Make a bad decision last year? Here’s how to cope

When we move from ideas to action, we run the risk of making decisions we regret.

Sometimes regret might seem unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to drag us down. Here’s why regret happens, how to overcome it, and how to make better decisions in the future.

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Bad decisions always have an opposite angle.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Why we feel we’ve made a bad decision

When it comes to decisions that truly have no right or wrong answer—and there are many in the world of doing good—there are three rationales that can cause us to think we’ve made a wrong choice.

Myopic view of the world

We are all just one piece of a much larger puzzle, but it’s easy to lose that perspective when we’re each responsible for so much in our daily lives. When we think of ourselves as more crucial to a situation than we actually are, the weight of regret stemming from a bad decision can grow.

High expectations

In a world of seemingly endless opportunities, it’s easy to build up our expectations. We might want to come up with a genius idea for a life-saving tool, be influential in advocating for a cause, or leave a helpful legacy to an organization we love. Expectations like these can be motivating, but they also greatly raise the stakes to do well—or risk feeling profound regret if we don’t.

Getting stuck on “what if?”

Even after we’ve made a choice we think is good, part of us can still be tempted to dwell on what we didn’t do: “What if I had gone the other way?” Thinking about the routes we didn’t take can easily lead to making us dissatisfied with the ones we did.

How to overcome regret

We all feel regret about a decision from time to time, but if your sadness and guilt are outstaying their welcome, here are some ways to hit “refresh” and redeem yourself.

Put things in perspective

Make it a goal to come to peace with the fact that you can’t change your past decision. To do this, it can be very helpful to focus on the things you learned as a result of your choice, and how you can use those lessons going forward.

Talk it out

Ask for the ear of a friend, family member, or someone else you trust. Speaking to them about your decision and rationales can create a catharsis that will allow you emotional release from your feelings of regret. Also, explaining the details of your choice aloud to someone may help you clarify and better understand why you did what you did.

Think positive thoughts

Norman Vincent Peale’s classic book The Power of Positive Thinking, first published in 1952, isn’t on the bestseller list anymore, but its central idea remains a powerful tool for determining how we feel. Even if you think you have a real reason to be unhappy, you can still choose to be happy.

How to make good decisions

After making a “bad” decision and experiencing regret, it’s time to get back on the horse. Here are some steps you can take to help ensure you feel more confident in your decision-making going forward.

Don’t procrastinate

Yes, it’s good to take time and think thoroughly about your options, but don’t let that be an excuse to not make a decision.

Imagine yourself in each scenario

If you’re deciding between two options, try them both on for a minute. Imagine you’ve chosen option A: what does the result look like? How do you feel in the position it brought you to? Which additional doors did it open, and which did it close? Do the same for option B, and compare the results.

Create a pro and con list to help you evaluate

Write out the benefits and liabilities you can foresee with each option. Then tell family, friends, and mentors about your situation and see if they have any experience or pros and cons to add—they might reveal insights you never would have thought of. (Of course, take any advice as only one slice of your decision-making pie. Don’t let anyone pressure you into a decision you’re uncomfortable with!)

Be confident (or act like it if you aren’t)

Once you make a decision, don’t allow yourself to entertain distracting thoughts of how life might have been if you had gone a different way. Learn to love your choices, and you’ll love your life!

Alicia + PageAlicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for WebpageFX and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land. Her work has been published by the Association for Business Communication, Business Insider, and Ask Miss A. You can find her on Twitter (@Alicia_Lw) and Google+.

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Can cookies connect us? One Minneapolis blogger’s year of happiness experiments

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days.

I used to work as a grant writer for a Minneapolis poverty-fighting organization, and respected the all-encompassing approach they took to their work: meet people’s basic needs for food, housing, education, and employment, and also try to give them hope through encouraging pep talks and personalized action plans.

But I realized over time that our program didn’t really complete the circle. After basic needs and a sense of hope, people also need to have a connection to others, to their community, to thrive instead of just survive.

