Browsing the archives for the priorities tag.
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Things You Will Probably Not Say on Your Deathbed

I'm just sayin'

Abe Lincoln on his deathbed

  • Man, I wish I’d spent more time watching TV
  • I now regret not eating more of those doughnuts people kept bringing in at work
  • All that time I wasted with my family and friends! Why didn’t I work constantly and become wealthy but unable to enjoy any of my income?
  • Those solar panels were pointless. Now that I really think about it, I don’t care whether climate change disasters would have been a lot worse over the last few decades if people like me hadn’t done something about it.
  • Good thing I took all those Facebook quizzes!
  • At least I got to argue with everyone who ever annoyed me.
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A Simple Mnemonic for Being on Time

Strategies and goals

boarding a train at sunrise

Lateness isn’t an enormously complicated problem, but a lot of us have trouble with it, whether from time to time or on a daily basis. A few years back, I posted How Not to Be Late: The 8 Principles of Being on Time, which has become one of the most popular articles on this site. That post covers the most practical information I can offer about lateness. For most of us, I believe those 8 ideas cover everything we have to do to conquer it.

Yet ideas are one thing, and putting them into practice is another. It takes time, effort, and attention to remember and use new behaviors, while for many of us, all three are in short supply. With that in mind, I put together a mnemonic that covers the four steps we can take to master lateness. I still strongly recommend reading How Not to Be Late, which covers both actions and attitude, but from there we just need a single word. That word is EAST, as in where the sun comes up in the morning (a time of day when lateness is especially common, which I mention in hopes of making the word itself a little easier to remember). Here’s what it stands for:

  • Early planning
  • Advance preparation
  • Set aside time
  • Tackle priorities first

Here’s a bit of explanation for each step:

Early planning: One of the mistakes many of us make is not thinking about being on time until the clock is already ticking. For instance, if I have an hour’s worth of things I really need to do before I leave, and I start 45 minutes before go-time, I’ve made myself late long before I walk out the door. Early planning means being aware of the event, knowing everything I’ll need to do to prepare, and having a good idea of how long getting ready will take.

Advance preparation: We identify the list of things we’ll need to do in the “early planning” step. Advance preparation can cross things off that list long before there’s any danger of lateness. Some examples of things that can be done in advance are gathering information, packing, preparing food, finding items that need to be brought along, planning routes, figuring out travel time, looking up telephone numbers, and picking out clothes.

Set aside time: This item isn’t needed for any task for which we can walk out the door (or pick up the phone) at a moment’s notice, but if we need to get cleaned up or dressed, get information, gather items, take care of things around the house or office, eat, or complete any other tasks before being free to head to the thing we want to be on time for, it’s necessary to set aside enough time to get those tasks done. It’s crucial to identify the true total amount of time that will be needed and to avoid cutting time we’ll need or being overly optimistic. Failing to handle this step well probably causes most incidents of lateness.

Tackle priorities first: When getting ready, starting with the most important tasks can let us be punctual even if something goes wrong or if preparation takes longer than expected. For example, if leaving to catch a train, it makes sense to ensure the ticket is at hand before, say, having a leisurely breakfast. The lower-priority items at the end of the process can often be sped up or skipped, but if we leave the most important tasks for last, that option disappears.

Putting EAST into practice
Using EAST will take a little effort up front: it requires fully understanding each of the points and memorizing the four terms. It won’t help me much to remember “EAST” if I forget what “S” means, for instance.

I’d recommend bookmarking this article, printing it out and putting it up somewhere you can easily refer to it, or to saving it to a smartphone or other device you’ll have on hand when you need it until you have the terms down and you’ve used them a number of times.

As always, please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or other networks if you find it useful.

Photo by David Ashford

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Organization: Where Do I Start?

Resources

Recently I pulled together some key ideas to use when getting organized into a post, “Organization: Useful Principles,” and I promised to follow up with links to organization posts on this site and with a book recommendation.

I’ll start with the book recommendation, which is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Allen offers an extremely well-designed approach to organizing task lists and taking care of items on that list: you can get more information on his book in my post “Useful Book: Getting Things Done.”

