Jana Says

Living life from cover to cover

Life

31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Step 3: List your good qualities

happier blog buttonWhile yesterday’s challenge was rather unpleasant, it wasn’t really all that hard. Today’s challenge, however, is going to be hard. At least for me. Because today, we’re going to make a list. But not any list. We’re going to make a list of at least 5 of our good qualities.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re outstanding at picking out your flaws. And not just the physical flaws, either. The character ones, the mental ones, and the personality ones, too. I don’t pick myself apart because it’s fun, mind you. I pick myself apart because it’s just easier.

It’s easier to talk about what I do wrong or how there’s something wrong with my appearance. For instance, if we’re talking about hair and someone tells me that I have nice hair, my first instinct is to say something like “oh, it’s too long” or “it’s a mess today” instead of a simple “thank you”. The thing is, I know I have nice hair. I just don’t feel like I can admit to someone else.

I think it’s this way because when we talk about what we’re good at or something positive about our physical appearance, many people will perceive that as bragging. And no one wants to be perceived as a braggart. That’s probably one of the worst labels you can have, not only because of how negative it is but the fact that it comes with other negative companions. If someone determines you’re bragging then she will automatically assume that you’re insensitive, an asshole, full of yourself, and most likely, unpleasant. No one likes a show off, and if someone else thinks it, she might automatically dismiss you as a friend and gossip about you behind your back

However.

If you are good at something and you admit that you’re good at it, is it really showing off? Or is love yourselfit simply stating the truth? The answer is most likely somewhere in between but for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to tell that one simple fact:

It is perfectly acceptable to admit that you have good qualities. 

And the reason you need to admit all the things about your physical appearance or personality are not akin to a troll under a bridge is simply due to the fact that once you start acknowledging your good qualities, it’s easier to start feeling better about yourself and start improving your self-esteem. You can look at the list and think “you know what, I’m not so bad. I’m a good person. And I’m not totally hideous either. In fact, I can even go out in public without makeup.”

Seriously. It’s true.

Once you get through this exercise (and its cousins that are coming later in the month), you’ll have a tangible foundation for making yourself happier. You’ll be able to look at these lists and remind yourself that you’re not so bad. You aren’t ugly. You are a good person. You can do things. You are not as worthless as you think.

A final note: you do not have to share your list with anyone. If it’s easier to complete this task in private, then feel free to do so. It’s just important that you do create a list. And make sure it has a minimum of 5 points, and make sure it has a balance between your personality and your appearance (we’re going to talk about strengths and abilities another day).

I know I’m going to struggle with this list. I’m great at acknowledging what’s good about me as a person but my appearance? Not so much. But I’m going to dig deep and figure a few things out. I hope you will, too.

 

31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Step 2: Clean something

happier blog buttonI’m the first one to admit that I do not like to clean. Some people get enjoyment out of cleaning. I am not one of them. I can think of at least 47 other activities I’d engage in before cleaning and at least one of those involves getting on a scale. In fact, on my list of things I’d like to do with my day, cleaning falls right after laundry and just before running.

That’s how much I hate it.

But I do it anyway. And I do it for these reasons:

  • It alleviates anxiety. When my house, or at least my kitchen and desk, are clean, it puts my mind at ease. It’s one less thing I need to do and when I go into either my office or my kitchen, the site of a clean desk or counter means that I’m not distracted by clutter. I can focus what I went into that room to do. I’m also not freaking out that I must clean all the things.

    From Hyperbole and a Half. Allie Brosh is one of my blogging heroes.

    From Hyperbole and a Half. Allie Brosh is one of my blogging heroes.

  • It saves me money. Living primarily on my husband’s income means that we need to be extra careful with our money. We need to stick to our budget as much as possible, and if my house is dirty or cluttered, I’m more apt to spend outside of that budget because I either a) can’t find what I need so I have to buy new; b) need to get out of the house since sitting in the mess makes me frustrated; or c) both a and b. If my house is clean, I don’t mind staying home and I can find what I need when I need it.
  • It makes me feel better. There is just something about living in a clean environment that helps lift me from a funk. If my house is a mess, I feel like I’m a mess. I feel disorganized, disheveled, and oddly childlike and I start to act accordingly. It’s easy to fall into a depressive state when my house is a disaster because that’s my home. If I can’t keep that clean, then I can’t take care of anything else. And it spirals from there. So I clean it and I instantly feel better. Not only is actually cleaning an accomplishment in and of itself, but when I look at a clean environment, I can focus on other parts of my life.

