Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Happiness Plan

The past few days I haven't been feeling very good about myself and I've been struggling to figure out what to do about it. So this morning when I woke up, a question popped into my head. "When you've felt good about yourself in the past, what's been going on and how can you replicate it?"

I was surprised and dismayed by my answer to the first part of the question. "I feel good about myself when other people are happy with me or when I'm in love (which usually means someone is in love with me)." The fairly obvious problem with that is that my happiness with myself is entirely dependent on other people. So the only way to replicate that feeling is to "make" other people praise me or fall in love with me. Clearly this is not realistic (especially given my lack of a life time supply of Love Potion #9).

So I dug a little deeper. "What was going on the last time you fell in love or when you had the kind of positive connections that you're looking for?" Because those things don't happen in a vacuum. When we're doing what we love to do - when we're happy - we attract positive connections. I guess that's what all the Law of Attraction proponents say. Maybe they're on to something . . . What I need is a Happiness Plan!

Although I don't want to base my self-worth on my interactions with others, I don't think there's anything wrong with doing things to make myself a little happier which will hopefully help to attract the connection that I want and so clearly need in my life. I have to be careful, though, that I don't start doing things that might make me happy in the short-run (instant gratification) but sacrifice my happiness in the long-run. I've never been much good at delayed gratification it seems. So my Happiness Plan has to incorporate things that will make me happy in the long-run even if they might make me whine in the short-run.

I've talked about my tendency to break promises I make to myself. When I do that, it makes me unhappy. And lately, I've been breaking all kinds of promises. On the one hand, I don't want to be too hard on myself but on the other, I worry that I'm too easy. There has to be a happy medium somewhere. I think the key to that is to make sure that I'm making promises (to myself and others) that are doable, consistent with my goals and values and flexible enough to take changed circumstances into consideration.

With my one week on/one week off custody arrangement, I have to schedule my promises with the understanding that when I have the kids, I have less time for things like writing. I simply can't write 2500 words a day when I have custody of the kids. If I expect to be able to do that, my conflicting goals are going to make me crazy. I want to spend time with the kids. I want to write a lot. But they can't both be my highest priority at the same time. If, by trying to do one I sacrifice the other, I will never be happy. But I'm in control of my promises to myself and I'm in control of determining how to meet my goals. Which means that I can wave my magic Glinda wand and say "When I have custody of the kids, I don't have to write 2500 words a day." And it's done. The pressure is off.

Managing my expectations about my ability to do stuff is only part of the Happiness Plan. The other part is to step up my game in areas that can't be waved away with my magic wand. As much as I'd love to make my bills disappear, every month my mortgage lender expects to be paid. And no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that.

It should come as no surprise that I've been slacking off some in the work department. Mainly because I still, technically, have a "day job" that I don't love but that pays the bills for now. I get paid hourly so I can work more hours and make more money. As much as it pains me to say this - if I had more money, I would be happier. It's not ALL about money but I hate worrying about money. I need just enough so that I don't have to worry about making next month's bills. Not worrying as much = happier.

The other slacking off area is organization. (Organization = bane of my existence). This is where short-term happiness vs. long-term happiness becomes a real issue for me. Short-term, few things make me happier than NOT cleaning and organizing (NOT exercising is close, though). Clearly, this is not a good set up for long-term happiness and effectiveness in life. I'm trying lots of different techniques to trick myself into getting stuff done but what I really need to do is JUST DO IT. Seriously, I need to put on some big girl pants and clean my room. It's sort of scary that I'm 45 years old and still need my Mom to yell at me before I will actually clean up the clutter. Sheesh. I know, deep down, that I'll be much happier and more relaxed if my surroundings are less cluttered. Apparently I somehow need to convince the part of my brain that actually controls my actions. Haven't figured out exactly how to do that consistently, though.

No Happiness Plan is complete without fun stuff. If there was no fun stuff, it would just be another to do list. (And if I've learned one thing in this life it's that to do lists suck.) When I'm not happy with myself, I start to feel like I don't deserve fun things. Somehow I figure that if I deny myself fun stuff, I'll get to work on the not-fun stuff so that when the not-fun stuff is done, THEN I'll deserve fun stuff. Not only is that sentence hard to read, that tactic does not work. Ever. Fun stuff has to be a part of every day in the Happiness Plan.

So here's my current Happiness Plan:

1) Think about the promises I've made to myself (and others) and make sure they're doable, flexible and consistent with my values and goals.
2) Step it up by working a few more hours each week and cleaning my freaking room (preferably with a minimum of whining).
3) Spend time outside every day - even when it's raining. (Because I'm always happier when I get out of the house even if I think I want to stay inside.)
4) Listen to my favorite music every day. (When I work at the office, I always play music but when I work at home I sometimes forget to turn it on. Music = fun.)
5) Talk to at least one friend a day. (It's easy for me to just chat on Twitter or read Facebook or email. But I feel so much more connected if I actually talk to someone. Connection = fun.)

The Happiness Plan will evolve over time (just like the dreaded to do list). But so long as the point is seeking happiness and not just getting things done, hopefully I'll be more likely to keep up with it. Now that I've developed the Plan, I'm going to clean my room with my favorite music playing!

Do you have a Happiness Plan? Share it here - I love sharing!
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