As to articles on this site, here are some that I hope you might find especially useful:

Task organization
Don’t Use Your Inbox as a To Do List
Weed Out Task Lists With the 2-Minute Rule
My Top 1 Task
Why Tasks Lists Sometimes Fail 

Attitude and emotions
Effective Organization and Filing Are … Fun???
Relieving Stress by Understanding Your Inputs
4 Ways to Make Sure You Get a Task Done 

Organizing papers
Why bother organizing papers?
The Eight Things You Can Do With a Piece of Paper 

Decluttering
Digging Out, Cleaning Up, Uncluttering, and Getting Organized: Let’s Start With a Link
What Our Garage Sale Taught Me About Decluttering My Mind
Some Tips for Getting Rid of Things

E-mail
How I’m Keeping My E-mail Inbox Empty
Free Online E-mail to Help You Keep a Clean Inbox
My Empty E-mail Inbox, 10 Weeks Later 

General principles
Organization: Useful Principles
How Exceptions Cripple Organization
Why Organization Improves Motivation, and Some Organization Tips
Little by Little or Big Push?

Photo once again by Rubbermaid Products

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The Pareto Principle: Useful, Essential, or Just Another Distraction?

Strategies and goals

A recent post on Lifehacker, “Work Less and Do More by Applying the Pareto Principle to Your Task List,” reminds us of an idea that could be the secret to enormous productivity or just another mirage. Perhaps it’s a revelation for some people and a waste of time for the others. I’m talking about the Pareto Principle.

Pay 20, get 80?
The Pareto Principle is the idea that 80% of the useful results we get in life arise from only 20% of our efforts. It’s a tantalizing idea, and it seems to apply to a lot of different situations. It’s named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of its population. It seems to apply to much more than economics, though, having cropped up in business, health care, software engineering, investing, criminology, and elsewhere. Some research even suggests that it’s a sort of naturally emerging dynamic, something that arises on its own in the natural world.

And yet … your mileage may vary. Is everybody on approximately the same level of inefficiency? Do we all prioritize the same way?

For a parallel, consider Stephen King’s usual approach to writing: he generates a rough draft without being concerned too much about having some sections that don’t pull their weight, but then edits to cut out about 10%. Contrarily, a number of pro writers I know typically see their work expand when they edit it, and often this is a significant improvement.

Wait a minute …
Even setting aside individual differences, I’m dubious about the Pareto Principle being a basic law of the universe. For example, let’s look at traditional employment: does 80% of the income come from 20% of the work time? Absolutely not. It could be argued that in some cases 80% of the benefit to the company comes from 20% of the work performed, but even that only holds up in special circumstances. It doesn’t for teachers, for instance, who in addition to passing along knowledge also provide an environment and structure in which kids can ideally grow and learn throughout the school day. It doesn’t apply to assembly line workers, or to farmers. In fact, the kinds of work where it seems to apply are the ones that are mainly about making choices and not much else. Maybe 80% of your investment income comes from 20% of your investments. Maybe 80% of your published writing comes from the best 20% of your writing ideas. Perhaps 80% of your impact as a middle manager at a widget manufacturing concern comes from 20% of your efforts. Elsewhere, it gets iffy.

And we can’t make good decisions all the time. While I certainly agree with focusing on the most important tasks and on the most impactful decisions, it hasn’t seemed to be the case in the world that people know which of their efforts will pay off in advance–and even when they do, they often have a lot of hard work to do to get to that payoff.

An example that refutes by agreeing
For example, this blog currently gets an average of something over 13,000 views per month. It’s certainly true that a small number of my posts are responsible for most of the search hits on the site: for example, “24 Ways to Stop Feeling Hungry” accounts for a big percentage of those 13,000-odd views. It’s also true, however, that the prominence of “24 Ways to Stop Feeling Hungry” on search engines is based in part on the general popularity of the site and the number of links to it from other places on the Internet, and those factors in turn are based on the hundreds and hundreds of posts I’ve written and published over the years this blog has been online.

So Pareto adherents might point to my blog and say “Look, this one post is responsible for a huge percentage of your visits” without understanding that that post alone would be little use without the rest of the site to support it.

To take another example, consider the non-fiction book contract I once got through the agent I got through the writing group I established from people I met attending two writing workshops. Where was the wasted time there? The writing workshops? The writing group? Getting the agent? Writing the book? I’m thinking the answer is “none of the above.”

To put it more simply and pragmatically: a lot this stuff is connected. Should we busy ourselves blindly with trivia day in and day out in hopes that it will all amount to something? Hell, no. On the other hand, we can’t get far by cherry-picking among our own efforts and trying to stick to only those with big payoffs. A sustainable, rewarding life is built on a lot of little payoffs, with big payoffs helping out now and again. The 20% of our efforts that seems to be making the biggest difference in our lives doesn’t stand alone.

