12/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Why You Should Always Read The Instruction Manual

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.

I was cruising around on one of my very favorite blogs, the fabulous Unclutterer, and I saw a terrific post that caught my eye, Five Classic Clutter-Busting Strategies. It was the admonition to read the instruction manual that really resonated with me. As often happens when I stumble across an important idea, I only realized its brilliance later, but as I've reflected on the advice to "Read the instruction manual," I've realized that it's extremely important, both literally and figuratively.

I'm often frustrated by devices, and I have to go to great efforts not to let my irritation infect my mood. But when I read that post, I realized that a big part of the problem is that I never take the time to read the manual! We recently had to replace our dishwasher, and I feel frustrated by its obscure buttons--but why haven't I taken the time to read the directions? From now on, when I get a new gizmo of any kind, I'm going to push myself to read the instructions carefully. Why should I expect to operate something without learning anything about it?

But "reading the instruction manual" is also good advice on a metaphorical level. One of my happiness-project resolutions is to "Ask for help," and I'm always struck by the fact that 1) I find this surprisingly difficult to do and 2) whenever I do ask for help, it's hugely beneficial. Turns out that getting instructions makes things easier!

Another way to "read the instruction manual" is to give ourselves the time we need to prepare and set up. After all, the reason we skip reading instructions is that we want to jump in and start doing something immediately, without taking the time to prepare. How many of us have been aggravated by the amount of time we have to spend planning a child's birthday party, packing for a trip, or setting up a presentation? It's easy to stint on the "unessential" beginning stages of a task. "Read the instruction manual" is a reminder not to begrudge the time and energy spent on preparation.

Have you had any experiences - good or bad - with "reading the instruction manual"? It's a mystery to me why I'm so reluctant to do this, but I certainly resist.


Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you'd like to take a look at Gretchen Rubin's personal 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.