A Secret to Happiness: Clean Off My Desk

One of the big insights I’ve gained from my happiness project is that for me (as for many people),outer order contributes to inner calm. I feel more serene and cheerful if my apartment and office aren’t too messy.

Something else I’ve learned from my happiness project is to be wary whenever I have the urge to “treat” myself, because often my treats don’t make me happy in the long run. One of my “treats” is to let piles of papers, clothes, books, and dishes pile up – which does indeed end up making me feel less happy.

When I need to to calm myself, I take an hour and clean my office. I did this a few days ago. I’d been under some pressure, and I’d let it become a wreck, because I wasn’t taking the time to put anything away. I kept putting off little tasks, thinking, “It’s more important to answer my emails,” “I need to get this little piece written first,” “I need a break, I don’t want to deal with this now,” but finally, I got down to it.

I set aside an hour and tackled the mess. Methodically I entered reading notes, copied information, filed, wrote emails, tossed papers, took coffee cups to the kitchen, etc. One of my daily habits is to take notes on a scratch pad – mostly to-do reminders – and these pile up quickly. I worked my way through the items on those sheets so I could toss them out.

I even dusted.

This morning when I came into my office, I felt a shock of relief. All those clean surfaces! No more stacks of papers and books teetering on the edge of the desk! No more feeling harassed by uncompleted tasks! It gave me a real boost.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, “It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

Or are you one of those folks who is oblivious to clutter? Take this quiz to find out.

If you want to read more about this, read The Happiness Project, chapters on “Boost Energy” and “Buy Some Happiness,” and Happier at Home, chapter on “Possessions.” (Can’t resist adding: both New York Times bestsellers.)

  • Are you interested in launching a group for people doing happiness projects together? These groups have sprung up all over the world. Intrigued? Email me atgretchenrubin1@gretchenrubin.com, and I’ll send you the “starter kit.” Read morehere.

Posted by:Gretchen RubinGretchen Rubin
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