Monthly Archives: February 2016

What happens to your mood if you shut yourself away to write a book?

Thankfully I wasn’t at Stanford University in 1989 when many of its buildings were severely damaged during what became known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

Among the badly affected premises was the West Wing of Green library, where I’m writing this now, and also where I shut myself away for a couple of months last summer to write “Nudge Your Way to Happiness”.

I spent that time in the wonderfully-named “Gentleperson’s Reading Room” (below), a calm space in which it proved pleasingly easy to focus and be productive.

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Interestingly, I was tracking my own well-being through this period, and looking back at my graph I see that although I wasn’t doing badly, I wasn’t exactly soaring either.

With the benefit of hindsight I think I was probably suffering from a lack of social connections, a problem that resolved itself once I finished writing and began getting together with friends again.

Ernest Hemingway grumbled, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” Who are we to disagree?

In last summer’s case it was an overly focused approach to work that left me feeling isolated, but at other times during my life I’ve seen the same effect arising from having a low mood, and maybe you recognise this in yourself?

You feel rough so you shut yourself away, perhaps even blindly self-explaining it by imagining you’re actually “saving” others from having to be around your glumness.

Of course, the honest truth is that staying at home alone could leave you feeling even worse than you already were.

Our connections with others are vital, as we’re designed as social animals and fail to thrive when we have insufficient contact with others.

Perhaps it will be worth remembering this as you go about the next 24 hours.

Why not look for opportunities, even miniscule ones, to connect with people?

By the way, many Moodnudges readers did just that with me on Wednesday, voting for a cover for “Nudge Your Way to Happiness”.

Thanks to all who told me what they thought.

I’ll let you know the outcome on Sunday, so see you in a couple of days.

Experience the Helper’s High: Have your say on my book’s cover.

Ready to have your say immediately? Click here to vote!

An Amazon.com reviewer of The Healing Power of Doing Good, a 1992 book written by social campaigner Allan Luks, said he decided to put the book’s claims to the test.

So what were those claims?

Broadly the book reported on a study of over 3,000 volunteers, showing that when they helped others, they also benefited, leading to an effect now known as the “Helper’s High”.

In fact, Luks’s book introduced both the concept and the term “Helper’s High”.

The Amazon reviewer (Frank) reported that he started teaching English to someone who didn’t already speak the language – for just two hours a week – and in only a couple of weeks noticed a change in his own sense of well-being.

He said he left the tutoring sessions on a kind of high, then later felt more calm and focused.

It’s worth remembering that helping someone else can be a fantastic way to give yourself a boost when you need it.

Perhaps you’d like to experience this right now?

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With humble apologies for the remarkably self-serving nature of this experiment, it’s actually me who’d like your help.

You see, the wonders of modern printing technology mean we have the luxury of being able to make design decisions about my book’s cover with less than three weeks until it’s published, so I’d love your vote on which design you prefer.

Please click on the link below where you’ll see a few different concepts.

Click here to vote!

Then have your say by voting, and also feel very free to add your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Who knows, lending a hand might even give you a modest helper’s high yourself.

What writing a book taught me about listening to my body.

The process of writing “Nudge Your Way to Happiness”, to be published at the end of this month, taught me tons about the importance of taking care of my body.

I began to put pen to paper last summer, and in fact it literally was a case of hand writing, as I’ve learned I craft copy better this way rather than typing it.

The big breakthrough for me, incidentally, was discovering with huge joy that my new MacBook Air came with built-in software which types my words as I dictate.

What, for me, had been a massive chore, suddenly became a pleasure.

It’s also amusing from time to time when the computer mishears me.

For example it got it into its head that I was writing a book called “Lunch Your Way to Happiness”.

Which, of course, does have an appeal all of its own.

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Anyway I’m hand writing the very words you’re reading now (be kind to me computer) sitting in the library at Stanford University.

Once I’ve finished, I’ll take myself off to a quiet study room to read them out loud into the Mac’s tiny microphone.

Hooray for technology.

But I digress.

You see, “Nudge Your Way to Happiness” takes the form of a workbook that enables you to measure and track your overall well-being over 30 days, giving you a tailored nudge each day.

The nudges I currently send to you are “one-size-fits-all” but the book will instead direct you to one of three daily thoughts specifically designed for the way you happen to be doing.

A bit like having me sitting at your side.

This meant writing ninety nudges in all (three for each of the book’s 30 days) and I began with way too ambitious an idea of what I could achieve in one day.

Day 1 was fine. I was high on the excitement of starting the project.

I wrote 8 nudges, thinking I’d be completely done and dusted in twelve days. How wrong I was.

I woke up on Day 2 hardly able to motivate myself to get out of bed.

I saw I’d need to take a far more realistic view of what I could get done, ending up with a nice rhythm of four nudges day.

I wonder if there’s an aspect of your own life which is suffering because you’re over-estimating your capacity?

Are you perhaps trying to do so much that you’re biting off more than you can chew?

If so I encourage you to take stock and perhaps trim your sails.

I’m sure the key to making the best progress in life is to listen to your body.

Do you what you know you can, rather than what you think you can.

I’ll see you again on Wednesday, with an invitation to vote for the book’s cover.

I hope you’ll let me know what you think about “Lunch Your Way to Happiness”.

Now see here computer, I’ve told you once.

What will you do on Leap Day? I’m publishing my book (at last)!

Once every four years we’re handed the splendid gift of an extra day in February.

We’ll enjoy a Leap Day on the 29th of this month, so I wonder what you’ll do with your bonus 24 hours?

I’d love to know, and also tell about my own rather exciting plan.

You see, I’m delighted to report that February 29th is the day my brand-new book “Nudge Your Way to Happiness” will be published.