After realizing this, I reflected on different aspects of connection for a couple of months: how can we foster connection with people, especially strangers? What makes one person feel they can connect with another, and what turns them off? I decided that the best (and most fun) way to answer my questions would be with a public experiment.

I wrote three simple poems that morning:

 

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“Magritte Jennifer” with balloons.
(photo courtesy Jennifer Prod)

“I talk to strangers

hoping to meet

someone like you”

 

“a day without you

is like a morning

without coffee”

 

“your smile

made me forget

my parking ticket”

 

Then I called a screen printer and had them transferred onto large balloons. I filled them with helium and hung them in fun places around the city: attached to a bicycle, wrapped around a doorknob, twisted around a tree trunk.

Now, I can’t speak for the strangers in the street since I never saw them find the balloons, but I did get an amazing response online when I blogged about the experiment—lots of nice comments about how people wished something like that would happen to them, and even more about how they would like to do something similar in their own communities.

The feedback inspired me to plan more extreme “random acts of happiness.” I wanted the next to be interactive so I could gauge its true impact.

I’ve long been a fan of Henry David Thoreau, and try to live by the simple wisdom imparted in his classic book Walden. So this past July, I decided to celebrate America on the 4th, and Thoreau on his birthday, the 12th. I baked cookies to look like Walden Pond, made fun cards out of Thoreau quotes, and threw a little birthday party in the streets of Minneapolis.

Planning the experiment felt similar to throwing a birthday party for a friend. The excitement level was high, and I was anxious to make sure everyone had a good time. But my nerves about the public’s reaction skyrocketed as I walked out the door with cookies and cards in hand. Would anyone be receptive? Would people laugh, or smirk? I steeled myself for the worst and started off down Hennepin Avenue.

The first two people I approached denied my cookies, looked at me askance, and probably thought they had just avoided being poisoned. The third beamed when I mentioned Thoreau and asked if she could have two cookies (of course!). Then a trio of guys came over and asked if I was giving out treats. I told them about Thoreau’s birthday, they said they’d never heard of him, then each took a cookie and a card and walked away, munching happily.

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Jennifer’s Thoreau Birthday Party experiment.
(photo courtesy Jennifer Prod)

I met senior citizens, hipsters, big burly men, and women in sundresses. I talked with some about Thoreau, some about cookies, some about other topics altogether. Overall, I’d estimate that 10% thought I was disguising a kind act as a malicious crime, 20% thought I was weird, and 70% wanted me to meet their mom—not bad!

But I’d say that in 90% of cases, these strangers and I made a genuine, if brief, connection. I reached out with a simple gesture, and most of them reciprocated with kind curiosity. We met on middle ground. Over cookies.

Plus I had more fun talking to a bunch of strangers on the street than a bachelorette has dancing in Vegas.

That night in bed I journaled my ideas for more connection experiments. I wanted to find other ways to make people smile, see whether I could get a participation rate greater than 70%, and, selfishly, continue to feel the levity that comes with creating random acts of happiness.

Since then, I’ve enacted 40 more experiments—ranging from bubblegum competitions in the park to making ice cream with strangers at a lake—and there are 50 more I want to do next year. These random acts have put me in contact with hundreds of new people, let me in on unique stories about my neighbors, and taught me how easy connections can be to make—and how happy and whole they make us feel.

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Jennifer Prod is a blogger who believes in the power of creativity, positivity, and chocolate chip cookies. Most of Jennifer’s project ideas are replicable almost anywhere; if you want to get happy and create some connections, check them out on her blog.

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What I’m reading this fall to help me change the world

Cozy up with a book this fall (Photo Credit: Madeline Tosh, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Didn’t get the chance to dive into your summer reading list? No problem; it’s already back-to-school season, making now the perfect time to get back into the habit of curling up with a good book. For those who may need a few simple suggestions or inspiration to get started, I’ve gathered a few non-fiction titles that sparked my interest as educational reads.

