Variety is the Spice of Life

[fr] De l'importance de varier les choses que l'on fait pour être heureux, les façons dont on s'organise, et le type d'article qu'on publie sur son blog. La routine ne tue pas seulement le couple. Vous avez d'autres exemples?

I’m in India. I’m reading “The How of Happiness“. The two are completely unrelated aside from the fact they come together to give me the title of this article.

Spice
Photo credit: Sunil Keezhangattu/Flickr

Don’t let the slightly corny title put you off as it did me, The How of Happiness is an excellent, solid, well-researched and practical book.

I don’t want to delve into the details of the book, but just share with you something that has fallen into place for me during the last week. It has to do with variety.

You see, in her book, Sonja Lyubomirsky doesn’t only go through the various things you can do to make yourself happier, or help you pick those that seem the best fit for you: she also insists on the necessity of varying the way you put them into practice.

The example that really made this point hit home for me was the one on “counting your blessings” (yes, corniness warning, directly from the author herself, but don’t let that stop you).

First, the test groups who were asked to write down the things they were thankful for 3 times a week ended up seeing less improvement in their happiness than those that were asked to do it only once a week. Doing it only once a week makes it more of an event and keeps boredom/immunisation at bay.

Second, even then, Sonja Lyubomirsky invites the reader to not do it in the same way every week. By writing, by conversation with a friend, upon certain occasions, about certain areas of your life, or in yet a different manner, so that it remains a meaningful practice. (Page 97, if you want to look it up directly.)

This immediately reminded me of a flash of insight I had one day walking in the mountains around my chalet. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but I can see the road I was on and I remember the insight quite clearly.

Update: I found the article I wrote at the time, it was in 2009!

I was thinking of the different ways in which I had got organized, and how I seemed to become “immune” to a given method after some time had passed. The flash of insight was this: “maybe I just need to keep on finding new ways of getting organized.” I brushed off the idea, because it wasn’t comfortable, and wrote it down to the need to have different techniques for different contexts. For example, there are times when I’m more stressed than others. Times when I have more work than others. Times when I feel productive, and times when I need to kick myself down the two floors from the flat to the coworking space to get to work. Even my recent musings on freeform versus structured work go in that direction.

But in fact, I was right. Just like it’s important to vary “happiness activities/techniques” to prevent habituation (or worse, boredom), I think it’s important to vary one’s organization methods. Or at least, for me, it is. And it could well be because there is a “happiness” component for me in the act of getting organized. I like the feeling of being on top of things, of finding solutions to be productive despite my built-in procrastination engine, of learning how I function, of coming up with strategies to prioritize and get things done. And maybe — maybe — for me, trying to find one method that I can just stick to is a big mistake.

Another area I’ve recently connected “variety is the space of life” to is blogging. I’ve been hanging out with the communication team at Wildlife SOS these last days, volunteering a bit of my time and expertise to help them make better use of social media.

As I was inviting them to vary the type of article they publish on their blog (at the moment, almost all the stories are animal rescue stories), I realized that this was another example of this theme at work: “variety is the spice… of reader engagement?”

Even if as a reader, animal rescue stories are my favourites, I will actually enjoy them more if they stand out against other types of articles. And for another reader, the favourites might very well be “behind the scenes” articles or “get to know the team” ones.

By publishing only one type of “top post”, one turns it into the “average post”. Add a sprinkle of intermittent reward to the mix, and you’ll probably positively influence the way readers perceive your content. Isn’t it more exciting to head over to a blog which might or might not reward you with a new article, which might or might not be the type that moves you most?

Now think about relationships: don’t we say that routine is the biggest love-killer? Oh, some habits are nice — but you also want new stuff, changes from the habitual, different way of being together and relating to one another. Surprises. The unexpected. This is nothing new.

So, let me summarize. Variety is the spice of life. Not only should you flee excessive routine in your marriage or relationship, but also in the following areas:

  • activities that make you happy
  • how you get organized (work, and probably life too)
  • the kind of content you publish on your blog

Can you think of other areas where it’s a little counter-intuitive, but it actually turns out to be really important to add variety to the way you do things?

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This entry was posted in Blogging, Books, Life Improvement and tagged blog, book, content, happiness, india 2011, insight, organisation, routine, the how of happiness, variety. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Variety is the Spice of Life

  1. Wilmer says:

    He knows I like your articles as published, so varied, I share with you as is your post explains it, is quite right in saying that one should perform different things, one should not be stuck on one thing, it is stressful and boring, all humans need to change our routines of life we ​​have to be better physically and psychologically with the family. Thanks for the content I like.

  2. In my case it’s arts – poetry and taking photos. You see I love to work in industrial photography, but since moving to UK I love local gardens and have the luck to live in a pretty place too. I love learning garden photography to later go back to my pipes, roofs and metal corners of buildings and re-discover my original passion. It does help to move out of our usual boxes to see more and learn a new perspective on something we assume we are familiar with already.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Stephanie.

    Variety is the spice of life – for some. I happen to love surprises. For some of my clients, though, the very mention of the word triggers the stress response. The amygdala is remembering a surprise that was far from pleasant. Quick as a heartbeat, they’re soaking in 1400 chemicals, courtesy of a pre-historic nervous system. Learning to press “pause” and activate a different part of the brain – the pre-frontal cortex – allows them to think through and regale in the variety of spices that life dishes up.

    The How of Happiness has just been added to my reading list. I’m looking forward to seeing what my take-aways will be.

    Thanks for a great post!

  5. Thanks for the comment, Marianna! I don’t think I’d equate “variety” here with “surprises” — I was thinking more along the lines of having more than one tool in your toolbox and not being a one-trick poney for yourself. Doesn’t have to be surprising, but more along the lines of “I’m not going to eat the same meal every day” ;-)

    See what I mean?

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