In 1936, in "Wake Up and Live," Brande suggests several mental exercises to make your mind keener and more flexible. These exercises are meant to pull you out of your usual habits, give your a different perspective, and put you in situations that will demand resourcefulness and creative problem-solving. Brande argues that only by testing and stretching yourself can you develop mental strength. Here are some of her suggestions:
- Spend an hour each day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions, in the midst of the usual group, without creating the impression that you're sulking or ill. Be as ordinary as possible. But do not volunteer remarks or try to draw out information.
Doing this kind of exercise can seem artificial, but it can also be a fun way to put a little challenge into your ordinary routine. Have you tried any useful exercises along these lines?
Even apart from the goals of creativity and mental flexibility, Brande's exercises make sense from a happiness perspective. One thing is clear: novelty and challenge bring happiness. People who stray from their routines, try new things, explore, and experiment tend to be happier than those who don't. Of course, as Brande herself points out, novelty and challenge can also bring frustration, anxiety, confusion, and annoyance along the way; it's the process of facing those challenges that brings the "atmosphere of growth" so important to happiness. (It's the First Splendid Truth: to be happy, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.)
I was thrilled when my friend Jennifer Smith, author of the great young-adult novels "You Are Here" and "The Comeback Season" and a member of one of my children's/YA literature reading groups, sent me this extraordinary link to J.K. Rowling's handwritten outline for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." I'm always fascinated to get an insight into a writer's process.