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Recently I began thinking about the people in my life who are truly happy. Unfortunately, in my case, the unhappy seem to outnumber the happy. When I really started to think of friends, family and people I have volunteered closely with in the past who are truly happy people, I began realizing they all share most or all of the following 7 habits. The unhappy people? Not so much.
I truly believe the following 7 habits are the key to happiness. Yes, there are more habits out there you can certainly incorporate, and yes, you can incorporate as few as 3 or 4 of these habits into your life and be significantly happier. The important part is to get started! Happiness is waiting for you!
HABIT ONE – Learn to put yourself first.
You can say yes to others, but make sure you’re not saying no to yourself in the process. I’m not saying don’t care for others and don’t help others, I’m saying make sure you are in tip-top shape to help others so they don’t drain your energy. Since everyone is different, what you do to put yourself first will have to be things you identify as needing for yourself. Maybe it’s going for a morning walk or run, maybe it’s taking 10 minutes to meditate, maybe it’s your time at the gym. Identify what makes you forget all of the stressors in your life and make it a point to incorporate that into your life daily or at least most days of the week.
For me this has changed over time. In my 20’s it was taking 7 minutes before having to start a task (getting my kids ready, making dinner, etc.) to have a cigarette. This has changed now, because I no longer smoke, but that 7 minutes was totally BS free and I cherished those minutes. In my late 20’s, when my kids were older and louder and prone to arguing, I’m not going to lie- I had a folding chair in my walk in closet and I would hide in there and read true crime books 10 minutes at a time to take a kid-break. Now, in my 40’s, I’m enjoying the gym, walking my dogs, podcasts and blogging.
I also treat myself to a manicure every couple weeks, which was REALLY HARD for me because I do NOT spend money on myself. (I’m talking 12-15 months between haircuts because I am a ponytail girl, and a very limited basic wardrobe, because I work from home and I do a lot of DIY/house/yard work.) One thing I have been doing for myself for years is play volleyball in a women’s league. It’s once a week for 2-3 hours, for about 8 months of the year. I’ve been playing for 7-8 years, maybe? It’s the same general team and we are so bad it is funny, but it is SO MUCH FUN. When my kids were teenagers they knew not to bother me when I was at volleyball. Did that stop them? No. Are they 24 and 20 and still calling me on Mondays between 7-10pm? Yes. Do I silence my phone and try to remember to passive-aggressively call them back when they are at work or in class? Yes.
That is my time and I never feel guilty for going and being unavailable. Find something you love and DO IT. You’ll love it.
If you are starting from scratch and wondering how you will find time for you, make it a priority. Wake up 15 minutes earlier. Stop watching a 30-minute tv show you don’t really, really enjoy. Tell your kids you’re taking a mommy time out and if they leave you alone until the timer goes off you will do XYZ with them. Get creative and you will be able to find 10 minutes a day for you.
HABIT TWO- Be passionate with your work.
You know what they say: Do what you love, love what you do. It’s totally true. This doesn’t only apply to paid work, this can apply to volunteer work, parenting work and relationship work as well.
If you hate your job, what are you doing to change it? Is your resume updated? Are you on LinkedIn? Are you actively sending your resume out or applying for jobs better suited to your likes and skills?
Are you saying yes to every volunteer request? If so, why? Is it because you truly enjoy every task, or is it because “they” know they can ask you and you’re a sure yes? You don’t need to be “That Woman.” I promise you, someone else will fill the role…and you will find things you enjoy to fill the time you were spending volunteering for causes you weren’t passionate about. Only volunteer for what you love (your child’s school, your local baseball & softball program, teach refugees the constitution, help survivors of domestic violence stay strong) and you will get much more enjoyment out of your volunteer activities.
Do you feel like you are in a relationship rut? If so, identify what is bringing your relationship down and what steps you can take to build it up and get started. Discuss everything with your partner and take steps to make your relationship awesome. Plan a vacation. Plan a monthly date night. Plan a quarterly day trip. Having things to look forward to is exciting. Studies have shown that just planning a vacation boosts peoples’ happiness tremendously.
If parenting is feeling tedious, ramp it up a notch. Share things with your kids that you enjoy. Watch the movie you loved as a kid and laugh about how much cinematography has changed. Talk to your neighbors and plan a block party. Volunteer together. Start planning experiences and stop buying things for your kids. Join an online parenting community so you have people to get ideas from and bounce ideas off of. Have fun with your kids! If they help with the laundry you’re doing yourself and them a favor. Remember, you’re raising future adults.
