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Happiness Project: Get rid of things that don’t work.

Posted Jul 22 2008 8:23pm

TrashI’m working on my Happiness Project, andyou should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

For me, outer order brings inner serenity. I find it much easier to stay calm when my office, my apartment, and my calendar are well-regulated. One sign of disorder is to be surrounded by things that are broken, need new batteries, or need to be re-filled, re-charged, or serviced in some way.

Here are some things that don’t work in my apartment right now: a video camera, a smoke alarm (this is actually dangerous), an alarm clock (well, it works but I can’t figure out how to reset the time), a cabinet drawer, the electric socket in the master bathroom, the lightbulbs in the hallway light-fixture, and one of the phones. Plus my laptop has a huge black spot on the screen which blocks my view of the upper-right-hand corner of any document.

Each of these failure represents a task, and they’re weighing on me. Every time I’m reminded of them, I feel annoyed and overwhelmed.

I try todo an errand each day, but for some reason these these things haven’t made it onto the errand list. They’ve just been lurking in the background, inoperable.

We tend to overestimate how much we can accomplish in an hour or a week, and underestimate how much we can accomplish in a month or a year, by doing just a little bit each day. Over and over, as I do my Happiness Project, I remind myself that if I just do a little bit each day, I can get a huge amount done. If I write one sentence in myone-sentence journal, by the end of the year, I’ll have a meaningful record of what has happened. If I clean up for ten minutes each night before bed, the apartment will stay noticeably tidier. If I write a blog post each day, over time, I’ll amass a huge archive.

Look around your home, your office, your car, etc. What isn’t working? Throw it away, give it away, or fix it. Throwing away, of course, is easiest – once you’ve made up your mind that something should be tossed (which can be surprisingly difficult). For anything more complex, just tackle one restoration per day. At the end of the month, the elimination of these nagging tasks will make you feel more energized and free.

Anthony Trollope, the novelist who managed to be hugely prolific while also revolutionizing the British postal service, wrote: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

Each day, get rid of one thing that doesn’t work. It adds up.


I was intrigued this story in Gimundo about howkeeping a food journalmade a huge difference when people were trying to watch what they were eating. I tried this myself for my happiness project, and I just COULD NOT manage to remember to write down everything I ate. At the end of the day, day after day, I'd realize that I'd forgotten to make any notes, and I had only the spottiest recollection of what I'd eaten. Reading this article has inspired me to try again.


Check out my new one-minute internet movie,Secrets of Adulthood.

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