Prioritization is the point
With that said, though, I think there’s a valuable point in the Pareto Principle material: it’s well worth comparing how much effort we’re putting in to how much value we think that effort creates. If you spend hours each day doing social media for your business but barely get a trickle of customers from that, are you doing it because you think over time it will build up to become a major asset to your business, or simply because people keep saying everyone ought to do social media? If I do writing exercises every morning instead of working on saleable material, is that necessarily helping my writing so much that it’s worth the lost opportunities?

What about you? Do you see a lot of 80/20 opportunities in your life? Or does the Pareto Principle not seem to hold water for you?

Graphic by igrigorik

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A Cure for Task List Avoidance

Techniques

Our culture has a love-hate relationship with task lists. Many of us make them, use them for a while, then eventually start avoiding them, trying not to think about how out of date they’re getting and what there might be on them that we really ought to be doing.

Or we try to do without task lists, using sticky notes and flagged e-mails and calendar reminders and stacks of papers that need something done with them and all kinds of other systems, only to find that there are still a lot of tasks we need to keep in our head, which keep spurring anxiety because when we don’t have time to do them right away, we worry we’ll forget about them completely: parking tickets, birthdays, that leak in the basement, finding out what that weird charge on the phone bill was, getting cholesterol checked …

Some background: all about task lists
I won’t go into a complete discussion of why I think the solution to this is a single, well-organized task list with categories, because I’ve already talked about a lot of basic task list issues in other posts, and I don’t want to waste your time with repetitions. If you haven’t read them yet, though, here are some articles from the wayback machine:

Why Task Lists Fail
4 Ways to Make Sure You Get a Task Done
The Eight Things You Can Do With a Piece of Paper
Getting Rid of the Little, Distracting Tasks
My Top 1 Task
Weed Out Task Lists With the 2-Minute Rule
Don’t Use Your Inbox as a To Do List
Useful Book: Getting Things Done
How I’m Keeping My E-mail Inbox Empty

When things start to slide
But even if you’ve followed my recommendations in these articles, do you ever find that your task management begins to slide–that you start falling back on notes or keeping things in your inbox, or you spawn new areas of your task list into which you throw tasks blindly, or you just try to keep everything in your head? Every once in a while this happens to me, so if it doesn’t sound familiar, my hat’s off to you. If it does sound familiar, though, then I may be able to offer an easy way out. All it takes is a little focus and time; it’s very low-stress.

The key is that a complete task management system relies on a certain amount of faith: you have to have faith that you’re actually going to get to at least some of the most important tasks on your list. If you lose confidence, if you start thinking you’re going to miss something on the list, then you may stop putting your more important items on the list, reasoning that it’s better to be a little flexible about what goes on the list than to risk not getting things done. As soon as you do that, you have a reason to avoid your list, because some of your most pressing tasks aren’t even on it, and this snowballs.

Or it can happen the other way around: you feel a little rushed and jot a few tasks on sticky notes or try to just keep them in memory, and then you realize that your list is no longer reliable and you lose confidence in it.

Fixing task list confidence
What’s the fix? Go back to basics, put your faith in your list, get everything on it, and pay attention to your list regularly. The steps are pretty easy:

  1. Whenever you think of something you need to do (or would like to do) that isn’t on the list, put on the list right away. If you can’t always do that, then you need a different system: it doesn’t help to have a task list that you can’t add to in real time.
  2. Keep a very small number of do-these-soonest items set apart. You can do this by assigning priorities, establishing a “very short-term tasks” category, tagging these top items, or any other means that works for you, but you need to be able to identify your top four to eight tasks. Any more than that and you’ll have a hard time doing the next step.
  3. Put the task you want to get done first at the top of the list. Ideally, put the task in order from want-to-get-done-first on down, though it’s really that top task that’s essential.
  4. As you get tasks done, bring more tasks into the “very short-term tasks” set and keep putting the next task you want to get done first at the top of the list.
  5. Don’t put important tasks anywhere else: just on your list. Between adding tasks, looking tasks up, and crossing tasks off, you’ll be forced to
  6. Visit your task list regularly, so that it never starts getting out of date.
  7. Finally, do maintenance on your task list, re-prioritizing and recategorizing as necessary, checking in on your pending items, deleting items that it turns out you don’t have to or want to do after all. This should be don’t-think-about-it work, which you do separately from actually getting your tasks done (except that if you have some very quick tasks, it’s often more efficient to do them then and there, if you have any time at all, than to keep shuffling them around–even if they’re not very high priority). This seventh step is optional: if you maintain a good “very short-term tasks” group and keep choosing one of those tasks to go to the top, the rest of your task list can be a mess–but it being in good order makes keeping the “very short-term tasks” group up to date much easier.

