Friday, 8 January 2010

New Year New Wallchart

A couple of years ago I read a bunch of books about happiness, happinomics and the whole new science of being happy. It turns out that when happiness was written down as an aspiration for all Americans, it didn't mean owning as much stuff as you could jam into your large house, being richer than your neighbours and gloating over the less fortunate. It meant the general wellbeing of your fellow man (or person as it would be now, but probably wasn't then), because if those around you were content then you would be too.

In these books, there were several recipes for happiness in the modern world including meditation and yoga, learning that acquisition doesn't take away the desire to acquire, that you won't be content until you can learn to desire less stuff, and that almost everyone thinks that they need to earn about one third more than they do now in order to be content. (Consider...) One book reckoned that the best way to become happy was Prozac and its friends. That was a bit of a shocker. On the other hand, it does seem as if we have natural levels of happiness: if you're miserable and win the lottery, you're still miserable; if you're happy and lose the use of your legs, you're just as happy - once you adjust to it. But if you work on it, like anything else, you can get better at it.

One book, can't even remember which (sorry), recommended three things:

1. Friends: It turns out that having 18 is just about right (can include family members). There is no need to be a smarty pants like Patrick, husband of a good friend of mine, who started to argue about how you define a friend. He's a barrister so he loves a good picky argument. We know who our friends are. The ones who will help us and who we'll help if they need it. No doubt we'll have a sliding scale from best friends to good friends, old, new, close, distant, but still we ought to keep about 18 on the go. More than that and it becomes a burden to maintain.

2. Something to believe in. It doesn't have to be religion, but people who do believe in a greater good are generally happier. It can be karma, god(s), humanity, light against dark, anything that encourages us to be kind rather than cruel, something that gives us meaning, even if we know we're just a grain of sand that lasts for less than a second in the universe's grand scheme. (Especially if we know that.) Saying that you believe in your god, then behaving like a selfish prat doesn't work. You have to go out and spread a little light to get the benefits.

3. Have a list and tick things off when you finish them.

So this is where the new wallchart comes in. I've got a pack of magic whiteboard ( a set of Shachihata Artline 525T Whiteboard Marker pens from Toyko and I'm on a stairway to happiness.
Oh yes. I've stuck two slices of it on the wall next to my desk. It sticks with static and comes off whenever you like. One is marked up with the days of the week and times of day, a week to view diary. The other is a list of the strategic stuff; the tasks that might take a while but will get me close to where I want to be. When something pops into my head I put it on the wall (unless I'm not at my desk, in whihc case I can put it into my laptop and write it up later). It's not enough to use the laptop. It has to be on the wall. I have to see it and rub things off by hand.

Does it all work? I'll let you know. So far, I'm feeling pretty chipper about it all.

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