That’s why today’s task is to clean something. Anything. Make your bed. Wash the dishes. Clean your bathroom or your car or your whole house. What you clean isn’t as important as the fact that you are actually cleaning something. If you’re struggling with picking what to clean, start with what’s bothering you the most. And when you’re done, step back and admire your handiwork.

Also, make a mental note of your mood before you start cleaning. Let yourself feel those emotions. Then, when you’re done, make a note of how you feel. Is there any difference? Let yourself feel those emotions, too. Write them down somewhere if you feel like it. But definitely make sure to remember how you felt during the process of cleaning. It’ll help the next time. Because there will be a next time.

I assure you that the process is worth it. The tedium of cleaning is worth the feeling of pride and accomplishment when you’re done. And you will feel happier, too.

In this case, the end definitely justifies the means. Even if the means are as horrible as cleaning.

31 Steps for Feeling Happier: The Introduction and Step 1

happier blog buttonI have been wanting to do a month long series for quite awhile. I would read them on other sites and think “what a great idea” and “wow, it takes dedication to write about ONE topic for an entire month” and “I totally need to do that”. I never climbed aboard that train, though, because it always came down to one simple problem–I had no idea what to write about.

Writing about one topic for an entire month is hard. Deciding what to write about it even harder. I knew it needed to be something that would be meaningful for you, my beloved readers, but it had to be something that I cared enough about to keep going and not quit mid-month. I also didn’t want it to be a boring, recycled topic that’s been beaten to death. So my choices were limited.

And then. Then I had idea. Why not talk about ways to be or at least feel happier? There’s all this advice out there that says “choose happiness”. I’m not knocking the advice entirely but when you suffer from depression or a number of other mental illnesses, it’s not that easy to just choose it (believe me, we would if we could). You need small, specific, actionable steps that, when taken separately or in their entirety, can help you feel happier (at least temporarily). They’re not necessarily a cure, long-term, for depression but these steps can alleviate some of it for a day or an afternoon or even an hour.

Which is something. Because when we start feeling good about one aspect of our lives or working on improving one area of self-esteem for even a small amount of time, we can then roll that into working on another and another until we feel good enough to get out of bed or leave the house or start to feel “normal” again. I know that it’s hard to feel productive or ambitious enough to even pick up a pen when you’re in the throes of depression but please believe me that it’s worth it to try. And if all you do is try, then you’re halfway there and you should be proud of yourself. Just try again tomorrow.

I’ll be here for you whenever you’re ready.

Now, a quick disclaimer: this series is not at all intended to be a substitute for a certified mental health professional. It is intended to simply provide things you can do, at home, as a supplement. If you are seeking professional help, please continue to do so.

Another quick note: I really struggled with what to call this series. While it’s coming from a place of battling depression, it’s not intended for only people like me. It’s intended for anyone who’s working on improving themselves, their self-esteem or just wants to a few extra ways to feel good. All of the action steps can do that, too. So please stick with me.

And finally, I’ll be working on all the steps along with you. I have a long way to go in my happiness and self-esteem journey and these steps will provide me with a playbook as well. So be prepared to read all about what I’m doing this month.

By now you’re probably thinking that you want to know what today’s task is. Well, it’s a simple one. Today, for day 1, the only step you need to take is committing to working through the challenge the best that you can. That’s it. Just commit to working on as many of the steps as you can. If your only step is to bookmark this post or the main series page with a promise to yourself that you’ll work on it later, then that’s fine. This is your progress. I’m not going anywhere.

If you’re participating in the series and blog about it, please share the link (I’ll have a link widget at the bottom of each post). If you are participating and don’t feel comfortable blogging about it or you don’t have a blog, you can join the conversation on Facebook. Or just do it privately. No pressure.

Oh, last thing. I’m not calling it 31 Days to Feel Happier because that’s total bullshit. That’s making a promise that I’m not sure I can keep. But 31 actionable, clear steps that can be worked on your own time frame that will make you feel happier at some point? That’s a promise I can keep.

