode, Retraction, that I linked to last week is a great case in point.

5. Voice. I’ve written before about how important it is to set a tone when you blog. There are lots of different ways to do this, but basically it’s about conveying your personality on your blog and letting that shine through your writing. The reason voice is so important is that as a reader, it’s what connects you, emotionally, to the content at hand. One of my favorite bloggers, Colleen Wainwright of Communicatrix, recently took a short leave of absence from her blog. And when she returned after several months, I heard her voice again and realized how much I’d missed it while she was gone. That, to me, is the sign of the truly successful blogger.

How about you? If you are a producer and/or consumer of blogs, what do you think makes for a successful blog?

 

Image: Moo cards for blogging workshop by Mexicanwave via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

Towards A Definition Of Adulthood (With A Nod To Judaism)

Over on The Happiness Project today, Gretchen Rubin is grappling with how we use vocabulary to define our goals.

Some people, she notes, prefer to talk about intentions rather than Gretche’s preferred “resolutions.” Others would like to discard the term “Happiness Project” altogether; while embracing the same goals, they want to dissect “life’s journey.” Still others don’t want to talk about happiness at all; they’d rather achieve a state of joy.

It’s an interesting discussion because it gets at the power of words to convey something essential, as well as how personal that vocabulary needs to be to have meaning for each and every one of us.

The post really struck a chord with me because – like Gretchen with happiness – I feel like I ought to have a working definition of “adulthood” on this blog. On my “about” page, I talk about adulthood as a journey, not a destination. And that’s very much how I think about it.

But last week, I was actually handed a definition of adulthood that really resonated and so I wanted to share it.

I came across this definition while viewing a rough cut of the fabulous film, Neverbloomers, by the Canadian filmmaker Sharon Hyman.  Some of you may remember Sharon as my E-BFF whom I met a year or so ago when I happened upon her website and realized that she was a comrade in arms. Sharon is in the process of finalizing her documentary, which is all about what she calls “GrownUphood” (love it!) and what that term means to different people (including herself).

There were lots of things that struck me about this film (which I can’t wait to promote up, down and sideways when it comes out later this year). But for now, I don’t think I spoil anything by revealing that in one scene, Sharon interviews a Rabbi about his views on adulthood. And here’s what he says:

“Being grown up,” he says, “is the ability to fully integrate that which we know, practically.” He then goes on to reference the Kabbalah, which has a Hebrew word for this: daas. According to the Rabbi,”daas”  is usually translated as “to know,” but it also means “to connect.”

So for this rabbi anyway, adulthood is a state in which all the knowledge that we possess connects or “clicks” and becomes an integrated feeling which, in turn, influences our behavior. And the intellectual faculty that allows for such integration is a uniquely adult talent which one only develops later in life.

Not to go all Fiddler On The Roof on you (“The Rabbi has spoken!“) but I love the concept of daas. I feel like it goes to the heart of what we are – all of us – going through as we age: a process of integrating and connecting our knowledge in a way that permeates our feelings and our behavior. At a minimum, I feel that this idea very much encapsulates what this blog is all about.

So that, my friends, is my profound thought for the day, courtesy of Rabbi Moshe New in Montreal whom I’ve never even met.

You see, I told you. I was meant to be Jewish after all.

*****

Here is my very last post for Politics Daily, which, quite sadly, shut down earlier this week. (More on that another time.) It’s a post on Social Networking and Local Government. I enjoyed writing it every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed writing all of my posts there. Vaya con Dios, PD.

Image: Fiddler On The Roof: Tevye and the Fiddler by Thwaites Theatre Photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I was delighted to discover the website Letters Of Note, which collects lost letters on just about everything. Check out the entry entitled Buttocks or Crotch and tell me if you aren’t hooked. (Hat Tip: The Happiness Project)

2. Via the ever-amazing Very Short List, I came across Welcome To Pinepoint, an Online scrap-book devoted to documenting someone’s home town that disappeared. Moving, entertaining and just plain Wow.

3. Math geeks, musicians and those of us somewhere in between will love this video featured over at Salon, in which musician Michael John Blake explains how he assigns numbers to notes and chords in order to play Pi up to 31 decimal places.

4. It’s hard to say exactly why the trailer for the French film Panique Au Village is so fantastic, but it is. Watch it.

5. And speaking of the French, a friend posted this Dinosaur Comic strip onto his Facebook Wall, which manages to be at once hilarious, profane *and* poke fun at the French.

