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Gwyneth Paltrow's Interesting Insight on Happiness.

Posted Feb 23 2009 9:42pm

Gwynethpaltrow4 Yesterday’s New York Times had an article from Bob Morris, Martha, Oprah…Gwyneth? about Gwyneth Paltrow’s emergence as a lifestyle guru.

I’m not interested in cooking, so I paid no attention to Gwyneth Paltrow’s new PBS show with super-chef Mario Batali, “Spain…on the Road Again,” but I had checked out her website
, to see if it had any useful happiness-project information. (I was mystified by the name; the article explained that GOOP are her initials.)

Goop has attracted a fair bit of mockery, and when asked about that criticism in an interview, Gwyneth Paltrow observed, “ People get a hit of energy when they are negative about something.”

I was quite struck by the truth of this statement. I’d never thought about it that way before. Yes, she’s right, people do get a hit of energy when they’re negative about something.

Many of my happiness-project resolutions focus on trying to nudge me to being more positive and less critical: “Give positive reviews,” “Don’t talk about my aggravations,” “Leave things unsaid,” “No gossip,” Cut people slack, “Be easy to please,” “Have a heart to be contented,” etc.

It turns out that it’s surprisingly difficult to be positive and enthusiastic -- it’s tiring. And being critical does supply a jolt of energy. I don’t know why, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s true.

In the end, though, being overly critical doesn’t boost happiness much. Self-image is shaped in large degree by our actions, and somewhere each one of us has a little Jiminy Cricket doing an evaluation: “Spiteful, destructive, unenthuasiastic, querulous…” Plus, the more negative we are toward others, the more negative they are toward us. Have you noticed that people who are very gossipy and critical are often quite paranoid? There's a reason for that.

Paltrow’s observation -- that being negative gives an energy hit – underscores a KEY point. When I’m tired, I’m far more likely to do things that drag on my happiness. I eat junk food, I speak too sharply to my family, I skip exercising, I don’t make the effort to help other people – neither strangers nor friends. And I’m more likely to be automatically negative.

I’ve becoming increasingly convinced about the importance of energy to happiness. When I started my happiness project, my first set of resolutions was aimed at boosting energy (“Get more sleep,” “Exercise better,” etc. – eventually I also largely quit drinking ), because I figured I’m better able to keep my resolutions when I have more energy. I don’t need to write a snarky response to someone’s snarky comment on my blog, or criticize someone’s parenting decisions, or point out my husband’s shortcomings to him, or pointlessly trash a book or movie, to get that nasty hit of energy.

*Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

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