Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?

I’ve always considered myself a pretty happy person, but I’ve definitely had my swings. Some of the happiest times in my life were spent at summer camp. I went to an all-girls summer camp in Maine for eight weeks, from when I was eight to when I was 16. I used to feel a happiness rush the moment I stepped off the bus onto the campgrounds in June. I think it was the knowledge that for the next two months, all that was expected of me was to have fun. Suddenly there wasn’t the pressure of grades, or the social drama that seemed to accompany school. For two months I played sports, acted in the plays, had cookies every day at 10:15, went swimming, and sang a lot of songs. It probably won’t surprise you to read that my best friend in the world went to camp with me, so that increased my happiness plenty. Camp basically provided a double-happiness boost: it removed the stress of trying to excel in school or extra-curriculars that existed in my “regular” life, and gave me 24/7 friend time!

The most unhappy I’ve ever been was when my father died. And even then it wasn’t exactly unhappiness, but sadness, which I’d argue are two different things. I didn’t feel like I had an unhappy existence, I was just dealing with something sad that happened to me. I became happier by letting myself feel the sadness, and grieve, and not rush myself to feel better. It didn’t get less sad that my father died, but it became easier to be happy despite having lived through that one crummy thing. It took time. You can’t always force yourself to be happier, I don’t think. You have to let yourself feel unhappy for a bit, and if you recognize your feeling and acknowledge it, you can have your sad moment and then move on.

Do you work on being happier? If so, how?

Yes! All the time. My husband calls them my “kicks.” As in “What kick is Rachel on this time?” Like you, I love having little rules or resolutions that I’ll commit to for a time. Unlike you, Gretchen, I’m not great at always sticking to them. But I try. I love your one-minute rule, for example, though I don’t always remember to adhere to it. I often try out different rules/resolutions and see if they add to my happiness. So that could be as broad as “work out 5 times a week” or as specific as “buy one magazine I’ve never read before whenever I’m in an airport.”

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?

Well, I definitely suffer from the arrival fallacy that you have written about. Whenever I achieve something I’m working for, I tend to already be thinking about the next thing, and thus I don’t get the satisfaction out arriving at the milestone that I should. I’m working on that though. Also, shopping. I often get excited to buy something new—a purse, clothes, a gadget—but once I have that object in my house, it never really gives me the happiness boost I expect.

On the other hand, being a Big Sister (through Big Brothers Big Sisters) is something I decided to do because I thought it would make someone else—my “little”—happy. As it turns out, it might make me happier than it makes him. My husband and I do it together as a couples match, so we have a “little” together. We take him to the movies, the park, the library, or just to lunch. Spending time with our little ALWAYS makes us happy. There’s something about that 10-year-old energy that is infectious, and the feeling that we might be making a positive contribution to his life is amazing. So that’s something I did in order to boost someone else’s happiness, but instead I improved my own.

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Want to sign up for the 2012 Happiness Challenge? The link is ready! Sign up here. Studies suggest that if you take an action, such as signing up, you’re more likely to keep your resolutions. For the Challenge, in a weekly video, I’ll discuss a Pigeon of Discontent to consider tackling as you think about your own happiness. If you’d like to see my personal Resolutions Chart, as an example, email me at [email protected].