a conscious endeavor in happiness

I have been generally dissatisfied with life in the last two months, and I have felt a significant lack of control. It’s been frustrating, and a friend who recognized the low attitude recommended me to The Postmasculine Guide to Happiness. It that “you can’t change your circumstances until you believe you control them” – and in that control, you may also an extra bit of happiness, regardless of the outcome.

This article is a fantastic article which explores how we create (and sometimes undermine) happiness in our own lives. It explains that a person’s baseline of happiness in life is not determined by external factors (possessions, winning the lottery, traumatic events), but instead by how much control that person has over his or her life. As such, an individual can take actions to raise that baseline, effectively taking responsibility for his or her own happiness.

Rewriting Happiness

One interesting point, I found, is that we are bad about remembering what makes us happy: we tend to generalize our feelings so that they become a memory of a memory.* I love this concept of rewriting our own history through the retelling of stories to both ourselves and to others; often, what we remember is quite different from what occurred.

To me, this means something much greater: in effect, we can begin rewriting our history as soon as it begins by choosing to focus on the positive, commonly known as the “silver lining.” I met a girl at Lindy Focus who recorded a memory every day in a note on her phone; it was just a line or two, but she had kept this little mini-journal for a year and seemed to really enjoy the endeavor. I have since picked up my pen every night to do the same. Moreover, I try to focus on the positive; I mean, if I’m only going to write down one sentence, then happy is the way to go.

Here’s the best part: without looking at my journal, I would say I’ve really only had three to five bad days this year – days where the negative was so overwhelming that it overwhelmed everything else. And if you asked me how my year’s been going, I would say it’s actually been one of the best in my life, even considering the dissatisfaction I’ve had with the last two months or so.

Happiness through Personal Successes

Another inadvertent action I have been taking all year is the monthly accomplishment of various goals. In fact, the month I have felt least in control (and generally less happy) is July, and I think you can see easily see the general lack of enthusiasm. I barely set goals in the first place, I’ve barely gone running, and I’ve barely updated my blog. I have not felt that any of my goals this month were new or inspiring, and I have been frustrated with my lack of personal growth.

The best thing I can do to combat this stagnant and discouraged feeling is to fight back. I have created a schedule for writing which I think I can follow. I am solidifying plans for the goals for August (and I’m already excited about goals for September, which include the use of a real kitchen!). Most importantly, I am not taking “I’m too busy” for an excuse – especially when it comes to running.

External Validation of Happiness

It is strange to talk about external validation of happiness on this blog – if I’m honest, at least part of my motivation for writing comes from the joy I find when I look at my statistics page. But since a young age, I have written for a personal release. I would write this blog even if the only people reading were my parents – which, for a very long time, was exactly the case.

Regardless, in following with the article, I see that this blog would likely be more rewarding if I elevate the importance of internal validation over external validation in the publishing of blog posts. As such, I have created a schedule which, if followed, I feel will be quite rewarding, and as such establish a pattern of internal validation.

In addition, I am trying to think of other places I seek external validation, and how I might change the focus. In particular, I am looking at dance, where a great deal of how I judge my success is in the validation and acknowledgement of others. I can change that – I just need to figure out how.

Happiness of Things

The final thing I want to talk about is the concept that personal possessions actually undermine our happiness. The article emphasizes that we overestimate both the value of what we do not have, as well as the pain of losing what we do. Two people have recently inspired me to look into the devaluation of material items, even before I read this article.

First, my brother is easily one of the happiest people I know, and he pretty much lives out of his truck with his girlfriend and dog. I think a large part of his hapiness is due to his lack of attachment to material possessions: sure, he loves his favorite pair of comfy, tacky pants, but if he loses them, he’s not terribly upset. After all, they were just comfy, tacky pants.

Second, I have been following the blog Fear.Less, about the challenging journey of a young woman “to live with less fear” and “more simplicity.” She is focusing on minimalism as a tool to live a simpler lifestyle, which in turn she hopes will lead to a greater quality of life. I find her efforts both terrifying and inspiring: happiness with what she has, rather than feeding the desire of wanting more.

