Habits of the Happy

By Jim Tune

Do you have habits you swear by? A daily routine you adhere to that you’re confident boosts your productivity or well-being? I have a hard time making certain disciplines stick.

05_Tune_JNIn his autobiography, Ben Franklin famously outlined a daily routine to ensure productivity, efficiency, and “moral perfection.”

The mornings began with a question: “What good shall I do this day?” The early morning hours (between 5 and 7 a.m.) consisted of rising, washing, and reciting a morning liturgy containing a now-famous prayer he had written: “O powerful Goodness! Bountiful Father! Merciful Guide! Increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. . . . Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favours to me.”

Franklin would then eat breakfast and “continue that day’s business.” Four hours of work would follow between 8 a.m. and noon. From noon until 1 p.m., Franklin would read, look over his accounts, and eat. The next four hours would find him back at work.

Evenings were also disciplined, but pleasant. The hours of 6 through 10 p.m. allowed Franklin an opportunity to, in his own words, “Put things in their places. Supper. Music or diversion, or conversation. Examination of the day.” Bedtime usually came after reflecting on the question, “What good have I done today?” Then, hopefully, Franklin would enjoy six to seven hours of sleep. A good day.

Each week was devoted to a singular virtue. His efforts would be applied to cultivating moderation, temperance, cleanliness, or some similar noble characteristic. He figured that if he could maintain his devotion to one virtue for an entire week, it would become a habit that would lead to complete reformation requiring only periodic bouts of moral maintenance thereafter. Franklin was certainly productive, but his moral reformation was admittedly less successful!

In her fun book The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin attempts to organize and implement a yearlong project designed to increase productivity, family life, health, and ultimately, happiness. To boost energy, Rubin dedicated the month of January to the formation of better sleeping habits and exercise. February included these marital goals: quit nagging, don’t expect praise or appreciation, and fight right. Other months focused on parenthood, friendship, mindfulness, etc. Rubin was less intense than Franklin. Her days were not scheduled to the last hour. She gave the entire month of May to leisure, or getting “serious about play.”

Did her efforts work? Did she achieve a system for happiness? In Rubin’s case, she discovered contentment as she simply began to appreciate and amplify the happiness that already existed in her life.

I don’t know if Franklin’s “rule of life” made him any happier, however both Franklin and Rubin turned their system into some very good books! Both reminded me of the words of the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24: “I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God” (New Living Translation).

Maybe it’s just that simple—the things we need for happiness are already in our grasp—found in the mundane rather than the spectacular. I shouldn’t need a system to realize that.

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