HABIT THREE- Practice self-care.
This is similar, but different, from Habit One. Self-care is the deliberate steps we take to make sure we are addressing our mental and emotional health.
Do you take care of yourself? You’ll probably say yes, of course you do. But do you really?
Let’s talk about anxiety. If your chest feels constantly tight and your shoulders are permanently raised, that’s anxiety. If you have moments of absolute freak out because you are drowning in work, kids, life and your house, that’s anxiety. If you are short of breath, feel like your throat is closing, and you are experiencing a tingling sensation in your limbs, GO TO THE DOCTOR. When they can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, it’s quite possibly anxiety!
About 4 years ago I was experiencing the above symptoms for MONTHS. I really thought I was dying. I saw my doctor a zillion times, an allergist because I was sure I had a food allergy, I went to the ER three times (to the tune of $80,000- thank goodness for decent health insurance!) and no one could find a thing wrong with me.
Well, it turns out it was anxiety. A stressful 18-month foster care nightmare + the stressful politics at a volunteer job I loved + my daughters’ very expensive and time-consuming sports schedule had driven me to the brink. I was literally trying to cram 200 hours into a 168 hour week and it was kicking my butt! I can remember having a serious panic attack at the grocery store once because I could not decide between two cuts of beef. I had to lock myself in the bathroom so Hubby could talk me down over the phone. Those were dark times. Anxiety is no joke!
I’m not going to hide the truth, I went straight to pharmaceuticals. I found an AWESOME female doctor who listened to me. At one point I was taking Lexapro and 1-2 Xanax a day just to be able to breathe. Today, I still take the Lexapro because no one likes Screaming Allison, but the Xanax? Well, my prescription of 60 pills has lasted well over a year now and now I take it like everyone else does, just to get myself on the plane, lol! (Last week I flew home from my dad’s in Arkansas and Hubby booked me on a TINY PLANE. There is no way I would have lasted that bouncy flight without a breakdown without the Xanax. To me, taking a .25mg pill 4-5 times a year to NOT have a debilitating panic attack is well worth it.) Now I’ve learned to walk away and do some breathing exercises, which has helped significantly, but it took me years to get to this point. Self-care is so important!
If you do not suffer from anxiety, that is awesome! (I just breathed a happy sigh of relief for you!) Self-care is beyond addressing underlying anxiety though. It’s about ensuring your mental and emotional well being is being addressed.
Think about the things that cause you stress and bring you happiness and create a list (mental or written out) of these things. For example:
- If you know you’re going to have emails that came in after you left work, resist checking your email at night. They will absolutely be there in the morning, don’t ruin your evening!
- Get enough sleep! I have an iPhone and I get a gentle reminder that it’s time for bed every night. In the morning I get a very pleasant wake-up tone to wake up to if I am not already awake. What’s interesting is that I turned this feature on a few months ago and now, 5 out of 7 days, I find I am already getting ready for bed when the reminder is going off! Before I was getting 5-6 hours of sleep and now it’s 7-8. I feel MUCH better and my energy level has totally improved!
- Find something that makes you laugh. Follow some Humor people on Pinterest or Facebook, listen to a comedy podcast during your commute, or watch reruns of your favorite sitcom at night. Make it a point to bring laughter into your life!
- Spend time playing with your kids or partner. One time Hubby came home to a Star Wars thumb war toy, a beer and a note instructing him to meet me on the terrace for a drink and a few rounds of “One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war.” Other times he has come home to a mini-Nerf gun and a note telling him I’m hiding in the house and may the best man win. Make fun! It only takes a few minutes.
- Have you seen the t-shirt that says “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t want to come” that is floating around Pinterest? Stop going to events you don’t want to attend with people you don’t enjoy. People think we are far busier than we are because I have stopped saying “yes” to every single thing.
- Exercise. I know. I know. If the gym isn’t for you, maybe group classes are? Maybe you’d like a morning or evening walk with a podcast? Maybe your employer is awesome and would buy you a standing desk? Even 15 minutes a day is better than nothing at all.
HABIT FOUR- Make the best of everything.
Aside from the death of a loved one, there are very few situations you cannot make the most of. You lost your job? Set a goal to get an even better job that you enjoy more, is closer to home, pays better, whatever! It’s raining and you had a day at the beach planned? Check out a conservatory or museum you’ve never been to. Appreciate what you do have, and make the most of it every day. Some situations are out of your control, but your reaction to them is not.
