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31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Step 5: Tweak your appearance

happier blog buttonAfter yesterday’s list, are you feeling a little better about all that you’ve accomplished instead of freaking out about the stuff you haven’t done? Me, too. Are you working on your 100 things in 1001 days list as an added bonus? Me, too. I’ll be sharing some of this list over on Facebook next week so make sure to check it out and share some of what’s on yours.

Alright. Since it’s Saturday, we’re going to have a little fun with today’s task. The reason I saved it for a weekend and not the middle of the week is simple: if what you do turns out to be a huge disaster, you have a day to recover. Also, on Saturdays, we tend to have a little more time to experiment or change things up.

So what are we going to do today? Well, today we are going to tweak our appearances (just a little. Nothing drastic). Because if you’re like me, you get into a hair, makeup, and clothing rut and after awhile, you just become unhappy with the way you look. You get tired of wearing the same things all the time and it start to take a toll on your self-esteem. You feel ugly and outdated and like you should be in that commercial for mom jeans. What makes it worse is going out in public in the only decent outfit you have for the 700th time and seeing people who actually look good. Put together. Wearing clothes without stains. With non-chipped manicures. And makeup. And without 4 inches of roots showing.

Then you get sad, go back home, put on your trusty yoga pants that never let you down, and start binge pinning ideas for makeup and hair and outfits that you swear one day you will try because you know you’re worth it and feeling like crap about how you look just isn’t fun anymore.

I might do this more than I should admit. But today, I’m going to actually try one of those ideas. And so are you. You are going to look at some of what you’ve pinned and see if you can do it. If you’re not on Pinterest, buy a magazine or look around online for some ideas (note: whatever you do, DO NOT focus on the model’s bodies. You are to focus on hair and makeup and nails and clothing ideas only. For today, do not worry if you are not thin enough or tall enough or muscular enough or whatever else enough because it does not matter. Quite honestly, one of the reasons we’re focusing on some very superficial ideas today is so that we spend at least one day forgetting to hate our bodies. Most of us do it enough so let’s go ahead and take a break). Then, once you have your idea, look around your house to see if you already have the necessary tools to work on it. If not, hit up your local drugstore or a clothing store. Buy some inexpensive jeans or makeup or nail polish or whatever else you’re going to need for today’s experiment. Then carve out an hour or so just for you to work on it. And then do it.

This quote makes me think of Trading Places: "Looking good, Billy Ray!" "Feeling good, Louis!"

This quote makes me think of Trading Places: “Looking good, Billy Ray!” “Feeling good, Louis!”

When you’re done, step back and admire your handiwork. Show your husband or roommate or friend or whoever. Have a fashion show with your new clothes. Go to the grocery store wearing that smoky eye. Rock that sparkly neon manicure. Take a selfie with that amazing new hairstyle (note: unless you are really, really good at it, please do not cut your hair or dye your hair yourself. You will most likely regret it and wind up feeling worse. If you want a drastic haircut, please consider the help of a professional).

Even if no one compliments you, if you feel good, if you feel happy with what you’ve done, then that’s what matters. Because this is about internal validation, not external. We need to start working on approving of ourselves before we can worry about others. And if giving ourselves a little weekend makeover is what we need to start feeling good and happy, then who cares if others perceive it as superficial?

Sometimes you need to be happy with the external just as much as the internal.

And that’s okay.

 

31 Steps for Feeling Happier, Step 4: List your accomplishments

happier blog buttonHow’d you do on yesterday’s challenge? Are you feeling a little empowered? How about a little better about yourself and your appearance? Did you remember to include the amazing stuff about your personality, too? Was it as difficult for you as it was for me? I’m pretty sure that little exercise took me roughly an hour. What strikes me the most interesting is that if I asked a friend or my husband to create that list, not only would it take them half the time, but it would probably be way more extensive.

That’s definitely something to think about.

We’re moving on from that, though. Although today we’re also going to write another list. Like a bucket list only not. I don’t have a bucket list. I don’t even know that I believe in bucket lists. I mean, I do in a way, I just don’t classify them as “things I want to do before I die”. I just list them as things I want to do or accomplish at some point in my life. I redefine it mainly because I have a huge fear of death and honestly, it’s not something I think about or even like to talk about. I don’t handle it well, either, when it happens.

So we’re going to stop the death conversation.

Right. Now.

The other aspect of a bucket list that I don’t care for is that it bogs you down thinking about the stuff you’ve yet to do. When I think about all that I haven’t done, it’s easy to get sad or angry or annoyed and it makes me feel like I haven’t done anything. Then the depression shame spiral starts, particularly as I see more and more people my age who’ve accomplished so much (Peyton Manning, anyone? How about John Greene, writer of The Fault in Our Stars?) and then I start to think “even if I create my bucket list, I’ll still never be that successful” or “how are we the same age and they’ve done so much and I’ve done nothing”.

Which is bullshit.accomplishments

Well, it’s not bullshit that I didn’t do those things. That’s actually true. It’s bullshit that a) I think I’ll never be that successful and b) that in 36 years of life, I haven’t accomplished anything. It’s also bullshit if you think the same thing about yourself. Because we have done stuff. Lots of stuff. Important stuff. And for today’s task, we’re going to make a list of that stuff. In other words, today’s task is to write down a list of our accomplishments. You can include anything you want on that list: places you’ve traveled, education milestones, relationship milestones, financial goals achieved (ex., are you debt free? Do you have a 6 month emergency fund?), career achievements, etc. Anything you’ve done that you’re proud of is an accomplishment and you need to write that down.

When you’re done writing that list, take a moment or two to reflect on what you’ve achieved. It’s probably more than you think. And how awesome is that? I’d say it’s pretty awesome. And by the time you’re done writing and reflecting, your mindset should start to change from “look at all that I still need to do” to “look at all that I have done!”

While I’m not a huge believer in living in the past, reflecting on where you’ve been is a great reminder of just how far you’ve come. It’s like giving yourself a stamp of approval or a permission to say “I am better than I was 15 years ago and if I’ve done all this, what’s to stop me from doing more?!” Which is kind of the point of today’s exercise. Just for today, even if you stop doing it tomorrow, I want to you to focus on just how far you’ve come and praise yourself for all that you have done instead of concentrating on what you haven’t. And then use that as a way to empower yourself to do more.

Note: Although I don’t like the idea of a bucket list, I do like the whole idea of 101 things in 1001 days or whatever it is the kids are coming up with these days. It’s way more specific and optimistic, too. So, when you’re done writing your list of accomplishments, go ahead and create one of these as a bonus. I’m going to try, too. Most likely while I’m binge watching Sons of Anarchy this weekend. Anyone else watch it? I really don’t know why I waited so long because it’s fantastic and also when did Lloyd from Undeclared get hot? Regardless, if you don’t watch it, this should be number 1 on your new list. At least in the top 5. 

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.