6. Can’t wait to run out and buy some of the Royal Mail’s new stamp collection featuring famous wizards and enchanters, previewed here at the Guardian.

7. Oh God, how I miss Stephen Colbert! Here’s an excerpt of his show from Gawker, where he talks about becoming a Jew for Lent. Priceless!

Have a great weekend!

Welcome To RealDelia 2.0

Hello and welcome to the new RealDelia.com!  Notice the snazzy new logo? Matching social media icons on the sidebar? Testimonial and Connect pages? Tasteful yellow accents when you click on the Menu?

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m not much of one for makeovers, at least when it comes to my own sorry-ass self.

With the blog, well, that’s different. I’d been thinking about giving the blog a makeover for some time now. But  – heeding the advice of many veteran bloggers out there – I wanted to focus first on building good content and a strong readership before expending any energy on enhancing the blog’s look.

But after two years of blogging continually (the 2 year anniversary was January 29th!) I decided that it was time to dress for success.  So I re-designed my website late last month. And today, February 14, 2011, I hereby present you with RealDelia 2.0.

I apologize if you’ve had a hard time getting onto the blog over the past week or so. Speed bumps are inevitably part of this process and we hit a few last week. I’m sure there will be a few more technical glitches before this whole thing is over. So I hope you’ll be patient.

Please have a look around the site and explore. Truth be told, it  isn’t *all*that different content-wise from what I had before. But hopefully the look is a good deal more personalized and professional. Over time, my hope is that I can do a whole lot more with it.

I also wanted to say a few thank yous while I’m at it.

First, to my old friend Gretchen Rubin of Happiness Project fame, who shared her wisdom and insight about blogging with me when RealDelia was just a twinkle in my eye. It was Gretchen who encouraged me to think broadly about this blog’s subject matter and helped me to arrive at “adulthood” as my theme.  Gretchen has had huge and much-deserved success with her own blog and I continue to learn from her every day.

I also wanted to thank the amazing team at Shatterboxx Media, Jamie and Nicole – who came to me via another fabulous blogger, Communicatrix.  They were punctual, professional, personable and – most of all – incredibly open to my numerous suggestions and changes as we went about conceiving a new brand identity for RealDelia. I absolutely love my new logo.

While I’m at it, let me also give a HUGE thank you to my wingman in Chicago, Josh Andrews of Lackner/Andrews. Josh built the site and is responsible for its amazing functionality. He held my hand through the entire process – from the minute I first pondered a re-design all the way through to writing this very first post.  He is knowledgeable, friendly, proficient, and above all, very  patient. If you are in need of a social media consultant, you can do no better than Josh.

Finally, I wanted to thank all of you. It’s Valentine’s Day today, which is normally a time that we think about that special someone. But my oldest brother – who’s a reference librarian and knows a whole lot about a whole lot of things – informed me that in Finland, Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä (the Finnish word for friendship), and thus Friend’s Day. Unlike many other countries where Valentine’s Day is mainly a day of “Romance,” in Finland it is also the day when close friends send cards and gifts to each other to commemorate friendship.

So because I’m a sucker for all things Finnish, let me raise a virtual glass of bubbly to Jamie, Nicole, Josh and all of you – the readers of RealDelia – who make this whole blogging thing so special for me, day after day.

To friends!

Image: Champagne by ali wade via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Think Like A Man

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a quiz on the BBC website called Sex ID that purported to let you know whether you think like a man or a woman. (Warning to those who have yet to take it: the quiz lasts about 20 minutes.)

If you managed to make it through this quiz, you’ll know that a lot of the tasks that they have you do boil down to whether you’re good at reading maps and judging the angle of parallel lines (more typically male traits) vs. whether you can read people’s expressions and identify with them (more typically female traits.)

I’ve since been informed via The Guardian that a new study is out showing that behavioral differences between the sexes are not, in fact the result of fundamentally different wiring in the brain, but rather the result of societal expectations.

