Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover


31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Steps 22 and 23: Challenges and Strengths

20131006-115008.jpgClearly when I decided to do a challenge that calls for writing every day on one topic for 31 straight days, I did not fully think it through (this is a problem I have often, actually). I thought I’d be able to stay on top of my posts, planning ahead for the days I couldn’t write, getting up early to write on my scheduled busy days, and basically doing everything I don’t normally do.

I thought it would be a great way to get into a routine. To be one of those fancy people who wakes up early.

I was wrong.

Because for as much as I’d like to be a person who gets up early every day in order to be more productive, I really, really prefer to sleep. I know it’s no longer a depression thing but rather a “sleeping is better than being awake at 6 AM because it just is” thing. In fact, I’m starting to think the only time it’s okay to not be asleep at 6 AM is when you’re getting ready to go on vacation (work is also an acceptable reason. It’s not as fun as vacation but it’ll do as a reason).


I’ve realized that on the days I do get up early, I get so much more done throughout the day. Knowing that I’ve gotten a number of tasks out of the way before I take the child to school starts a sort of productivity snowball (at this moment, I would like to pause to thank my slow cooker for helping me be more productive. When I don’t have to cook, my afternoons are much easier). I’m not cramming dozens of tasks into a short period of time on the mornings I pry my ass out of bed and my infinite to-do list gets exponentially shorter.

So, maybe, I should rethink my stance on getting up early and challenge myself to do it at least 3 times per week. Which leads me to the day 22 step towards happiness: challenge yourself. Because there’s something about challenging yourself–and successfully completing the challenge–that makes you feel good.


Own what you’re good at.

I plan on taking my get up early challenge next month when I am also participating in NaNoWriMo. Again. Because I clearly have issues. But supposedly Water for Elephants started out as a NaNo book and that became a movie so there’s that to think about.

As for today, day 23, the step we’re taking today follows along with what we did on day 3, day 4, and day 20. We’re going to make lists about ourselves. And today’s list is a list of your strengths and abilities. Not weaknesses. We spend enough time thinking and talking about those. For today, we’re instead going to focus on the stuff you can do.

Even if you think you can’t do anything, I assure you that you can. It might be different from what others can do but it’s something (kind of like how there’s always a way to make money using your skills). And they may be talents, abilities or strengths you didn’t classify as such. And you may not be able to do the same things as others but you can do something. Maybe you are ridiculously good at remembering song lyrics. Maybe you take incredible pictures. Maybe you are a talented writer. Maybe you bake the best brownies (and if that’s the case, send some my way). Maybe you’re really good at giving advice.

It can be anything.

Whatever it is, whether it’s something about yourself or something you can do, list it. Recognize what you’re good at. Take time to appreciate it. Hell, even show off about it.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting what you’re good at. Don’t be modest (even if it’s just for today). It’s okay to take the time to see in yourself what others see in you.


31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Step 21: Give a compliment (and accept one, too)

31 Steps for Feeling HappierHow’d the last 6 days go for you? Did you complete all the steps? I think I did but in my sleep-deprived, booze fueled, hanging out with friends, attempting to learn stuff haze, I’m not entirely certain. I do know that I had a great time and my head is bursting with ideas for both this site and my mentoring program.

And I’m not hung over anymore, which is a bonus. A very necessary, welcomed bonus. I’m getting way too old for hangovers.

But that’s enough about the conference. And my drinking habits. Let’s get back down to business.

I’m pretty open about the fact that I have low self-esteem. I’m really open about the fact that I battle depression. I’m fairly certain I’ve also mentioned the fact that I have tremendous difficulty accepting compliments. When I do receive one, I have a hard time believing that it’s genuine. To me, there’s always an alternative reason why someone would say kind words or offer a compliment; it’s

However, this past weekend skewed my view a bit. I lost count of how many times people who had no reason to lie or stood to gain nothing by being complimentary made incredibly nice comments to me. Repeatedly. And

After awhile, you start to believe it. Something starts to click, and you start thinking “hey. Wait a second. 8 different people have made the same statement to me in a matter of 24 hours. Maybe all of those horrible things I’ve been telling myself aren’t entirely true”. It might be a fleeting thought but it’s there.