About that time I stood up for myself, asked a question, and got what I wanted

Those who know me in person may find this next statement hard to believe but I’m going to say it anyway–I have a hard time standing up for myself.

JasmineYes, it’s true that I’m outspoken, but often, when someone does something rude or inconsiderate or hurtful, I don’t say anything. I internalize it, keep it to myself and blow up at inappropriate times. Or maybe I stuff it down by eating another pumpkin chocolate chip muffin (since I have approximately 13,000 in my house). Or maybe I use it as another way to beat myself up and say that perhaps I deserve to be treated that way because I clearly did something wrong.

It does wonders for my self-esteem, let me tell you.

By not standing up for myself, not only do I hurt myself mentally but I also wind up inconveniencing myself. For instance, if I place an order for something–let’s use food as an example because why not–and it comes out wrong, I typically will not say anything. I will just deal with the problem because a) I’m convinced that something awful will happen to my food if I send it back (I *might* have paranoia issues sometimes) and b) I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

I do this more often than I care to admit, and oftentimes, I just take the wrong product because I have limited time to wait for the right one and the wrong one is better than none at all. Then I profusely apologize when I have a crappy business card (this happened at one full-time job) or an ill-fitting wedding dress (yup, that happened) or whatever else. I do vote with my voice and let people know not to go to XYZ company or eat at 123 restaurant and I also won’t give them any more of my money. Word of mouth is essential when you live in a small state so if I mention that a local company is crap, news travels fast.

But I never let the right people know.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, I decide that I’ve had enough and I really don’t have the time or patience to deal with a problem. Also, my bank account is exhausted. It can’t really take any additional hits. Which is why, this past week, I stood up for myself on two-TWO–separate occasions! And I was successful in getting done what I needed!

Time #1–The Library

For the 9 years I lived in my old house, I had a regular library that I used. Getting there took about 10 minutes, maybe 15 or 20 if the traffic was really heavy. So, not too bad. Now that I’ve moved, I live approximately 45 minutes from that library. That’s too damn far, especially when  I another branch 15 minutes from my new house. So, when I got a notice that books I had on hold (The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls and Serena by Ron Rash, for those who are interested) were available at my old library, I was frustrated. I really didn’t want to have to drive to that branch. It’s a waste of time, I already spend way too much money on gas thanks to living in the middle of no where and cheer competitions, and we really need to save the mileage on my car thanks to the lease restrictions (side note: I will NEVER lease a car again. It was something that had to be done due to a major financial pinch a few years ago but never, ever again).

So I made a phone call. And I asked if the books could be transferred to the new, closer branch. And they said yes! Who knew? Now I get my books and I get to save on all the areas I need to save.

Time #2–The Gym

Because the husband has a gym in his office building and works hours that don’t allow him the opportunity to use our YMCA, we removed him from our membership (hooray for saving money). For whatever reason, that caused a glitch in the Y’s system and they charged us twice this month for our membership fee. I noticed it because I compulsively check our bank account (we had some issues with compromised information at our alma mater as well as a stolen card number last year so I keep a pretty close watch on our account). The other day, I went to the front desk to ask what happened, and I was told that the money would be refunded.

Imagine my surprise when 3 days later, no refund had been issued. So I called again. And spoke to a very pleasant, helpful lady who figured out why I had no refund and actually processed it this time. She even emailed me a receipt! We’ll get our money back in a day or two. Just in time to pay for October, too.

The Difference

Because I’m trying to work on improving myself, this includes standing up for myself and asking questions when I’ve lost money or need to be inconvenienced. I’m trying to recognize that sometimes, it’s okay to want things to be easy for me (also, I deserve my money back). The worst people can tell me is no. Then I’m in the situation I didn’t want but I can at least assure myself that I tried.

In these two situations, the main difference between present Jana and past Jana is that I got the confidence, and took the initiative, to actually make the phone calls. In the past, I would have put the onus on me to work out the problem instead of asking for help. But in the present, I acknowledge that that’s ridiculous. So I did it. And I got the results I wanted. Which gives me confidence to do it again.

