11/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

6 Contradictions That Will Help You Be Happier

My nine-year-old daughter is fascinated by anything that smacks of paradox. Just yesterday, she noticed that a bank statement that I'd left on the kitchen table had a page that said, "This page intentionally left blank." "Look, Mom!" she said gleefully. "It can't be labeled that it was 'left blank.' It's not blank, it has that notice printed on it!"

As I've worked on my Happiness Project, I've been struck by the paradoxes I keep confronting. The opposite of a great truth is also true. I try to embrace these contradictions:

1. Accept yourself, but expect more of yourself.
2. Keep an empty shelf, and keep a junk drawer.
3. Take yourself less seriously--and take yourself more seriously.
4. Use your time efficiently, yet make time to play, to wander, to read at whim, to fail.
5. Think about yourself so you can forget yourself.
6. The days are long, but the years are short.

Often, the search for happiness means understanding both sides of the contradiction.

Take, for example, Item #1 above. W. H. Auden articulates beautifully this tension: "Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity."


Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you'd like to take a look at Gretchen Rubin's Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email her at grubin, then the "at" sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.