From tips on how to leverage social media to change the world, to a simple feel good tale mixed with important life lessons, here are a handful of books I plan on checking out:

GirlDrive: Criss-crossing America, Redefining Feminism by Emma Bee Bernstein and Nona Willis Aronowitz

Two women, Emma Bee Bernstein and Nona Willis Aronowitz, hit the road in 2007 with an important question to ask young women: what matters to them the most. The authors describe the book as a focus on “how young women grapple with the concepts of freedom, equality, joy, ambition, sex, and love—whether they call it “feminism” or not.” GirlDrive shares the stories of 127 very diverse women through vivid photos, profiles, and diary entries, who all have more in common than expected.

You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets to Happiness by Julie Klam

Julie was thirty, single, and working part-time as an insurance clerk, wondering if she would ever meet the man of her dreams. Then she met Otto, her Boston Terrier. Even though she has made a few additions in her life — her husband and daughter –  she was surprised and delighted to find that her dogs had more wisdom to convey to her than she had ever dreamed. And caring for them has made her a better person-and completely opened her heart. You Had Me at Woof is a humorous account of how one woman discovered life’s most important lessons from her canine companions.

The Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms by Nicolette Niman

Accepting an offer to head an environmental organizations “hog campaign” took Nicolette on a odyssey into the inner workings of the factory farm industry and helped mold her transformation into a environmental lawyer who takes on the big business farming establishment. The book dives into the an industry gone awry and offers a bit of romance when she’s swept off her feet by a cattle rancher.

Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

In this book, Twitter’s head of corporate innovation and philanthropy, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, shares the same strategies she offers to organizations launching cause-based campaigns through Twitter. Twitter for Good is filled with dynamic examples from initiatives around the world and practical guidelines for harnessing individual activism via Twitter as a force for social change.

Have you read any of these? What other books would you recommend?

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Should countries make happiness a priority?

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Should we put more emphasis on being happy? (Photo: Rachel Kramer, Flickr/Creative Commons)

As we reported at the end of last year (“Happy Happy New Year!”), the idea that nations should pay attention not just to Gross National Product (GNP) but also to Gross National Happiness (GNH) has been spreading slowly since it was introduced by the former King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s.

This week, GNH will get more attention at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  During this conference, leaders from around the world will gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to explore how nations can combat poverty while ensuring environmental protection. While the agenda includes an array of topics such as job creation, food security, and sustainable cities, attendees will also try to answer this question:  Are economic measures of growth enough to determine a nation’s well being?

For Bhutan, a landlocked country in South Asia, the answer is still no.  At the conference, Bhutan will present a paper based on the work of its Center for Bhutan Studies, which measures the nation’s GNH. The center examines nine domains of happiness - including health, education, time use, and good governance – and uses the results to craft recommendations for policy makers, NGOs, and businesses. Though it started as an informal alternative to the Gross National Product (GNP), today more civic leaders around the world are wondering if the GNH provides more holistic picture of a community’s wellbeing.

Starting in our communities

Sustainable Seattle used the concept in my hometown to develop a local happiness index through The Happiness Initiative. The project has two components: a set of objective statistics used to create a profile of the region’s progress toward sustainability, and a personal survey that anyone can take. The results of the first survey completed in 2011 (summary shown in a graph on page 10 of The Happiness Report Card [PDF]), reveal that my neighbors feel a strong sense of trust and community support, yet struggle with time balance.  The Happiness Initiative also developed a set a of recommendations for policy makers and community members to tackle the challenges presented in the survey.

The Happiness Initiative is branching out beyond Seattle and attempting to measure the country’s happiness. Their first national survey conducted in March 2012, for example, indicated Americans are more satisfied with the state of the environment, education, arts, and culture than with government and time balance.  The Happiness Initiative is collecting more national data now; you can contribute to the next report yourself here.

What do you think? Should we expand the ways communities — and nations — measure progress and success?

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A happy Happy New Year

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Is your community's "happiness flag" showing signs of wear and tear? (Photo: Rachel Kramer, Flickr/Creative Commons)

How happy are we?