HABIT FIVE- Create solutions.
The happiest women I know are not “woe is me” women. They are “uh oh- now what?!” women and they dig and fight their way to the top of every problem. Even in the worst situations, people who create solutions have better outcomes and are happier in the long run.
Let me tell you a story about one of the worst things (as a parent) I think you can go through, and that is substance addiction. I have two friends. We’ll call them Claire and Maggie. Claire’s daughter is a heroin addict. Maggie’s son is addicted to prescription meds and becomes violent. Claire and Maggie have similar incomes and are from the same town with the same resources.
Claire and her ex-husband addressed the situation of their young adult daughter being a heroin addict when they first learned of it, after a DUI arrest. They sent her (immediately) to a live-in treatment facility. That worked for a bit. Then she relapsed. They sent her to another live-in treatment facility, one of the best in the country, and enrolled her in hardcore outpatient treatment that was concurrent with the in-patient treatment.
Maggie and her husband decided yelling at their young adult son should work. Then they sent him to live with an aunt and uncle. That lasted about 5 days. More fighting, police involvement, etc. Then they sent him to live with another aunt and uncle 1000 miles away. As I type this, his dad is sitting with him in a hotel room holding his hand as he finishes this semester at school because the aunt & uncle kicked him out, he can’t function on his own, and he doesn’t want his adult son to hate him.
Guess who’s child is doing better? Ding ding ding! Correct, it is Claire’s. They will always have this underlying issue with their daughter, but they took it seriously and addressed it promptly. Guess who is wringing their hands, dreading every minute with their kid when he returns? Maggie.
That is a worst-case-scenario story, but Claire is happy and while she will always worry about her daughter, she is no longer worrying about her daughter every single minute of every day. It goes to show you that even in a terrible situation, creating a solution to your problem is way more constructive, and way more conducive to happiness, than being a “woe is me” woman.
HABIT SIX- Accept your flaws.
No one is perfect. Even the seemingly perfect women in your life arenot perfect. They have their own issues, you just can’t see them. (Just like they can’t see your inner struggles!) I am not saying to stop working on yourself and what you can change. I am saying stop obsessing over what you can’t change. It’s ok to be “good enough.” It’s ok to be a size 10 instead of a 4 now. It’s ok to have a clean enough house. It’s ok that your kid is a one-sport-at-a-time kid who only speaks one language. It’s ok that you are making grilled cheese and canned soup for dinner tonight. IT’S OK. Wonder Woman is a character. Be your own version of Wonder Woman. Accept what you cannot change, and continue to work on your strengths and personal growth.
HABIT SEVEN- Create a routine and stick to it.
The women I know, myself included, who have routines are the happiest. By scheduling and sticking to a routine, you free up brain space and time for other important things. I am a big user of Google Calendar. It allows me to add calendar items well in advance so I don’t have to remember to do them, and I can look at my calendar from my laptop or phone and know what I need to accomplish today. For example, it is May, but I know that on September 10th I am going to apply to some Pinterest group boards for Halloween. I don’t need or want to apply to them now, but I also don’t want to forget and remember on October 2oth that I need to do that because then it is too late.
I am wayyyyyyy out of my routine lately. A three-week vacation to Florida, a badly sprained ankle, moving my dad, grandmother and great aunt 500 miles away and getting their apartment buildings in shape has me completely scattered. I am dying getting back home to Michigan so I can settle into my routine. But now we are also managing these buildings so I will be in IL a lot more often, which means establishing a new routine that I will need to get used to.
My routine consists of gym time, work time, meal planning/shopping, house cleaning, outdoor maintenance, laundry, making or finding products for my shop space, Pinterst and sleep. I can easily get sucked into working on the blog for 16 hours a day, so it is important that I am able to move calendar tasks to another day if I don’t get to them all. My goal is to get all of this down to an exact science and to be able to build in some “me time” before Summer is in full swing.
That being said, don’t be so stuck in your routine that you are passing up opportunities to have fun! Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. You may be surprised by the happiness you find!
You only get one shot at this life. Choose to be Happy!
Ready for more self-improvement and lifestyle ideas? First, check out our Self Care 101 board on Pinterest for hundreds of tips from awesome bloggers. Then, check out these great posts that will help you become your Best Happy!
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Happy getting happier!