Worried it won’t get done? Overwhelmed by the list?
This solution solves two distinct problems: anxiety about not getting tasks done and being overwhelmed by everything on your list.

The anxiety is alleviated by identifying that top task. If it really is the thing you should be doing first, then you don’t have to worry that you’re neglecting something more important. By contrast, if you didn’t have a top task, then you might be tempted to pick off the most inviting or easy-looking tasks, or to avoid your task list altogether because of not wanting to face the worry.

The feeling of being overwhelmed is taken away when you just ask yourself simple questions like “Does this belong in my list of very short-term tasks?” and “Which of this handful of tasks should I do first?” Just like going through e-mail or papers, going through a task list can be especially stressful if you look at it as a whole, because no one can do a whole bunch of things at once (see “How to Multitask, and When Not To“). By simply going through your items in the order you find them, you can make individual decisions that are easier and more pleasant than trying to grapple with a stack of decisions could ever be.

Photo by heymrlady

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Don’t Use Your Inbox as a To Do List

Strategies and goals

Let’s say an important e-mail arrives in your inbox, a message you have to reply to at length or do something about. You don’t want to forget about it, but you can’t take care of it right away, so what do you do? Put a star or a flag on it? Re-mark it unread? Put a post-it note up? Just hope for the best?

E-mail inboxes are lousy to do lists. An item in an inbox might have to do with one major task, a bunch of tasks, a task that could be done very quickly (like a one-sentence reply), or no task at all. It’s very hard to prioritize and sort them. Trying to use e-mails as reminders is kind of like trying to use a cat as a rolling pin: you might be able to make it work, but the process is going to be painful and you might not be happy with the results.

Taming my inbox
Almost a year and a half ago, I finally figured out how to keep my e-mail inbox empty. I don’t know if e-mail affects you the same way it does me, but it used to be that I’d go into my e-mail and immediately feel exhausted by the massive list of subjects I’d left lying around in my inbox. I’d look at the newest things, maybe delete some unimportant notices or spam messages, read anything quick and appealing, and mentally designate other messages to follow up on later.

“Later” would sometimes take weeks. Sometimes it would never come at all.

So e-mails languished in my inbox, growing from tens to hundreds to thousands, a huge mishmash of messages from friends I really wanted to hear from, junk mail, reminders of things to do (or that I had already done, or had let slip past), information I needed, and a lot of other noise. Just looking at it was enough to destroy my motivation for doing anything about it. The job always seemed too big until I finally figured out how it could be done early last year: see “How I’m Keeping My E-mail Inbox Empty.” My e-mail box was still empty 10 weeks later, and it’s empty today too, though it’s had periods where ten to twenty messages accumulated for a while when I wasn’t being completely vigilant.

(By the way, for a recommendation on free, Web-based e-mail that lends itself to keeping an empty inbox–GMail is no good for this, I’m afraid–see my post “Free Online E-mail to Help You Keep a Clean Inbox.”)

Neat is good, but functional is better
Even with this e-mail organizational systems, I’ve still had trouble sometimes keeping on top of tasks that show up in my inbox. Some have languished in my Reply/Act folder for much too long, while others have been attended to when they weren’t the highest priority at the moment just to get them out of the way. Since I keep a separate task system, having tasks in e-mail too meant that I had to go back and forth between the two systems and try to decide which one had the most important task at the moment. That’s distracting, demotivating, and a pain in the neck. The best way to get things done is to know the one thing you’re going to do next and focus your energies on it alone. Prioritizing tasks needs to be something you can do once and then be done with, not something you have to reevaluate every time you finish something up and are looking for the next priority.

(For how and why to get organized with a kind of task list that actually works, see “Why Organization Improves Motivation, and Some Organization Tips,” “My Top 1 Task,” “Weed Out Task Lists With the 2-Minute Rule,” “Why Task Lists Fail,” and “Useful Book: Getting Things Done.”)

