10/04/2010 07:52 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Balanced Life -- Why Something as Simple as a Knock on the Door Boosted My Happiness.


I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each post will help you think about your own happiness project.

One of my favorite things about myself is my ability to concentrate intensely. I love to work in a noisy coffee shop. I can read for hours. Once I start a task, it's hard for me to stop until I've finished. But every upside has a downside; I hate to be wrenched out of the state of concentration. External interruptions really annoy me, and I have trouble concealing that.

This issue arises frequently when one of my daughters barges into my office when I'm working. Instead of answering nicely, I snarl at them -- and it makes everyone feel bad.

One of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Identify the problem. I'm often surprised by how effective this is. Instead of thoughtlessly accepting a situation, I ask myself, "What's the problem? What's the problem?" and often by forcing myself to understand the exact nature of the problem, I identify a solution.

So, I've been yelling at my daughters when they came into my office for a couple of years now, and finally I asked myself, "What's the problem?"

"When my daughters interrupt me when I'm writing in my office, I snap at them, and then everyone feels bad."

"Why do I snap?"

"Because I get annoyed when my concentration is broken without warning."

"Why don't I tell them not to come to my office?"

"I like to have them come to my office. I just react badly when they break my focus."

And suddenly I saw the solution, beautiful in its simplicity. The girls should knock!

"Listen," I explained to them. "I know it bothers you when I speak to you in a mean voice when you come up to my office to talk to me. And I'm sorry that I do it, but I can't seem to control it. So let's try something: when you want to talk to me, knock first. Give me a little warning. Maybe that will help me react in a different way."

The girls agreed to give it a try, and they've picked up the habit remarkably quickly. My younger daughter, in particular, is very interested in this innovation. Every time after she knocks and I say sweetly, "Come in," she asks hopefully, "Were you going to say something in a mean voice if I didn't knock?"

This slight change made a surprising difference. Somehow, that brief warning and act of politeness allowed me to change the way I answered -- which has given me a real happiness boost.

Have you ever found a simple solution that helped relieve a longstanding annoyance? What worked for you?

* I really enjoyed this pre-Sesame Street, 1969 footage of Jim Henson talking about puppets and how to make them. First, it's funny to hear Kermit's voice come out of Jim Henson. Second, the slow pace! Gosh, it's relaxing.

* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you'd like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin at gretchenrubin dot com. Just write "Resolutions Chart" in the subject line.