Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness.

Want To Boost Your Happiness? Control Your Exit

“What exactly does that mean?”
I love hearing other people's ideas for resolutions,Personal CommandmentsSecrets of Adulthood, and the like. A while back, when I ran into an old family friend, he said, “Let me tell you one of my personal secrets forhappinessControl your exit."
"'Control your exit?’” I asked blankly. “What exactly does that mean?”
“It means, always be able to leave when you want. Drive yourself to a party instead of getting a ride, so you can leave when you’re ready. Try to go to someone else’s house, or a public place, instead of having people over to your house, because there’s nothing worse than seeing someone lean back and cross their legs when you’re ready to go to bed. Or else have people over to your house before some event – before a dinner reservation or a movie – so you have to leave by a certain time.”
This resolution struck me as a slightly anti-social resolution, but I could see the sense of it. My husband would certainly agree. If he can help it, he never goes to a party on a boat, or on a bus tour, or does anything to put himself in a situation that would prevent him from leaving whenever he wants. He feels trapped and unhappy if he knows he’s stuck.
Relatedly, one of my favorite things about my husband is that he knowswhen to exit. When I'm at a party or any kind of function, I sort of forget that I can leave, and forget to think about when I should leave. If I'm by myself, I often end up staying too long, until I'm over-tired and irritable, but my husband always knows the right time to leave. My favorite example: at our own wedding! At a certain point, he said, "It's time for us to go," and he timed it exactly right.
It occurs to me that “Control your exit” is advice that’s figuratively true, too. For me, a memorable piece of advice from Stephen Covey's classicThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Begin with the end in mind. That is (if I remember correctly), know where you want to go. When you start or do something, maintain a vision of where you’re headed – especially important for people who are considering law school! Friends, don’t go unless you know where you want to end up!
A Secret of Adulthood is that The opposite of a profound truth is also true. In some situations, not controlling your exit would lead to happiness. There’s a lot of happiness to be gained from spontaneity,impulsive adventures, and unpredictable undertakings. Even in those cases, however, it’s better mindfully to embrace this idea of uncertainty – to know that you’re deliberately choosing to give up control of your exit and to take the pathless path – rather than to have it take you unawares.
What do you think? Is a resolution to “Control your exit” more or less likely to lead to happiness? Have you found ways to control your exit? Maybe, as Bill Murray explained in Ghostbusters, of “never getting involved with possessed people,” “Actually, it’s more of a guideline than a rule.”
I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could 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. 
* I collect "life hacks" of all kinds, so I love visiting Parent Hacks -- "parenting tips from the real experts: actual parents." I appreciated this post about Let the Wookie win -- a great resolution. (And a funny little homemade video.)
* Join the happiness conversation on Twitter (@gretchenrubin) and onFacebook. It's great to connect in other places.

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