Making tasks out of e-mails
So what’s the solution? It’s a pretty simple one, actually: when you have an e-mail that needs further action, and when you can’t do that action right away, make a task to remind you to take care of that e-mail (making a note of the e-mail you have on the subject, for reference), then prioritize that task in your task list. If you don’t have a task list, read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done  and start one. It will make your life happier and simpler, believe me.

This approach works regardless of whether you keep an empty inbox like I do.

I know that making tasks for e-mails may feel like extra work, but the amount of effort involved is hardly anything, and keeping everything in your task list means the end of a lot of distraction, annoyance, and potential anxiety from having to remember and review multiple places that each might have things needing to be done. If you prefer not to go to the trouble of keeping a clean inbox, this approach even frees you from having to worry about whether your inbox is empty or not because you no longer have to worry you’ll forget about the important e-mails buried in with all the other stuff.

Photo by Darcie

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On Mental Paralysis and Choosing Tasks at Random

Resources

Gustav at the Fiction-Writing Directorate offers this useful-and-weirdly-entertaining post: “The Phrenologist’s Apprentice: The Directorate Guide to Getting Enough Done,” which John Burridge kindly pointed out in comments to a recent post of mine.

The pitfall of the article above is the danger of getting the wrong things done, as described in the post John replied to (“When Being Productive is Just Another Way to Procrastinate“), but it still makes a fair point. Gustav offers this discussion of the pitfall:

“Absurd!” Frederick cried. “Why, if I picked tasks at random—“

“—With synchronicity,” I corrected.

“With synchronicity,” he continued, “how could I ensure that important tasks would get done?”

“I understand your skepticism,” I said. “But it seems to me that you spend all your time weeping and paralyzed, so nothing is getting done, important or otherwise. Is that not true?”

He nodded, ashamed.

“This way, you will achieve at least a modicum of success. However, I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised at how often this method presents you with precisely the right task. Synchronicity, lad.”

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When Being Productive is Just Another Way to Procrastinate

Strategies and goals

Too many tasks
One of the problems with having a lot of things to do is that the stress of not doing the rest of your tasks can make it hard to focus on any one task. For instance, if I have edits to complete on a writing project and I also need to finish my bimonthly budget (I keep a budget in a spreadsheet to get a better idea of where my money’s about to go), working on either task can be difficult because I worry about needing to complete the other.

This problem gets much worse when there are a lot more than two things that should be done right away. Having recently taken several vacation days to spend time with family members, I’ve come back to my tasks this week facing just this kind of situation.

Fortunately, there’s a solution: if I can get truly involved and engaged in one task (like writing this post, for instance), my focus on that task can prevent other issues from distracting me. This is a very good solution to the problem, but it contains one pitfall: picking the wrong task.

Picking the wrong task
If I have a list of things that need to be done, and if I notice one that particularly catches my interest, start in on that one, get engaged with it, and see it through to completion, that’s great–unless that task isn’t high on my priority list, in which case it’s progress of a kind, but it’s also preventing me from getting my top tasks finished.

An example: if I have edits one a writing piece that are due tomorrow, checks that need to be sent out today, and an upcoming appointment that needs to be rescheduled, it’s all too easy for me to look at my task list and see an item like “Research Google+” (a useful thing to do in terms of keeping abreast of important social computing and Internet promotion developments) and get caught up in that. As useful as the research may be, by the time I’m done it may be too late to reschedule my appointment, I may not get the checks in the mail on time, and/or I might miss my writing deadline. My productivity has actually caused me harm in this case.

The worst thing about this kind of problem is that it uses some of the best motivational tools and therefore feels really good. While I’m doing the not-important task, I may be getting excited and engrossed. I may be highly productive and focused, all while working on a truly useful task. And yet I’m shooting myself in the foot.

Picking the right task
What’s the solution? Turning my attention to the single most important task I have to do and getting engaged with that instead. Does this mean that my enthusiasm and energy that I’ve just started to put into the lower-priority task are lost? Sadly, yes. Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and changing tasks generally means getting out of our previous mindset and getting into a new one, which is not a trivial (or instantly reversible) process.

Yet the payoffs of taking care of the most important and/or pressing things first are great, and this kind of change is well worth the effort.

How to change focus to a different task
One good way to quickly get interested in a different task is to do it in very small, easily-tackled steps, not forcing anything. The first question to ask ourselves is “What would the single most beneficial task be that I could do right now, all things considered?” If there are so many tasks that it’s difficult to pick just one,  one option is to make a list of the front runners and then pick the top task for the moment from that list–that is, to narrow down the field. It sometimes helps to remind ourselves that we can only really do one thing effectively at a time, so our job is only to focus on the one best choice for the moment.

