• October 2015

October Happiness: Pay Attention!

In this month’s discussion of Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, we invite you to contemplate her goal for October, which is to be more mindful.

Why is it important to be in the moment and pay attention?

“Scientists point out that mindfulness brings many benefits including calming the mind and elevating brain function,” Rubin explains. “It gives clarity and vividness to present experience, it may help people break unhealthy habits, and it can soothe troubled spirits and lift people’s moods. It also reduces stress and chronic pain. And, it makes people less defensive, and more engaged with others.”

One highly effective way to practice mindfulness, she suggests, is through meditation. But there are other ways to harness the power of being in the moment, Rubin knows.

And this month, she suggests finding strategies to stimulate your brain to think in new ways, with the goal of “jolting yourself out of automatic behavior to awaken sleepy parts of your mind.”

Here’s how:

  • Meditate on Koans: A question or statement that can’t be understood logically is a koan, and it’s something that Zen Buddhist monks meditate on as a way to abandon dependence on reason in their pursuit of enlightenment. “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?” is a famous koan, as is, “What was your face before your parents were born?” Another one, from poet Robert Frost, is: “The best way out is always through.” And Gertrude Stein’s infamous koan is, “I like a room with a view, but I like to sit with my back turned.” What are your personal koans? Use them to ignite your imagination and quiet your reasoning mind, insists Rubin, noting: “Because koans forced me to challenge the usual, straightforward boxes of meaning, they pushed me to think about thinking. That in turn brought me the delicious intellectual happiness that comes from grappling with an expansive, difficult question.”
  • Examine True Rules: Heuristics — which are mental rules of thumb — provide quick, commonsense principles you can apply to solve a problem or make a decision, Rubin explains. “For example, if you are faced with two objects and recognize one but not the other, you assume that the recognized one has higher value.” Case in point: If you’ve heard of Munich, but you haven’t heard of Minden, you assume that Munich is the larger German city; if you have heard of Rice Krispies cereal, but you haven’t heard of Wild Oats cereal, you assume that Rice Krispies is the more popular brand.” So Rubin challenges us to identify our frequently used rules and, as objectively as possible, assess if they are actually helpful. Then mindfully gather a few “True Rules” that will help you act in line with your values. Suggestions to boost happiness might be: “The first thing isn’t the right thing,” with the follow-up thought that if you wait and see how things play out, you just may be glad in the end it doesn’t work out. Another one to consider: “People succeed in groups.” And, as the Quakers deliberately introduce a mistake into the things they make to show that man shouldn’t aspire to the perfection of God, consider the heuristic, “Flawed can be more perfect than perfection.”
  • Stimulate the Mind in New Ways: Using your mind in unfamiliar ways is a great way to enhance your experience of staying present in the moment and increasing awareness of yourself, Rubin believes. Her ideas: Post sticky notes around your home to remind yourself of the frame of mind you wish to cultivate (such as focused and observant, quiet mind, tender and lighthearted). Other approaches include dancing around the room, drawing (using the right side of the brain can change the way you process visual information), and embracing novelty and challenge (which can also lead to exhaustion and frustration). So find what works for you, and make it a bigger part of your life.
  • Keep a Food Diary: According to Rubin, studies show that being conscious of eating makes people eat more healthfully. A food diary has helped some dieters lose twice as much weight as those who didn’t bother. For her, it was the quantity of “fake foods” she ate that surprised her, including pretzels, cookies, and bite-size candy. “It was only after I kicked my fake-food habit that I realized what a drain it had been on my happiness.”

Stay tuned for more of Rubin’s ideas in November when she encourages us to: “Keep a Contented Heart.”

And don’t forget:

January’s resolution focuses on Vitality: Boost Your Energy

  • Go to sleep earlier
  • Exercise better
  • Toss, restore, and organize
  • Tackle a nagging task
  • Act more energetic

February’s advice regarding Marriage: Remember Love

  • Quit nagging
  • Don’t expect praise or appreciation
  • Hug
  • Fight right
  • No dumping
  • Give proofs of love

March’s goals about Work: Aim Higher

  • Launch a blog
  • Enjoy the fun of failure
  • Ask for help
  • Work smart
  • Enjoy now

April’s insights are on Parenting: Lighten Up

  • Sing in the morning
  • Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings
  • Be a treasure-house of happy memories
  • Take time for projects

May is time to: Be Serious About Play

  • Find more fun
  • Take time to be silly
  • Go off the path
  • Start a collection

June was the perfect opportunity to: Make Time for Friends

  • Remember birthdays
  • Be generous
  • Show up
  • If you gossip, say something nice
  • Make three new friends

July focused on the best thing we can use our money for: Buy Some Happiness

  • Indulge in a modest splurge
  • Buy needful things
  • Spend out
  • Give up something

In August, we take a spiritual turn and: Contemplate the Heavens

  • Read memoirs of catastrophe
  • Keep a gratitude notebook
  • Imitate a spiritual master

In September, Rubin encouraged us to go deeper into ourselves to: Pursue a Passion

  • Write a novel
  • Make time
  • Forget abut results
  • Master a new technology

This month we focused on mindfulness: Pay Attention

  • Meditate on koans
  • Examine “True Rules”
  • Stimulate the mind in new ways
  • Keep a food diary

Learn more about Gretchen Rubin and her Happiness Project in the December 2014 issue of Be Inkandescent magazine.