As I get ready to move to my new abode, I plan on eliminating a great deal of what I do not need. Not only will it ease the process of moving, but maybe it will trim down the material desires which have the potential to cloud my happiness? We’ll see.

Conclusions

I think I have a lot to learn about happiness. I consider myself a generally happy person, and I think others would say the same – but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be happier. In fact, I think a conscious decision about cultivating happiness is a healthy idea – one from which many people I know could benefit.

Right now, I’m planning on reading a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (donated by a friend!), in hopes to solidify some ideas which are still forming in my head. If I figure anything out, I’ll make sure to pass it on.

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*I once went on a sleep over with a girl named Laura when I was very young – maybe seven or eight years old. She criticized how I dressed, and to this day, I am embarrassed and conscious of what she said; in fact, I blame the ending of our friendship entirely on her criticism, though I am sure there are many other contributing factors – we were young, after all, and easily scorned.

The journey to happiness? Begins with some awesome sunglasses, apparently.

back burners and boys

You know that thing about new relationships? They’re all shiny, and new, and awesome – and they relegate so much of your miscellaneous life to the back burner. I still find completing my challenges incredibly important and fulfilling; I just have less time to write, and less time to update. Of course, this is also good: after all, one of my personal goals is to spend less time on the computer, and I am managing to accomplish just that. Still, bear with me; I’m working on finding a balance.

First off, a quick word on how my challenges have gone this month (since, after all, it’s nearly over):

  1. I am solidifying my ideas about what I want to work on for August. So far, we have running, pull-ups, and emailing professors. We’re working it out.
  2. Well, I’ve mostly failed at running three times per week. Actually, this has been my worst month so far. It’s not that I haven’t tried – in fact, I had two crappy runs in crappy shoes because I just wanted to go out, even though I didn’t have the right shoes with me. Various excuses: people want to hang out last minute; I don’t feel entirely safe running alone in this boy’s neighborhood; it’s blazingly hot out there; etc. You get the idea.

    I miss running.

  3. The room has been mostly clean, the spending on snacks and restaurants is being slowly and steadily reduced, the time on the computer has been seriously reduced (obviously…hahah), and the reading has been great.
  4. This month, I did spend a little bit for my birthday (birthday money only, I swear!), and I did buy new sunglasses (which are gorgeous). Also, my favorite pair of jeans (and only pair of skinnies) wore through in the seat, so I had to replace those. But while I love all my new clothes, I am still uncomfortable with all the money I spent…

Also, don’t ask me about cokes. I’ve sucked at sticking to that on a day-to-day basis – but I’m still drinking only one a day, if I do drink one, and I’m drinking so much water. It’s delicious.

Miscellaneous updates:

I have found a place to live for the next year. It includes: sane roommates, two sweet dogs, low rent, and a kitchen. It excludes: an awkward landlord, a crazy and ugly yip-yip dog, and a vague sense of intrusion into someone else’s life. Did I mention that I’ll have a kitchen? What should I cook first?! Accepting recipe suggestions immediately.

I recently finished Lamb by Christopher Moore, which might be one of the most hilarious books I’ve read in my life. Look into it. Now.

Finally, I’m figuring out a blogging schedule for August. That’s right, schedule. As in, regular and planned. Be prepared.

simple goals

so some simple goals:

  1. Find something I really want to work on for August — something that’s challenging, and maybe inspiring. Suggestions are welcome.
  2. Try to go running three times per week, with at least 1.5 miles each time.
  3. Maintain all the things I’ve been really good on recently: cleaning my room, reducing my spending at restaurants and on snacks*, minimizing my time on the computer*, and reading as much as I can.
  4. Keep the purchasing of clothes and coca-colas to a minimum. Maybe I need to take up the mantra that I will only drink coke when one is offered to me?

I think that’s as straightforward as I can get. Find something new and interesting, and maintain all the good things I’ve been doing.

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*Both of these goals (reducing money spent on food which isn’t groceries, as well as minimizing my time on the computer) have been made significantly easier due to a boy with whom I am spending a decent amount of time. He cooks almost half my meals lately, and encourages an active life without computers or television. We’ll see how it goes, but he’s certainly helping me keep my goals!

my family’s more badass than your family

I have been MIA from the internet (and my phone, and dancing, and the real world) for the first part of this week due to one very important, very fantastic event: Palooza.

