Come On, Get Happy - Author Tells You How to Have More Fun

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Happiness tip: Get more sleep. Credit:

It's no secret: Everybody wants to be happy. So, in an attempt to put a permanent smile on her face, author and mother of two Gretchen Rubin spent a year testing the wisdom of the ages.

She looked at scientific studies, works from greats such as Aristotle and Epicurus and even took notes from pop culture (Oprah included). Keeping tabs on each part of her journey, Rubin now presents "The Happiness Project" (Harper), sharing her experiences -- and results -- as she tests out various theories and advice.

ParentDish spoke with Rubin about her quest to discover the key to happiness, what she found that works and what she wasn't even willing to try.

ParentDish: Quick, what's one simple thing you found that parents can do to increase their happiness?
Gretchen Rubin: Get more sleep. There's a lot of scientific evidence that people don't get enough sleep and that it has a bigger impact than you think. The more I wrote about it, the more I became zealous about getting enough sleep.

PD: How is that even possible for busy parents?
GR: It's hard. I have a 4-year-old and a 10-year-old and I'm very rigid about their bedtime schedules. I get the oldest to bed by 9:30 and sometimes I'm in bed by 9:45. I'll stay up until 11 at the latest, because getting enough sleep makes a huge difference for your day. A big issue with parents is dealing with morning -- everybody's scrambling and hurrying and half-asleep. If you have enough sleep, you'll be cheerier and better able to cope with the chaos. I also started getting up earlier so I can organize myself before everyone else gets up and that made a big a difference in my happiness. But again, that's why I have to go to sleep earlier.

PD: It sounds like happiness and stress levels are inversely related. Is that what you're saying?
GR: It's different for different people. When you're thinking about your happiness, you have to ask yourself what's working in your life and what you want more of and what's not working. Break your days down to what parts don't work and you'll find it doesn't take big adjustments to correct them. And the morning, for parents, is a good place to start because it's a challenge.

PD: Who are the happiest people: Parents or non-parents?
GR: That's a big debate in psychology. Some people argue that children don't make people happier, but if you ask people what makes them happiest, a huge percent of people say either their children or their grandchildren. People seem to think that their children make them happy, but scientists say that's not true. Maybe they make you happier in a general way but day-to-day they're more of a pain.

PD: Ha, understandable! What are some other things people can do to increase their overall happiness?
GR: You have to feel like you have strong relationships with other people. A good rule of thumb is to always think about using your money or time to strengthen your relationships. Let's say you have extra cash and you're thinking about what you should do with it. You could go to Florida to see your sister and her new baby or you could buy a new dining room table. You'd probably be happier visiting your sister. Personal experiences tend to make people happier than things.

PD: What if you need a mood boost to get you through a rough day?
GR: A lot of people listen to music -- it doesn't work for me, but other people really like this method. Another thing is exercise; even if you can't get to the gym, just walk around the block. Or doing something nice for someone else can really give you a mood boost. Try something little such as writing an e-mail or giving someone a useful piece of information. Another method is just to act happy. It's uncanny how effective this is. If you're feeling annoyed with your children, just act light-hearted and really fake it -- eventually you'll start to feel that way.

PD: Is there a specific tip you find works well for yourself that our readers might like?
GR: On my blog I suggested putting on your shoes. When you're wearing shoes you're ready for action, you're more awake, you're energetic and it's a good way to give yourself a boost. But all these people said you shouldn't wear shoes because it just makes your house dirty. Then another group said you should have special shoes that you only wear in the house. I thought that idea would be pretty uncontroversial but it ended up being something that lots of people had opinions about.

PD: So these tips aren't guaranteed for everyone?
GR: It's all about finding what works for you. Many people suggested I try meditation, but I had no interest in it. Just like a lot of people like to travel and think it's fun and try to get other people to join in. Just because something is fun for someone else doesn't mean it's fun for you and it's surprising how hard it is to keep that in mind. You can't plan a ski trip with your family and say it's going to be really fun if you don't like skiing. You have to look and see how you can make something fun for you. It's not surprising, but people who have fun regularly are much happier.

PD: Is there something that causes people to be unhappy?
GR: People are unhappy when they're misbehaving. If you're gossiping, you're yelling or nagging or placing blame on other people unfairly, eventually you'll start to feel unhappy. Doing the right thing is very important to being happy.

PD: What are your thoughts about New Year's resolutions? Are they good or bad when it comes to happiness?
GR: They're the most important tool if you want to do a happiness project for yourself. It needs to be a resolution that's concrete and something you can hold yourself accountable to -- not something that can't be measured. Make a promise to always make your bed in the morning or to plan a fun activity every Sunday afternoon. Things like that are going to be very manageable, and, over time, will make you happier.

Gretchen Rubin's book "The Happiness Project" is in stores now. For daily updates from Rubin, check out her blog.

Related: Come On, Get Happy -- Why Optimism Is Good for You


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.