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The process of writing it has been both long and fascinating, so during February I’ll share some of what it’s taught me about mood and happiness, in the hope that it could end up helping you too.

I’ll also share some behind-the-scenes stuff, and invite you to have your own say in a vote for the book’s cover later this week.

I will of course also let you know how to preorder a copy, as well as asking now and then for your help in getting the word out about it.

But first, let’s think more about what you’ll do with your extra day at the end of the month.

It’s a Monday, so life must probably continue as usual to some degree.

But you have three weeks before the 29th, so maybe you’ll get a chance to plan something special?

An ancient English tradition was that it was the one day in the year on which it was “acceptable” for a woman to ask a man to marry her, one theory for its origination being that February 29th wasn’t actually recognised in English law, making it okay to break with the convention of a man proposing.

While I might not be wise to advocate a mass outbreak of marriage proposals, perhaps it’s a nice idea to adopt the idea of February 29th being a day to break with convention?

I’ll publish my book that day, and I’d love you to share your own thoughts about what you might do.

Inspire us all, please, by pitching into the Comments section.

Are you prepared to win?

Two friends play tennis.

One expects to do well, the other to fail.

Who’s most likely to take the match?

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Two applicants go for the same job.

One sets out with high hopes, the other with low expectations.

Who do you imagine will get the job offer?

When we know no more about someone than their level of optimism, it’s often appropriate to use this to judge their potential in any given situation.

A positive approach may even speed up your recovery to physical illness.

Unfortunately it can sometimes seem that your position on the optimism-pessimism spectrum is permanently fixed: also that you tend to adopt this one mind-set for all you do, positioning you somewhere between the extremes of ALOTBSOLs (Always Look On the Bright Side Of Lifers) and curmudgeonly doomsayers.

Maybe this is wrong, though?

Perhaps your outlook can be more (or less) optimistic depending on circumstances?

A pessimistic pauper may be justified in believing he’ll never be a millionaire, but could be right to expect that at least he’ll have a bed to sleep in tonight.

And of course his lack of optimism about unexpected wealth might be completely kicked into touch when his lottery ticket just happens to have all the right numbers.

It’s a trivial example, but I hope it may make you think a little about the wisdom of accepting that a (more) positive approach can often be possible, and is often helpful.

Why I love it when things go wrong, and you could too

If there’s a world where things always go right first time, it’s not the one in which I live.

A typical example is when I attempt to engineer something out of card or paper.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore this sort of work and am almost never happier than when I’m sitting there with scalpel, steel rule and glue-pot in front of me, about to make a book, box or (more often) blunder.

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The up-slips aren’t deliberate, of course, but neither are they really avoidable.

After years of cutting and sticking, I’ve learned that you’ll never get all the measurements right the first time, and it’s only by making mistakes that you see how you should have done it in the first place.

So you start again.

Perhaps I didn’t take this approach in my earlier days of cardboard engineering, though.

In fact I’m sure I didn’t.

There were almost certainly times when it all went unexpectedly wrong, resulting in temper tantrums and ripped-up constructions.

While you may not share my enthusiasm for cutting and gluing, I’m sure you’ll have experienced a similar ‘miss and hit’ approach to making or learning something.

You get there in the end by accepting that you work out problems as you go.

Your first apple pie is unlikely to be as good as your most recent.

You’re a better driver now that you were on the day of your first lesson (I hope so anyway).

Your vocabulary has moved on since your first goo-goo, ga-ga.

Although the end result may differ, the process of reaching it almost always involves finding ways to overcome hitches, rather than having a strop and giving up.

You learned how to do this when it came to practical stuff, and almost certainly you’ve picked up equivalent skills when it comes to bouncing back from emotional problems – perhaps without properly recognising it, though.

Perhaps in times of distress you recalled that you’d overcome it in the past, so could do so again.

Maybe you simply foresaw yourself being in a better place.

Or it’s possible you reasoned that the obstacle before you wasn’t as big as you were making it.

These are all admirable approaches, but only you’ll know what’s worked for you in the past.

If you have just a couple of minutes today, try to recall the strategies that have proved effective historically.

You never know when they could come in handy again.

Knowing where to go when it’s dark

I wonder how many children would look you in the eye on their first day of school and tell you that their goal is to graduate with distinction from Harvard?

With the exception of a precocious few, I can’t imagine many being so focused.

I’d have thought it was more likely that, with an inevitable degree of trepidation and nervousness, most kids would aim for a much closer target on that first day: getting through to breaktime, then to lunchtime, then to going home time.

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Isn’t this how most of us go about our day-to-day lives?

Maybe we start the working week looking forward to its end.

Or we set off on a journey in the belief that it will feel good to reach our destination.

Although we may (and ideally should) carry loftier ambitions in the back of our mind, you generally get through the day by adopting a ‘I’ll do this, then I’ll do that’ mind-set.

I say ‘generally’, however, because this sensible logic may tend to go out of the window when your mood is low.

If forced, you’d probably say your aim is to feel better: a statement of the blinking obvious, really – of course you don’t want to remain in the depths of despair.

Would anyone?

But when you’re well and truly down, the distance from where you are to where you want to be is just about as immense as the journey from Day 1 in Ms. Wallace’s class to tossing your mortar board in the air.

It’s worth remembering that, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, recovery from depression is nearly always a slow process, taking weeks and months rather than hours and days.

So perhaps it’s also worth recalling how you made progress through your school days, focusing on smaller, closer goals.

On the darkest days, one goal may be as ‘small’ as getting out of bed.

Another could be showering and dressing.

A third might be walking round the block.

Big goals are great, but on life’s darker days smaller ones can be the difference between keeping going, and not.