1. Happiness is contagious. Gretchen Rubin, who started The Happiness Project, came to the synagogue around the corner from my apartment to chat about happiness and her new book, Happiness at Home. The Happiness Project is an account of the year Gretchen spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. That’s her on the right. On the left is Jodi Kantor, a New York Times correspondent and author of The Obamas. What a treat to spend an hour with these smart, funny and insightful women.
Gretchen has done quite a bit of research on happiness and one of the roadblocks most of us face is what she calls “the arrival fallacy.” Have you ever thought, “I’ll be satisfied when I pass the exams at school.” Or, “I’ll be able to relax when things calm down at the office.” Or, “I’ll be happy when the kids are out of the house.” (Just kidding, parents. I know you’d never think that!) The problem with that thinking, she says, is that we never “arrive” at that moment. The exams are over, work projects wrap up, the kids go off to college and it’s not as awesome as we thought. We’re already looking forward to the next Big Thing. I’m certainly guilty of this and it takes real effort to remind myself not to wish the days away focusing on some distant event.
Have you ever thought that happiness was right around the corner?
P.S. If you have some holiday get-togethers coming up, check out Gretchen’s eight tips for dealing with difficult relatives.
2. One man’s trash… Some companies celebrate the holidays with feelings of goodwill toward their co-workers. Not in my office. We “pass the trash” (trademark pending). Rather than buying a nice memento or useful item (or, ahem, a holiday bonus), we find something in our homes or cubes that we don’t want, wrap it up and drop it into the grab bag gift exchange. The goal is to be creatively bad.
My offering was a magnetic notepad with an angry cartoon bird saying, “Peep this.” The bird may or may not have been offering a certain finger. It was a crowd pleaser. One of the favorites this year was this item below. Are you tired of bending over to clean your feet? Too bad you weren’t at my office holiday party.
What did I get? It was an absolute bag of treasures: an action figure with a pink mohawk, a mini-nutcracker, some candies with wrappers not written in English, conversation cards and an airplane bottle of a liquor I’ve never heard of. I think I know what I’m giving in next year’s grab bag.
If you’re looking for a kinder, gentler gift, see my list of Great Books to Give…and Get.
What was the best or worst gift you’ve received at an office holiday party?
3. Totally shine-worthy. During the holidays many people host dinner parties, but what if you could have a dinner party and somehow give back to your community at the same time? That’s exactly what Detroit Soup is doing. It’s no secret that Detroit is a city going through tough times. “Right now, Detroit feels like an underdog,” says Amy Kaherl, the coordinator for Detroit Soup, a supper club with benefits. Detroit Soup was started by Kate Daughdrill and Jessica Hernandez in 2010 to fund creative projects around the city. At each monthly dinner, local groups present their project to folks who have contributed $5 to attend. While they’re breaking bread (or salad, or pie, or soup), they decide which group will receive the funds raised that evening. Detroit Soup has helped fund projects such as an urban farm, park beautification, and sleeping bags made into coats for the homeless.
But this kind of project doesn’t just work in a place like Detroit. It can be implemented anywhere. Is there a program like this in your community?
4. Power to the introverts! Have you ever reluctantly accepted Do you feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner party invitation in favor of a good book and a cup of tea? Or, worse yet, do you reluctantly accept the invitation even though you’d much rather curl up with the book? I am right there with you!
I’ve just stumbled on the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. An introvert herself, she says that society places a high value on action over contemplation. But, “when it comes to creativity and leadership, we need introverts doing what they do best,” she says. With so much white noise out there, often the person who is most magnetic in a social situation is seen as a leader and innovator, even though the quiet person may have the same idea. In short, our society rewards extroversion, equating it with success and happiness. (The introverted person must be unhappy, right?)
Even though I’d consider myself an introvert, I’d always equated that with being shy, and thought them basically the same thing. This confused me for years because I have no problem standing in front of a classroom to teach, but would much prefer a quiet dinner with a couple of friends to a big party. Susan separates the two. She says that it’s not about being shy. Shy is about the fear of social judgment. Introversion is about how you respond to social stimulation. Extroverts crave large amounts of social stimulation. Introverts feel at their most alive and capable when they are in quieter, more low-key environments. But no one is all introvert or extrovert, we fall somewhere along the spectrum.
Check out Susan Cain’s TED talk. If you or someone close to you is an introvert, you’re sure to have a few a-ha moments. (She says introverts and extroverts who work or live together often have to come to certain understandings to live harmoniously.)
Do you consider yourself an introvert? Or are you close with someone who is an introvert? If you’re an extrovert, do you wish your partner was more outgoing?
5. Image from the season: Thought I’d leave you with one more fun image from the holidays here in NYC: the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Plaza, watched over by the statue of Prometheus. The rink here is quite small so it’s not a place to let your inner Dorothy Hamill out, but it’s still exciting to be on the ice, especially at night when the tree is lit. The big Rockefeller Christmas tree sits on the plaza level above this statue and overlooks the rink.
In Greek mythology Prometheus is a trickster, credited with stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humans. For this transgression Zeus sentenced him to be bound to a rock for eternity where an eagle came each day to do bad things to him.
On that note…
Have a great weekend, everyone!