At the end of the day, the Farmer walks in the house and talks about his day’s accomplishments, and the weather. I used to tell him that the weather is such a stupid topic that it actually makes me uncomfortable to have him bring it up. But now I realize that the weather is a segue to talking about what is happening right now. And that’s something I need to get better at.
1. Pay attention to the short term.
So my first resolution is to be more excited with what’s going on in my life in the near-term.
On January 1st the Farmer separated from his parents’ farm, and he has pigs are at our farm now. (I am saying our farm now. It shows us being a team more. It’s hard to write, but I guess this is a sub-resolution within the resolution: Think like a team.) He used to make the pigs have babies in crates, at his parent’s farm. The birthing process was confinement—the moms couldn’t move so they couldn’t roll onto the babies. Now he is letting the pigs breed while they wallow in grassy mud, and he’s letting the moms have babies wherever they choose in a barn full of soft hay bedding. The pig will roll on some of the babies probably, but probably that’s why pigs have big litters.
Anyway, the Farmer is excited and scared and curious and he comes into the house each day and says something fun about the new pig setup. I should have something fun to say each day about my work, too. I want to be excited that I’m trying new things.
2. Pay attention to moment-to-moment happiness.
Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, and my happiness research idol, is shifting his focus to the workplace. This is not surprising. As our education system grows more and more inadequate, companies are taking more responsibility for educating their employees. So there’s a lot of money in corporate America earmarked for education, and if you have a new idea, you’d best start selling it to those purse holders.
Anyway, Gilbert gives a great interview in the Harvard Business Review this month about what makes people happy. And, first of all, it’s really clear for the last two decades of research that events do not make us more happy or more sad. We overestimate how much a single event will change us — a huge raise, a lost limb — all of it has little long-term impact on our happiness because we bounce back on both ends of the spectrum to our happiness set point — that is, the one we’re born with. (If you’re interested in facing the reality of the fact that happiness is basically predetermined at birth, a good book on the happiness set point, check out The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.)
So work is simply not going to change how happy you are. That’s not how work works. On the other hand, you do have to be at work for eight hours a day — well, most of us do, in one way or another, even Tim Ferriss — so we should get a good feeling from being there.
And here’s where we can affect our happiness: minute-to-minute. One of the lucky grad students in Daniel Gilbert’s research lab at Harvard is Matthew Killingsworth, who distributed an app (through this blog, actually) to track peoples’ happiness on a moment-to-moment basis. As we learn more about people reporting their own happiness we know that our ability to predict happiness stinks, and the way we remember our happiness levels is inaccurate, but we are pretty decent at knowing how we feel if someone asks us. (I know, this flies in the face of every marriage counseling session in the world, but still, I believe Gilbert knows what he’s talking about.)
This is where we get good information about work. People are happy, minute-to-minute at work if they are setting reasonable goals and meeting them.
3. Pay attention to paragraph breaks.
I want to try new things in my work and I want to set goals for myself. At my core, I think I’m a writer. And I need to always be improving. Some of that will come from forcing myself to make more money from this blog. I have to organize my ideas in different ways if I want to make more money from them, and so now seems like a good a time to tell you that I’ll have a new book coming out this spring. (More on that later.)
I’ve also been forcing myself to try different ways of writing blog posts on my homeschooling blog. (Here’s one that I like that is different than anything I would write here.)
I am obsessed with expertise. And people get better and better at something — anything — by being focused on what they are working on and pushing themselves in new directions to reach hard goals.
I think to myself: what am I doing with my writing to make myself get better? It scares me that I’m not getting better. Mostly, I just need to write more to get better — it’s what anyone needs to do to get better. But I want a goal, also, so this year I’m going to focus more on the paragraph break. I think that’s where the big potential is to elevate my writing.
Like there. Right? You stopped a beat to think, oh, here’s a break. Something big will happen. The break is an opportunity for an intimate moment with the reader. It’s the part of writing I like best, and I could do much more with it.
Do people give New Year’s presents? Here is mine to you. Or to me. It makes me happy just to have this poem here on my blog:
Because You Asked about the Line between Prose and Poetry
By Howard Nemerov
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned into pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.
There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.