Be that as it may (and I’m sure that this is one of those debates that will rage into eternity and beyond), I’ve been giving the whole male vs. female thing some more thought since taking that quiz, where I scored (huge sigh of relief?) as a prototypical-thinking woman. Here are some further indicators I’ve come up with that shed light on whether or not you think like a man:

1. You like reading instruction manuals. While I’m quite sympathetic to Gretchen Rubin’s admonition over on The Happiness Project to read the instruction manual, there is a distinction between doing something because you *ought* to do it and doing something because you enjoy it. I hereby submit that I absolutely hate reading instruction manuals and – as a result – have spent many a frustrated moment by either failing to consult them ex ante or failing to save them somewhere useful ex post. My husband, in contrast, has an entire file full of instruction manuals for virtually every single appliance in our house. Not only does he consult them regularly, he actually seems to enjoys it! And instruction manuals in video form are even better, as with this video on how to take apart and re-assemble my new Brompton folding bicycle. Hey, it’s your funeral, as they say…

b. You like to talk about gadgets. I’ve posted many times on this blog about my husband’s penchant for gadgetry. I don’t think that’s an inherently male trait – many of the things he’s bought for us have been hugely useful and I like them as much as he does. But there’s using them and then there’s talking about using them. And I’ve noticed lately that guys like to spend an inordinate amount of time cataloging, describing and comparing gadgets in a way that women don’t.

c. You read David Pogue’s column in the NYT religiously. Which brings us to a corollary of (b) – David Pogue’s technology column in the New York Times, Pogue’s Posts. Don’t get me wrong. If I’m in the market for a new cell phone or a digital camera, I turn to Pogue first. The guy is unbelievably knowledgable about technology and a terrific writer to boot. But as generic reading material on the order of “Here’s how I’m going to spend my breakfast?” Not so much. Whereas my husband is glued for hours.

d. You like playing strategy games. This may have actually been one of the questions on the BBC quiz; I can no longer remember. But since taking that quiz, my son and I happened to open up Othello, a game that one of his friends gave him for his birthday last year. It’s one of those deceptively simple games that actually requires an enormous amount of strategy on the part of the players. If you’re like me, you take the easy route on this game, maximize your winnings as you go, and ultimately lose. If you’re like my son or my husband, you look like you’re losing all the way along but at the very last minute you win because you’ve been thinking like 6 moves ahead the whole time. (Ditto Settlers of Catan, the greatest game of all time.)

e. You (still) like assembling Legos. Someone recently gave my husband one of those adult Lego kits. It was a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Falling Water home (see above), a painting of which is hung in our living room. I think Legos are really cool, especially this new architectural series. But, much like gadgetry, it’s something I’d rather admire than actually build. So if this had been given to me as a present, it probably would have languished somewhere in a closet, taking up space on my never-ending “should” list. Whereas my husband spent weeks with the kids building this house, which now adorns the mantle in our living room right in front of our picture. (He’s in good company, btw. Apparently, to kill time during a recent trip abroad, English football legend David Beckham confessed that he spent a night in a hotel constructing The Taj Majal.)

As I read this over, I realize that it may provide more of an insight into my marriage than it does into generic male/female brain differences. Then again, I do think that having a division of labor is key to a happy marriage, so maybe that’s a good thing!

Image: falling water lego side by happy via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1.Well, folks. Sandra Tsing Loh has once again knocked it out of the park. Here she is in The Atlantic, talking about how women these days are married to their houses.

2. One of the main ways that I stay connected to U.S. politics (and American pop culture) is by watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. If you’re also a fan, then you’ll also love this interview with Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee in Salon about Bee’s new memoir.

3. Like Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project fame, I also embrace novelty and love working with others. Be sure to read Gretchen’s post on the power of creative collaboration, which includes a link to the comic she co-created with Chari Pere entitled “Gretchen Rubin in The Quest for a Passion.” Lovely.

4. If you follow the World Cup – and even if you don’t – you must watch this hilarious rendering of last week’s famous World Cup match between England and USA…in lego. (Courtesy of The Guardian)

5. Finally, another must-see video of what the help desk was like in the Middle Ages.

If you enjoy my Friday pix, please do follow me on Twitter! I’m there posting links like these all week long!

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

Every Friday I point you to some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

1. I’m a sucker for understated British humor. Here’s a hysterical post in The Guardian by the British actor/writer/comedian David Mitchell on the new toilet-paper free toilet.

2. Also funny is Stuff White People Like’s take on why white people like the World Cup.

3. For the avid readers out there, here are the top five children’s books for grown-ups from Brain Pickings. I’m especially fond of The Little Prince.

4. I haven’t seen Sex and The City 2 (nor do I plan to) but this scathing review at The Stranger made me laugh out loud. (Hat tip: Communicatrix.)

5. In light of my recent post on frugality, I loved this article in Mint about how to go on a date without breaking the bank. (Hat Tip: @urbanmusewriter who wrote it!)

6. Finally, in the Department of Cool, check out this video on Gimundo about what Los Angeles would look like without cars. (Hat tip: The Happiness Project)

And, as always, please do follow me on Twitter!

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