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A Brief Bit of Happiness on a Winter’s Day

It’s dark, cold and the headlines are gloomy. Perhaps that’s why I can’t seem to pick up a paper or magazine without seeing an article about happiness.

Pointing out that employee satisfaction is hitting record lows, the Wall Street Journal visits with corporate consultants who advise gratitude and meditation to dig ourselves out of the doldrums. New York magazine lists 50 steps to “simple happiness” – whatever that is. (No. 10 – offer to help a person with a stroller up a set of stairs – a very New York moment of unhappiness for parents.)

As you can tell from these examples, the emphasis of most happiness “treatments” today seems to be the quick-fix. Get a massage, change your thinking, write thank you emails. It’s happiness in a hurry. Or is it? As I wrote in a guest blog for Gretchen Rubin’s Slate column, “simple things make me content.” And simple things – a nice cup of tea or a chat with a friend – do make humans happy. After all, small moments and actions are the threads that make up the fabric of our lives.

That’s one clear take-away from Rubin’s new book, The Happiness Project, which came out last month. Rubin spent a year trying out all sorts of resolutions to improve her vitality, marriage, parenting, friendships and more. And as she studied happiness, she found that often the small steps had a big effect. A small treat, not a river of splurges, is the trick.

Even the study of happiness isn’t writ large, so to speak, Rubin notes to her surprise. “I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies,” she writes. In sum, the specifics work. Don’t lose the trees for the forest, you could say. That’s a satisfying morsel of news.

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  1. Feb 25, 20109:44 am