A long-term Harvard research project called the Grant Study has been tracking 268 men since 1938 to see how their lives would turn out. The study found that the men who flourished did not possess a certain social class, genetic advantage, or place in the birth order.
The men who lived long and happy lives had in common both the capacity for intimacy as well as qualities like persistence, discipline, trustworthiness, and order, says David Brooks for The New York Times in The Heart Grows Smarter. The magic formula for an enjoyable life, according to the study’s conclusions?
Be affectionate with people and organized with things.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Brooks’ comments on the Grant Study since I decided to drop the business side of blogging. If I had continued my trajectory of pursuing more money and fame, I would have been less capable of giving love to the people in my life and of taking care of the things that I already have.
For a while, I believed success gurus when they said that processing emails and decluttering closets were simply feel-good addictions that would distract me from achieving something great. But that kind of procrastination — avoiding a challenge by doing something easier — is different from letting your house (and inbox) go for months at a time.
I believed parenting experts who said that I should behave as if I had 12 kids. Too much attention and meddling is bad for them. But when I was so consumed with getting ahead, my parenting style veered toward benign neglect.
Success in its traditional form — status, money, power, fame — is very alluring. Yet guarantees are few that we will achieve the kind of recognition we seek, and of course, the pursuit of that status can make us (and the people around us) very unhappy. Just think of all the great artists and thinkers who were never recognized during their lifetimes, and who died poor and ridiculed.
When I get that nagging feeling that I need to achieve something unusual to make my life “matter,” and that maintaining an orderly home is somehow a lesser pursuit, I need to remind myself that living an honorable life can be an achievement in itself.
A life that is first devoted to the people closest to me, before I attempt to affect anyone beyond. A life where I am not too busy striving to keep things under control.
I’ve always loved that the side benefit of a cared-for (however imperfect) house is that I feel comfortable inviting friends and neighbors in. And in turn, inviting people over inspires me to keep things clean and organized.
When I am feeling stressed or chaotic, it is much harder for me to be warm and loving with my family. But when I’ve done what I need to and feel (relatively) straightened-up, I am relaxed and open to giving attention to others.
As we inch toward a new year, I am seeing that “getting organized” is not just a feel-good activity that we do when we have nothing better to do, or only when we “have time.” Taking care of ourselves and the things that populate our lives has been a principle in many religions and creeds for centuries, from ancient Hebrew traditions to the Amish to the Boy Scouts, symbolized by the proverb: Cleanliness is next to godliness.
So I say, we should go ahead and sign up for those month-to-month, room-by-room organizing challenges that we see in magazines and blogs at this time of year. Luxuriate in the lull between the holidays, and allow ourselves to attack those kitchen office papers, stubborn to-do list items, scheduling quandaries, and annoying repair projects.
Forgive me if you’ve come to this conclusion long ago, but I am seeing that being organized is not for the “someday” file. It’s integral to my well-being and to the well-being of the people I love, and therefore, should be a part of my philosophy of life.