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1. Don’t start with profundities. When I began my Happiness Project, I realized pretty quickly that, rather than jumping in with lengthy daily meditation or answering deep questions of self-identity, I should start with the basics, like going to sleep at a decent hour and not letting myself get too hungry. Science backs this up; these two factors have a big impact on happiness.

2. Do let the sun go down on anger. I had always scrupulously aired every irritation as soon as possible, to make sure I vented all bad feelings before bedtime. Studies show, however, that the notion of anger catharsis is poppycock. Expressing anger related to minor, fleeting annoyances just amplifies bad feelings, while not expressing anger often allows it to dissipate.

3. Fake it till you feel it. Feelings follow actions. If I’m feeling low, I deliberately act cheery, and I find myself actually feeling happier. If I’m feeling angry at someone, I do something thoughtful for her and my feelings toward her soften. This strategy is uncannily effective.

4. Realize that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Challenge and novelty are key elements of happiness. The brain is stimulated by surprise, and successfully dealing with an unexpected situation gives a powerful sense of satisfaction. People who do new things―learn a game, travel to unfamiliar places―are happier than people who stick to familiar activities that they already do well. I often remind myself to “Enjoy the fun of failure” and tackle some daunting goal.

6. Buy some happiness. Our basic psychological needs include feeling loved, secure, and good at what we do. You also want to have a sense of control. Money doesn’t automatically fill these requirements, but it sure can help. I’ve learned to look for ways to spend money to stay in closer contact with my family and friends; to promote my health; to work more efficiently; to eliminate sources of irritation and marital conflict; to support important causes; and to have enlarging experiences. For example, when my sister got married, I splurged on a better digital camera. It was expensive, but it gave me a lot of happiness.

8. Exercise to boost energy. I knew, intellectually, that this worked, but how often have I told myself, “I’m just too tired to go to the gym”? Exercise is one of the most dependable mood-boosters. Even a 10-minute walk can brighten my outlook.

10. Take action. Some people assume happiness is mostly a matter of inborn temperament: You’re born an Eeyore or a Tigger, and that’s that. Although it’s true that genetics play a big role, about 40 percent of your happiness level is within your control. Taking time to reflect, and making conscious steps to make your life happier, really does work. So use these tips to start your own Happiness Project. I promise it won’t take you a whole year.

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Here are some tips for a successful transition into community living:

  • Get to know your neighbors.  You need to know more than just the names and hometowns of the folks living on your neighbourhood.  Ask questions. Learn about everyone on the area, not just folks you connect with immediately. It helps to know about their experiences prior  to understand the perspective someone brings and how or why they may behave in a particular way.  Making a request of someone you have developed a relationship with is easier than requesting something from someone you would consider a stranger.
  • Talk directly about your needs.  You have a responsibility to speak up for yourself. You may keep your expectations or needs to yourself at first thinking you don’t want to “start off on the wrong foot.”  You might mention to your RA, or text your best friend, or vent to a family member that someone two doors away returns to the hall at 2:00 a.m. every morning, slams the door, and wakes you up. Behavior will not change if someone is not aware of the impact the behavior is having on someone else.  Talk to your neighbor directly during the day and not when you are in the height of your emotional reaction!
  • Be reasonable with your requests.  Living in community is not only about your needs. Prior, you may have experienced absolute silence at bedtime or a bathroom in impeccable condition at all times.  In a residence hall, there may be noise in a lounge or hallway, and students who aren’t impacted by the same level of noise as you are. We recommend talking directly to the person who is slamming the door each night as s/he may be unaware they are waking you up. If the person is unreasonable or unwilling to try and close the door more quietly, consult your RA for additional brainstorming.

 

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