It’s a great feeling, actually. Because often, when you think like I do, it’s hard to break the cycle of negative thinking. You spend so much time stuck in the quicksand of self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-deprecating behavior that you can’t get out without help. And that’s what those repetitive nice words do. They offer assistance to pull you out. They show you there’s another way to think.

These are the best types of compliments to get.

These are the best types of compliments to get.

As long as you do two things: 1) accept the compliment and 2) believe the words. Because it’s one thing to say “thank you”. It’s another thing to say thank you and believe what’s been said.

That’s the part that I struggle with the most.

Which is why today’s task is actually two-fold. Today, we’re going to give a compliment and we’re going to accept a compliment, too. We’re going to realize the power that words can have over the way we think about ourselves and the power our words can have over the way others think about themselves. We’re going to harness that power for good instead of bad. We’re going to lift others (and ourselves) up, even if momentarily. We’re going to realize that sometimes, people need to hear that what they think are their worst qualities might actually be their best.

If you really struggle with finding the right words to say in a face to face situation, you can always leave a nice comment on a blog or Facebook page or Twitter or send a text. It’s not necessarily as impactful but it does work. So go ahead and do it.

Getting a compliment

I can go at least 3 months.

As far as accepting a compliment, when someone does give you one, put aside all the noise and chatter in your head (the noise in my head is akin to that of a drunken bar crowd. So I get it), find a quiet space, and let it in. Stop questioning motive. Accept the words for what they are. Keep them with you for those days it gets really dark.

And in case no one pays you a compliment in person, here’s one from me: thank you for taking the time to read my dusty little corner of the internet. I know you have limited time in your day and it’s very sweet of you to use some of it here. I think you’re fabulous.

31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Steps 15-20: Planning ahead

20131006-115008.jpgDid you commit to volunteering or make a donation? I did. I committed to volunteering twice per month in my daughter’s classroom. This was the best choice for me for a number of reasons, the least of which is that I have to go to the school every day anyway (I drive my daughter to school. We both have our own issues with buses). Might as well spend a couple of hours helping out. I start next week because…

Tomorrow I leave for FinCon13, or the Financial Blogger Conference. Although I don’t write a primarily personal finance site anymore, I agreed for my mentoring program, Bloggers Helping Bloggers, to run a session at the conference. I’m excited to run a one-off session on such a big platform (even if the time is at 8:15 on a Saturday morning) as well as see my blogging friends (new and old).

But that means I won’t be able to write daily. I’m terrible at time management lately and while I planned to have a new post scheduled in advance for each day, that plan fell through. So I came up with a different plan. This one involves giving all of the tasks for the next 6 days (including today) at once. Feel free to do them all in one day or spread them out over the 6 days or use some other method. plan ahead

Here’s the list:

  • Day 15–Do a good deed for someone else. This kind of goes along with volunteering but it’s also sort of different. For instance, you can feed someone’s expired meter. You can offer to run an errand for a coworker if you’re headed somewhere close. Help an elderly neighbor with their trash. Since it’s pregnancy and infant loss awareness day, my good deed will be lighting a candle at 7:00PM in honor of the babies my friends and family have lost. I know it’s a rather unorthodox good deed but it’s the best I can do today.
  • Day 16–Finish a small task. Today’s the day you’re going to balance your checkbook or throw out the leftovers that are quickly dissolving into an unidentifiable mass or answer those emails you’ve been putting off. Look at your to do list and cross off one item that keeps transferring from day to day because you just don’t want to deal with it. You’ll feel so much better once you do.
  • Day 17–Do something thoughtful. This one is inspired by my husband’s birthday, which would fall on day 17 (if I were writing each day). I know we all get busy and writing “happy birthday” on someone’s Facebook wall is often all we think we have time to do. But it’s not. We have time to spend a few minutes being thoughtful. Today, pick up the phone and call your grandmother. Mail a real birthday card. Handwrite a note to your significant other or sibling or child. Bake cookies for your family just because. Whatever it is, take 30 minutes and think of someone else first. (Note: I can’t disclose what I’m doing for this day since he reads the blog and I don’t want to ruin any surprises)
  • Day 18–Laugh. This is free, it’s easy, and sometimes, there’s nothing like a good laugh to make you feel better. Since I’ll be at FinCon with some friends who do nothing but make me laugh, this is an easy one for me to finish. It should be easy for you, too. If you’re at a loss for something to make you laugh, browse BuzzFeed, watch a Big Bang Theory rerun, listen to Adam Sandler’s Ode to My Car, or spend 5 minutes on the internet. Something there should be funny.
  • Day 19–Turn off social media. There is almost nothing that can ruin my mood or my day more than Facebook or Twitter (well, Facebook more than Twitter). We all know those people who love to show off about their seemingly perfect lives or post unintelligent rants about politics or religion or are just plan obnoxious and offensive. No matter how much we try to turn a blind eye to it, we can’t help but letting it in. But not today. Today we’re going to turn it off and realize that the world won’t end if we don’t read the details of everyone’ else’s children’s teething or bathroom habits. And we will feel so much better for it. If you really can’t turn it off, then just hide the feeds of people who bug you the most. I did that recently and it’s wonderful. 
  • Day 20–Praise your good choices. We all love to talk about our regrets, mistakes, missteps, and failures. And that’s fine. There are lessons to be learned in all of those. However, for today, we’re going to focus on all the things we’ve done right. Make a list of the good choices you’ve made over the years. Keep them in the same place as the other lists you’ve written (on Day 3 and Day 4) so you can look at them on the days you’re feeling like you never made a good choice in your life. You have made them. Give them their due.