Most everyone would agree that being happy is a good thing—along with the coming of spring, a robust economy, and clean air to breathe. For most nations, there are detailed, current statistics about the weather, the state of the economy, and the atmosphere (not to mention many other things). Statistics about happiness are a little harder to come by.

The government of the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan has made it a priority to measure “Gross National Happiness” as a summary of national wellbeing. Since 2005 a national effort has been underway to assess not just economic activity in the nation (“Gross National Product” in economist-speak), but to attend to data from eight other “domains” that impact people’s lives, such as health, education, community vitality, and cultural resilience. The website GrossNationalHappiness.com provides the official explanation of the project and reports on the results of the calculation of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index for 2010.

There is no such national index for the USA so far. In my hometown, Sustainable Seattle is using the concept to develop a happiness index for communities. The idea is to supplement its other initiatives and build a long-term future of health and well-being. The project has two components: a set of objective statistics that create a profile of a region’s progress toward meeting goals related to sustainability, and a personal happiness survey that anyone can take. At the end of the survey, each respondent’s answers are compared to the overall response from all survey-takers. Food for thought as a new year begins.

No such thing as personal happiness?

For his 2008 book The Geography of Bliss, reporter Eric Weiner visited nine varied countries, looking for the happiest place on earth. He found some very disappointing spots, including one place where people “derive more pleasure from their neighbor’s failure than their own success. I can’t imagine anything less happy.”

In contrast, when he talked with Bhutanese scholar Karma Ura, he heard “There is no such thing as personal happiness. Happiness is one hundred percent relational.” Weiner reflected: “At the time I didn’t take him literally. I thought he was exaggerating to make his point…But now I realize Karma meant exactly what he said. Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people: family and friends and neighbors and…people you hardly notice. Happiness is not a noun or verb. It’s a conjunction. Connective tissue.”

This general point is repeated over and over again in the literature. Arthur Brooks, President of the Heritage Foundation, concludes his book “Gross National Happiness” with a quick review of social scientists’ results demonstrating that all sorts of activities that benefit others—from the most direct sorts of help to family and friends to the abstractions of making donations to help people in far-away lands—are closely related to general feelings of happiness and well-being.

Five steps to happiness

In the UK, a study for the National Health Service called Five Ways to Well-Being concluded that these simple steps would improve people’s lives in measurable ways (and sharply reduce the risks of mental illness too!):

  • Connect with the people around you
  • Be active
  • Take notice of what’s around you
  • Keep learning
  • Give

How will you do these things in the coming year?

Not to toot our own horn too loudly, it still bears saying that Idealist.org offers lots of opportunities for doing all five. Just a few minutes clicking through listings in your community, or in your area of interest, or for the sorts of things you want to do will turn up things to do and places to go.

With your personal profile from Sustainable Seattle’s survey in front of you, and some reflection about the Five Ways to Well-Being, Idealist’s listings are one way to make sure you have a happy Happy New Year.

Best wishes for 2012 from all of us!

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One More Reason to Be an Activist: Happiness

A recent article on The Guardian website highlights a study showing that there may be a link between political activism and happiness. Researchers Malte Klar of the University of Gottingen and Tim Kasser of Knox College compared a sample of college students and activists with a control group and found that “several indicators of activism were positively associated with measures of hedonic, eudaimonic, and social well-being.” In other words, activism may not always be fun, but it might make you happier.

In part of the study, college students were divided into two groups. The first wrote letters to the college cafeteria management asking for better food. The second group were told to take a more activist approach and requested that local or fairly traded products be offered. The activist group reported stronger feelings of vitality after the activity.

Many Idealist users have probably already intuited the connection between civic engagement and feelings of happiness. This study provides some data to back up our claims, and to encourage others to get involved.

To find opportunities for activism on Idealist, try searching for a volunteer opportunity using a keyword of your choice. Or select from the list of “Areas of Focus,” many of which can be politically oriented (some examples include: Disability Issues, Energy Conservation and Green Living, Government Oversight and Reform, Human Rights and Civil Liberties, Politics, and Prison Reform).

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