With that top task chosen, there are a couple of ways to proceed easily, depending on the kind of task. If it’s something that requires a series of known steps, then it can work very well to just ask ourselves “What’s the next small step I would take if I wanted to get this task done now?” Whether it’s taking out a file, looking up a phone number, getting the shovel out of the garage, or opening a document in a word processing program, choosing the smallest possible task makes getting started on that task fairly easy. From there the process can be repeated until we feel engaged and have some momentum.

The other way to proceed, which is helpful for tasks that don’t readily break down into easy steps, is to ask “What would it look like if I were working constructively on this?” Imagining ourselves working on the task activates a lot of the same mental processes we use to actually do the task. Getting focused on the task in this way makes it much easier to get started.

Look to the top
Regardless of how we involve ourselves in our top tasks, the key takeaway is that focusing on something low-priority can sap energy, time, focus, and success away from the things that really need to get done, leading to a sense of working hard and still always being behind. Mastering the habit of looking to our top priorities first will nip this kind of constructive procrastination in the bud.

Photo by dsevilla

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Steve Bein on Handling Multiple Projects

Self-motivation examples

Steve in Antarctica in 2008

Here’s a response my friend and collaborator Dr. Steve Bein, a professor of philosophy, black belt, martial arts teacher, Writers of the Future winner, and adventurer whose first novel comes out (I believe) next year gave to a question about handling multiple projects at once.  The context was writing specifically, but the advice seems to apply much more broadly than that.

I’ll give the advice I followed when writing my dissertation: write whatever’s easiest that day. Writing a dissertation is a huge pain in the ass, but if you write whatever’s easiest on any given day, sooner or later you will get the hardest part written too. (Sooner or later today’s hardest part becomes easier than some future, harder part.)

The primary problem this solves is that of motivation. You always get to feel like you’re getting away with something, and you always get to feel like you’re making forward progress.

The above is actually the second-most important piece of advice I could give you, and it only works if you follow the most important advice, which is this: WRITE EVERY DAY. No exceptions, not even your birthday.

As Steve has successfully completed projects like short stories, novels, philosophy papers, and a PhD dissertation, I feel he knows whereof he speaks.

Steve in the desert in Namibia, 2010

Photos courtesy of Steve Bein

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Why Happiness Is Key

States of mind

As we wrap up 2010 and look toward all the new things that will come around in 2011, I’d like to offer a goal for the coming year: happiness.

Pursuing happiness might seem frivolous, or selfish, or distracting, but there’s a good argument for it being the single most important thing to seek in life. Happiness is more important than beauty, because what use is it to be beautiful but miserable? For the same reasons happiness can be seen as more important than wealth, success, recognition, and pleasure. To put it another way, it doesn’t much matter what we have or which of our wishes are fulfilled if our possessions and fulfilled wishes don’t make us happy … since in that case what good are these things?

Even health is arguably less important than happiness, since living a long, miserable life appears to be less rewarding than living a short, happy life.

To take a pot shot at my own argument, though, it’s true that sometimes our possessions, abilities, and advantages can be used for other people’s benefit. For instance, money can be used to buy food, clothing, a home, and better education for children. This same argument can be widened to the question of helping others in general, and to compassion: surely it’s not good to be happy if happiness makes others miserable or prevents us from helping others?

However, I would point out that in most cases happiness makes us more able to reach out, improves our influence on others’ moods (see “How Other People’s Happiness Affects Our Own“), and provides a means to improve our willpower (see “Willpower as Caring About Lasting Happiness“). It’s also true that doing good works for others is one of the most powerful ways to make ourselves happy, as shown in numerous studies. For example, in one study it was found that people were better able to increase their happiness by spending money on someone else than by spending the same amount of money on themselves.

So compassion and helping others may or may not be more important than happiness, but since they tend to go hand in hand with happiness, it’s not particularly important to choose between helping and happiness.

With all of that in mind, why not make happiness your number one priority in 2011? I don’t necessarily mean pleasure or fun (see “The difference between pleasure and happiness“), but true happiness: satisfaction and joy with your actions and choices and life.

Or to put it another way: have a very, very happy New Year!

Luc

photo by Dawn Ashley

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