Good luck with your tasks this week! It’ll be challenging for me but I’ll be working on them right along with you. Can’t wait to hear about your progress!


31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Steps 12-14: Catching up

20131006-115008.jpgOne of the main points of this 31 day challenge is to write about the same topic every day for 31 days. I really planned to sit down and write a blog post each day for 31 consecutive days rather than 3 times per week. When I originally committed to the challenge, I told myself I would do exactly that–write every day without scheduling any posts in advance (except for the few days I’m out of town. That was planned WAY before I decided to participate in the 31 days challenge). Because I don’t like cheating. And I wanted to play by the rules.


I forgot that sometimes Iife gets in the way of even the most carefully laid out plans. For instance, on Saturday, which was step 12 of the challenge, I created an agenda for the day that revolved around working in the afternoon since my daughter’s cheerleading was cancelled due to rain. But, in what I think was Mother Nature being spiteful, it stopped raining and cheerleading was uncancelled as I was finishing up my morning tasks. There went my grand plans to work in the afternoon. Luckily, having to sit on the football field while she cheered came with a silver lining as day 12’s task was to go outside.

Going outside definitely turned my mood from pissy to happy not only because of the sunshine but because of how happy it makes my daughter to cheer. As a mother, it makes me happy to see her happy. Also, her squad cheers with the “big” girls and that means she gets to be a flyer (the girl you see go up in the air) during some stunts. The look of pure joy on her face when she is up there is worth every moment I’m out on that field.

Unfortunately, that happiness was short lived. Not being able to work on Saturday definitely threw a monkey wrench in my Sunday plans. Instead of having a relaxing Sunday with the family, I needed to find time to work without compromising our plans. That meant I had a limited window to complete all the tasks I needed to complete, and I had to prioritize. While I firmly believe that if you truly want to get something done, you’ll make the time for it and not make excuses, sometimes you also have to give yourself grace and say “it’s okay that I didn’t do this today. I am not a perfect person and I know that I have done the best that I can with what I have right now”.

That’s why step 13 is to give yourself grace. We need to learn to stop being so hard on ourselves, stop struggling with perfection, and stop trying to compete with people who seem to always manage to get it all done. Because I’m pretty sure that even those people fail at their to-do lists sometimes. None of us are superhuman. So ease up on yourself. Give yourself some breathing room. Forgive yourself for not “doing it all” (I loathe that phrase). Acknowledge that you are deserving of the same grace you would give someone else who cross off all her to-do list items. Say the same words to yourself that you would say to her.

