1. Learn to Love Your Solids
A long time ago, a wise man named J.D. Salinger wrote that "the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid." This is wonderfully accurate metaphor, of course, but the result of it is often to make us long for—and only for—joy, mostly because when you compare the two qualities, both happiness and its analogy, solids, seem a little staid. Salinger seems to imply that we want to go for joy, for a feeling that's fluid and cool. Liquids, however, also run right through your fingers when you try to hold them.
Which is why I suggest we treat unsexy, dependable, solid happiness with equal reverence. Joys will come; they always do: Babies are born, romances discovered in the line at Kinko's. But happinesses come more often. They plunk down in your life—a deviled egg at lunch, a friend who crank-calls you on your birthday every year for 21 years, a dog who will sleep by your feet on freezing winter nights—and never lose their appeal. You can even make them happen—for example, by buying yourself a huge bunch of peach blossoms and walking down the street.
2. Don't Detonate the Sleep Grenade
There's something incredibly detrimental to our contentment that so many of us do just before bed—open the email in-box that one last time. It doesn't matter if you get a scathing order from your boss or an excited missive from your friend who just can't wait to see you at the music festival next weekend! When it comes to sleep, thrilled is the same as upset, stressed or nervous. You're going to feel as if you've got to do something that can't be done right now, that's got to be first on the agenda in the a.m. Which only means you'll stay up until the a.m., waiting to get started. And remember, in the dictionary of life, "tired" is a synonym for "unhappiness."
3. Change Your Color Scheme
It's a little-known fact, but Gayle King uses the color yellow in her life as much as possible." Why? Because "It's impossible to see yellow and not feel happy." She's painted her kitchen yellow, wears yellow shoes and buys yellow picture frames. But you don't have to do any of that to believe in her maxim. Look at a daffodil. Look at a little dish of melted butter right before you dip a crab claw into it. Look at butterscotch candies. Why else would generation after generation of grandmothers carry these particular sweets around in their purses just in case they meet a random crying child on the street?
4. Kill Every Single Damn Germ
Nobody wants to be that crazy lady squirting herself with antibacterial lotion every two seconds. Then again, nobody's very blissed out when they've got a cold.
5. Indulge in Mindlessly Learning
I used to think that there was only one way to get through boring, repetitive chores like folding laundry, chopping the pesky ends off green beans and driving long distances to see in-laws—music so loud and bass-heavy it physically compelled the molecules in my muscles to keep moving whether I wanted to or not. Now that I'm older, I have a new strategy—podcasts that teach me a little something I'm not really trying to learn. In other words, subjects about which I want to know more but for which I’m just not willing to do the work and suffering so requisite to total mastery. For example, Italian. Listening to rolled R's and graceful alloras while preparing the kids' school lunches makes you feel just the right level of minor but satisfying self-improvement. After one mindless early morning session, you can say thank you for everything you've got (even the jar of creamy peanut butter) in another language—or better yet, fantasize ordering a latte at a café in Rome, where you are served the sandwich. On a plate. With a napkin.
Next: The one thing everyone needs