Palooza is our version of the classic Family Reunion. And it has a lot of similar themes to your classic Family Reunion: we all get together, hang out, and do activities. This year, we went pontoon boating on Lake Jocassee; we went hiking to Brasstown Falls; we set off a metric shitton of fireworks. The list goes on.

On the other hand, Palooza has a great many aspects which are completely different from your classic Family Reunion. First, we invite a whole bunch of people who aren’t family, because the more crazy people we have, the more interesting things get. Second, what happens at Palooza, stays at Palooza (of course, this means I can’t tell you any of the more lurid details — but you get the idea). And in that sense, it can actually be a bit reminiscent of Vegas: lots of playing cards, lots of drinking, lots of being rowdy (and sometimes crass). We go night-time swimming (or skinny-dipping, if you’re more adventurous), and we’ve even been known to pull pranks on the locals.

So when my family reunion rolls around every Fourth of July, I get off work, I cancel all dancing (shocker, I know), I go missing. I disappear into the mountains to strengthen family bonds, laugh a whole lot, and maybe even loosen my morals a bit.

I love my family. They keep me human.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog posts. Well, you know, as regular as they get. Things to look forward to:

  • Financial analysis
  • New goals for the New Month (well, the 2/3rds that are left)
  • A series of Photos: “Interesting Book Covers” (all from the Library!)

In the meantime, does anyone have any good self-improvement challenges to work on? I don’t know if I can start them this month, but I am having trouble thinking of new ideas.

june recap — i sound like a broken record.

The second half of this month has been a little tougher than most, for various reasons. Though I have enjoyed the life of the reasonably employed (I’ve only had one job for the last month and a half), it is high time for me to either become 1) better employed (making enough money to only work one job) or 2) once again, over-employed (working two jobs to make sure ends meet). So if you know of any job openings for a young woman with a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science and Creative Writing, as well as experience working in Libraries, in major retail stores (high and low end), or as an editor for any form or purpose…well, you’re always welcome to give me a lead! I also babysit, teach dance, and can flip a dime on my wrist…

That being said, I had a really good month with my Challenges.

Running – I ran a total of 11.34 miles this month, despite shin splints for the middle two weeks. I ran a total of seven times, though that was not spread evenly through the month. Regardless, I’m proud of myself, and I’m planning on a run today!

Clean Apartment – I was able to keep to my cleaning schedule, and though my apartment is a mess right now, it will not be by the end of the day. Scout’s honor.

Minimize time on Computer – up until this past week, I’ve done quite well on this challenge. In a combination of spending time with friends and reading, I really reduced the amount of time I spent in front of the screen. I am considering a facebook sabbatical soon – I find myself enjoying time away from the social mega-site, and I think a bit of time away will do well for my happiness. Even if it means finding out about the multitude of pregnancies and engagements occurring a bit later than the rest of the world.

Dance Focus: Triple Steps – I can’t say for sure that I’ve made any progress, but I’ve been working on it. I need to find a better way to practice.

Read 20 mins/day – Successes all around the board. Though this one is pretty easy to rock out on, what with my daily bus commute to work. Love that.

Concerning the major challenges I finally finished last month, I have a few updates: I have not started buying every article of clothing that I see, despite the extreme urge to finally update my wardrobe, which has been stagnant for six months now. I do own a new pair of flares and a new dress, but that’s about it. And I’m quite proud of that fact.

On the other hand, I have had a few cokes, mostly in the morning when I’m trying to wake up for work. Never more than one a day, though, which I’m proud of. I’m still keeping track of when I drink so as to dissuade myself from drinking coke as frequently as I once did.

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My month’s goals will be updated sometime this week. Expect a lot of the similar, but look for something new and, hopefully, significantly more exciting. After all, it is my birthday this month, and I hope to celebrate by doing something worthwhile with my time!

In other news, it is my family reunion this week — and unlike most people, I wholeheartedly look forward to hanging out with all the friends, family, and unknown persons who will be showing up! If you’re lucky, I’ll even share some photos!