You deserve it, too.

volunteer 2Now, speaking of helping other people, today’s task is to volunteer. I know that this seems like one more thing to do and it is. But the happiness benefits of finding time to volunteer are worth carving out some time in your busy schedule. There is something about giving a few hours of your day to improve someone else’s life that makes a person feel good (especially if you know your service is appreciated. I have volunteer horror stories and although I no longer volunteer at those places, I still do give my time to people I know that are glad to have me). And it’s fine to feel good about what you do. I agree with Joey from Friends when he told Phoebe that there are no selfless good deeds. There is nothing wrong with taking pleasure in helping; if you are going to give of yourself, there’s no reason you can’t expect something in return.

A couple of points about this task:

  1. It does not have to happen today. In fact, I’d be pretty surprised if you could make it happen today. Instead, spend some time today doing research on places you can volunteer, contact the organization to find out when they need help, and balance that with your calendar.
  2. You do not have to commit to anything in the long run. For instance, if you are a parent and your kid has a field trip coming up, volunteer to chaperone. If your work is putting together a team for a walkathon, join the team (or make a second one). Participating in a one-off event still counts.
  3. If you really cannot find the time to volunteer, consider making a donation to an organization that is important to you. You’ll still get the happiness effects that go along with helping without sacrificing time.

(As a little plug for myself, if you want to volunteer your time but don’t know where to go, I happen to run a blogger mentoring program and we are always looking for volunteer mentors. It’s a one hour per week commitment in 4 week increments. We’d love to have you!)

We’re all caught up now and can get back on track. That feels good, doesn’t it?

31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Step 11: Finish a project

20131006-115008.jpgWhat did you read yesterday? I read a couple of chapters in Jeannette Walls’s latest The Silver Star. I loved her other two books (The Glass Castle and Half-broke Horses. If you have not read them, do so) and this one is great so far. I have a tendency to latch on to authors that I like and read everything they write. I’ve done it with a number of authors; Jeanette Walls is the latest to make it to that illustrious list. Can I also say that I love that she was a gossip (maybe entertainment) columnist before she started writing these wonderful books? It just shows that you never know what talent is lurking behind something seemingly superficial.

I also made the ambitious decision to buy the new, very comprehensive Jim Henson biography. It’s around 600 pages and I’m pretty sure I’m not getting through it by the time it has to go back to the library. I want to take my time reading it since, you know, it’s a biography about JIM HENSON, and I’d rather have it on hand.

But that’s enough about books.

Can you believe it’s day 11 already? This month is flying by. Which is good because Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I can’t wait to get to it. It also means that we’ll get through Halloween (I’m making my daughter’s costume this year. Expect a post on that) and the rest of fall cheerleading (my daughter cheers at football games. Outdoors. One of the main reasons I don’t like football is because it’s outside in the cold. And I now I have to sit outside while my kid cheers. It’s unpleasant. Although, it’s been unusually warm this fall so it hasn’t been too bad. I’m digressing). It also means that we’re starting to spend more time indoors, making it perfect timing for finishing projects. finishing

Which leads me to today’s step towards happiness: complete an unfinished project. 

I have at least a dozen unfinished projects in my house. From a mismatched set of cloth napkins that I’m sewing to hanging pictures on my wall to finally doing a big batch of freezer cooking, there are a minimum of 12 projects in various stages of completion lurking in my house. Every time I look at one of them, I get upset and stressed because I’ve either abandoned the project, don’t have time to work on it, ran out of materials and don’t have the cash available, or have some other ridiculous excuse for why I stopped. Then I start getting down on myself that I never finish anything that I start and you all know where it goes from there.


When I do finish something, I feel great. I feel empowered and encouraged to finish another way. Then I feel happy not only because I finished but because I finished. I can’t wait to share the fruits of my labor. I can relax know that that project is done. One less item to worry about, one less sad looking pile of materials in the corner. One less reason to berate myself.

And one more notch in my happiness belt.

That’s how I want you to feel today. I want you to feel happy that you took the initiative, carved out the time, and completed a project you abandoned. It doesn’t have to be crafty. It can be as simple as ordering pictures for a frame (and then filling the frame) or hanging a shadow box over the toilet paper in your bathroom (I saw it on Pinterest and I am in love with the idea). Just pick one project you’ve been meaning to finish and commit to finishing it. Today.

You’ll be so glad you did.

(Also, whenever I see the word “today” and it’s emphasized the way I did it, I automatically start singing Neil Diamond’s “America” in my head. It’s involuntary.)