Hello, people! Welcome to our third Happiness Project meeting. And before I go further, I want all the people who commented on the assisted suicide posts to know I’ll be responding later today, so check back then. Now, on with happiness!
I must say, it is tempting to get discouraged that I haven’t actually had someone say, “I want to join your virtual Happiness Project, Renee!”, but in my effort to remain happy, I’m ignoring the lack of joiners. (That doesn’t mean I won’t stoop to begging for them, which I’m doing right now by offering an amazing PRIZE to the first commenter today who commits to joining the Happiness Project effort here at TC.com. Yes, you heard me, a PRIZE, so no pretenders.)
Today’s meeting is about personal commandments for happiness. According to the illustrious Gretchen Rubin (HI, GRETCHEN!!!), founder of the HP, personal commandments are overarching principles that you want to guide your actions and thoughts. Natually, they need to point toward your overall goal of being happier. You
should pick more than five but no more than 12, and if, like me, you struggled just remembering what you resolved to do to be happier in our first two meetings, you’ll want to write these commandments down and define them briefly for yourself.
The commandments help with the monthly resolutions, and speaking of resolutions, studies show that we do better with goals if they are written down and if we track our progress. Ergo, the Resolution Chart. Read Gretchen’s explanation of a resolution chart here, and consider making one. I’m definitely doing it because, for whatever reason, I have the memory of a goldfish right now: every 15 seconds the world appears new, and I can’t remember what I was planning on doing. And if you are having trouble figuring out what kinds of resolutions to make, a menu of resolutions is offered here. )
I’ve been thinking about the personal commandments for about a week, and have come up with six, because I think that’s as much as I can handle. Please feel free to share yours, also (and for folks who may be shy and not want to share in the open comment space, feel free to email me through my contact page.)
1. Be Renee. Got the idea for the title from Gretchen’s post on her commandments, and I think this is the most important one any of us can follow. When we try to be something we aren’t, we are unhappy, period. Each of us came into the world with certain talents, gifts and interests. As a mother of four kids, I’ve been able to watch this up close and personal: We are all born with a certain bent, and when we go against that, we are miserable. For me, that drive is toward learning about people. I can no more stop asking questions than I can solve a Rubics Cube. (Which is why I was a good journalist. Sigh.)
Yet, for years, I’ve let my family’s fear of embarrassment make me feel uncomfortable about my natural, insatiable curiosity. The fact that I would see a stranger with an interesting hat and go to talk to her, or attempt speaking my poor Spanish with a Spanish-speaker I just met – and hundreds of other examples – made my kids cringe in pain. I’m also driven to dance and do so whenever a good song comes on, be it in the car or the grocery store; am a morning person (will the other morning person out there please contact me?); love college-aged people; and have an acute sensitivity to injustice, be it based on race, gender, class or illness. I’ve tried to tone down all of that for years, only to feel frustrated and angry because I’m not being me. So, my first commandment is to be me …. and that leads to the second commandment:
2. Accept imperfection. Being who I am means I’m not someone else. I’m really good at writing, but I suck at math. I will never be a doctor because of that, in spite of the fact that I keep thinking I could be if I just tried harder. I’m a morning person, which means I rarely stay up past 10 p.m. (except when my son’s band is in town), and so I miss a lot of the fun night life stuff that goes on. I’m not the world’s best cook (or even close), I’m not good at sports, I’m not a self-made woman where business is concerned. I am pretty good at a few things, mediocre at a number of others, and completely hopeless in many …. and that’s ok, if I accept imperfection.
3. Be kind. One would think this is obvious and easy but it isn’t. Being kind means thinking about what you say before the words jump out of your mouth. It means thinking about the other person before you think about yourself and your needs. It means giving someone the benefit of the doubt. These are things I have not mastered even though I have attempted many times and even though I gave my family more than one lecture on the virtue of kindness. I could spread kindness easily outside my home, but inside was another story. You know the old saying about hurting the ones you love most – I think many parents/spouses can relate to that saying because we sort of feel like, “Well, they’ll always love me” or “This is a safe place, its OK to be a jerk” when in fact, what we should think is that these are the people I most love in the world and so I should treat them with more kindness than anyone else.
4. Let anger go. I sometimes hold onto resentments. I used to nurture them, invite them in for tea, tell myself my resentment was righteous. I don’t do those things anymore, but I still find myself hanging onto anger over insults big or small. But the plain fact of the matter is, people can be inconsiderate and downright jerky and yet, if you let them get to you, they win. They go on being their jerky selves and you sit around being miserable about how awful they are. Just let it go. It isn’t worth the heartache. Same with real or perceived slights from family and friends. If it is real, you can confront the person in truth and kindness, but you have no control over their reaction. Maybe they’ll apologize and maybe they won’t. If they don’t, holding onto anger about the situation only makes YOUR day go badly. Life is a gift, and each day could be my last, so why waste it being angry?
5. Do the next thing. I actually learned this commandment from a parenting publication two decades ago. I had
three children under 4 years of age and was overwhelmed with fatigue. I sat out on the patio one day, holding the baby and watching the toddlers play, thinking I would never, ever, ever again get the laundry completely done. (And with three kids, two in cloth diapers, and a commitment to dry our clothes on a laundry line, we had PLENTY of laundry.) That night, I read a magazine article that talked about “doing the next thing.” Don’t get overwhelmed with everything staring at you, just do the next thing – what is the most important at that moment? Is it lunchtime? Fix some food. That has been my mantra for years, and helps me prioritize everything from writing assignments to birthday celebrations.
6. Act As If. Stole this from Al-Anon meetings years ago, although every other self-help group practices some version of it. Act as if you’re going to get a job. Act as if you’re happy. Act as if you’re not in pain. There’s tons of research into mind over body and the mind-body connection, but even sans research, all you have to do is talk to an Act As If practitioner to see that it works. It is tied to the What You Focus On Grows mindset: If you focus on the fact that you’re hurting, you will only hurt more. If, instead, you shift your focus to the fact that a double-rainbow appeared, or flowers bloomed or you got to dance with your best friend with a bunch of mariachis, your happiness quotient goes up.
What are your personal commandments? Do you want to join this virtual Happiness Project and spread the love in the Tucson metroplex?