Note: Make no mistake. If someone messes with my kid, I absolutely will not tolerate it. I will get in their face if I have to. You do NOT hurt my child in any way and get away with it. Same with my animals. Sometimes my husband but he’s bigger than me so it’s more intimidating if he stands up for himself. But all 5’3″ of me will be right behind him. 

How about you? Are you good about standing up for yourself in situations? 

A few reasons to embrace minimalism

On the Jana Says Facebook page, I recently asked what 10 beauty/makeup items would you keep if you could only have 10 items for the next 10 years (there were some great answers and I'd love to hear yours so please hop on over there and leave a comment). My list included:

  • One of those chunky eyeliner/eye shadow combo things
  • Mascara
  • Tinted lip balm
  • Moisturizer
  • Bath and Body Works paraffin hand lotion
  • My flat iron
  • Ponytail holders
  • Nail polish colors I'm Not Really a Waitress (OPI) and Chocolate Kisses (Essie)
  • An emery board

I didn't include items like soap, shampoo, razors, etc, because I put those in a different category. And borrowing of other items is permitted for special occasions.

(Note: Another exercise I do in my own head is figuring out what I would pack if I had to move in two hours and could only take with me what would fit in the trunk of my car. We can talk about that another day if you'd like.)

The reason I asked the question is because I am becoming increasingly interested in the concept of minimalism. I am intrigued by things like the 40 hanger closet. The idea of having a small amount of items that are meaningful, purchased consciously, used regularly and are of good quality rather than spontaneously purchased junk thrills me. The thought of having one main product–like my iPad–which is multifunctional and portable is lovely.

And while I dwelled on the idea of minimalism, I started thinking about the reasons why I love the idea. And I came up with these main reasons:

Organization

I have learned that one of the best ways to manage my anxiety–which is a trigger for my depression–is to keep my house clean and organized. When I can look at a room, see everything put away, and items that belong in that room are, in fact, the only items in that room, it eases my mind. It makes me feel at peace. Which is extremely important.

Staying organized is hard. There are so many systems and ideas and methods to follow that it can be overwhelming. Overwhelming picking out which one to follow, where to start, and how to maintain. While the simplest advice is “pick what works for you”, I figure that for me, the method that works the best is to not have too much stuff. Beause the less items we have, the easier it is to stay organized as there's less to attend to and less clutter to keep in check.

Narrows choices

I have tremendous difficulty making decisions. Not big, major ones, but small ones like which nail polish color should I use this week or what socks should I wear or water or iced tea. It's annoying, actually, to get paralyzed by small mundane choices. I've realized, though, that part of the reason I get dumbfounded by the choices is I just have too much stuff to choose from. It's like walking into a supermarket and deciding what cereal to buy and you have no coupon to help push you in a direction. There are so many options you just know that you'll make a choice and then immediately doubt yourself.

Only having a few items to choose from helps eliminate that self doubt. You know that everything you have was intentionally purchased and you love it, so there is no regret. Each decision is a good one. And it doesn't take 20 minutes to make, which saves time. That's good, too.

Saves money

I don't even know how many thousands of dollars I have wasted over the last few years buying stuff that I liked in the store or at the counter, used once, and then never touched again because it either fell apart, was sheer crap, washed poorly, or dozens of other reasons. Or they were given away, donated, or thrown out because I purchased many of these items on a whim and never got around to using them.

It's actually quite sad.

Which is why it makes no sense to me anymore to purchase something just to purchase it. It's foolish. Embracing the concept of buying things intentionally forces you to think about where your dollars really are going and it forces you to think about the value of the item in your life. It eliminates shopping as a hobby, which saves money and reduces clutter. And when you are spending money on the unimportant, it doesn't leave much left for the important.

The fourth aspect of minimalism that I like is that it just saves time. Time not spent cleaning and putting things away. Time not spent shopping for crap. Time not spent deciding what to wear so people you don't care about are impressed with how you look. Not spending time on that gives more time for the hobbies, work, people, and anything else you truly love. Time is something that's hard to get back. Why waste it?

I'm not sure that I can ever become a complete minimalist. I live with two other people who don't seem to completely share my ideas. However, I can work on the areas in my control. And I figure that's a start.

How about you? How do you feel about minimalism?