Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why Happiness doesn't Make Me Happy...

In doing some research for my self-esteem project, I stumbled over The Happiness Project... specifically, this article on making yourself happier in the next hour.

Immediately upon reading the article, I did the following things:

  • Made a doctor's appointment for Darcy that I'd meant to do for a while
  • Sent out an email to a friend that I almost never see anymore, and who is a notorious slacker when it comes to returning emails or phone calls. I actually hear from this guy about once every 2-3 years. Which is stupid, since I consider him one of my better friends. (His bad habits of not keeping in touch knocked him out of the best friend category...)
  • Set up an appointment to donate blood.

I felt better. I really did.

See, this is the thing. I firmly believe that, in order to establish good self-esteem, it does NOT MATTER how many times I tell myself I am worthwhile, nor does it particularly help when my husband tells me I am a worthwhile person. Or my friends. The only way I feel worthwhile is to act worthwhile. All the "You're okay, I'm okay" bullshit is just that. Bullshit. Words are cheap. It might give me a boost for a few minutes when a perfect stranger tells me they enjoyed my blog, and believe me, I do appreciate it.

But when I feel best about myself is when I honestly feel like I am being the best me I can be.

Which isn't nearly as often as I'd like.

Part of it is because I have a serious negativity bias.

I have a hard time recognizing my own accomplishments. I'm more apt to say, for instance, "I still have 30 pounds to lose" when someone compliments my weight loss than I am to say "thanks! I've worked hard to lose these 65 pounds..." When I clean my house, I'm more likely to notice what's still dirty than to laud the work that I've done. I can spend all day cleaning, and when I wake up the next morning, I'm more likely to see there are fingerprints on the door than to notice how shiny my sink is.

The curse of being a writer is the inescapable knowledge that I will never write as well as I should like.

It seems to be my curse in general.

If I'm being nice and helpful to someone, I feel like I could be better. I could stop snarking in my head, or behind their back about it. If I'm cleaning my house, I either feel like my husband and child are teamed up against me to mess it up just as fast as I clean (and sometimes faster) or that no one notices or cares if my house is clean, except me, and it's never going to be as clean as my father's house. When I write, it's not as good as it sounded in my head. When I cook, presentation isn't as nice as I'd like, or it doesn't taste as good as it should, or the points are too high, or my side dish didn't come out of the oven until the main dish was cold...

It doesn't seem to matter what I do, it's never good enough to satisfy the inner critic.

My inner critic is a big time jackass. Like, major league.

I bookmarked the article and moved on... a few days later, looking up something else, I stumbled on this post... same woman, slightly different topic.

First came the self-esteem movement. Then came the backlash to the self-esteem movement.

It’s pretty clear that repeating “I’m the greatest” or winning a trophy along with every other participant isn’t a good way to build self-esteem.

At the same time, it’s a rare person who isn’t sometimes – or often – plagued with painful self-doubt.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

Wow. I was impressed to see we had the same views about self-esteem. For the last month, I've been fighting the sarcastic eyeroll about everything I was doing, remembering my Guidance Counsilor and his freaking IALAC statements.

Having now come across Gretchen's materials twice in my attempts to improve my overall happiness and self-esteem, I ended up diving into her archives.

This was a huge mistake.

Epic fail.

Gretchen's been working on her Happiness project for three years. I read everything she's ever written in about a month.

Have you ever stood in the doorway of your messy closet, looked at all the crap you'd have to dig out and look through, and close the door and walk away? There's just too much. The task is so huge that suddenly a house fire seems like the perfect solution.

[She picks at a few glasses on a table, then drops the trash bag in exasperation]
Marilyn Lovell: I can't deal with cleaning up, let's sell the house.
Jim Lovell: All right, we'll sell the house.
Apollo 13

I read too much. I couldn't even absorb it all. It was too much. I haven't even decided what parts of her project I agree with and what parts I think won't work for me. I like the idea of 12 commandments (or however many I need...) but I haven't been able to find the time to start my own list.

The last few days, I've been in a terminally bad mood.

There are times when I just want to scream. Why does everything have to be so hard?

Seriously. Losing weight. Kicking a bad habit. Becoming happier. Gaining self esteem. Cleaning the house. Working out. Writing a book. Editing a book.

I don't have a job, and yet I feel completely overwhelmed by everything I'm trying to do.

You know, being a Stay-at-Home-Mom can be the most stressful job out there. I don't get vacation. Or sick leave. I don't even get to go home at the end of the day. I'm on call 24/7. Even when I have a "day off", I don't really take a day off. I still have to cook dinner, watch the kid, do the dishes, fix the husband's lunch for the next day at work, get milk/juice/lunch. There are really, weeks at a time when I resent the hell out of this fact.

Everyone says to me "so take a day off, jeez, lady..."

If only it was that simple. I don't have anything else to DO. If I actually want a day off, I need to leave the house. (Which would require preparing for a day off by making sure my husband and child were going to be ok, and that, say, there was food that my husband could fix for him and her that wouldn't require him torching any more of my expensive cookware... seriously, the man is a kitchen hazzard!) So, where am I going to go? I have nowhere to go. I could take a day off, spend $75 for a hotel room for the day, and be bored? Since my computer would obviously be here...

It's a problem for which the solution is "life sucks, get a helmet."

(Actually, right now, I'm clinging to this vacation idea I'm going to do with My Evil Twin. She's going to come visit sometime this spring and we're going to get a hotel at the Beach and hang out together for a day or so... I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it...)

So, I have problems. I'm working on solutions. But my tendency to look at How Much is Left To Go is really wearing me out.

I'm taking a deep breath and backing out of this messy closet, so to speak. I need to start small, recognize my accomplishments, and then move on to the next step.

Baby steps...

One thing at a time...

Rome wasn't built in a day...

Just breathe.


Shelley said...

What a great article! I've opened my blinds, let the sun shine in, and tackled some nagging crap that I've been putting off. Thanks, I needed what you wrote today.

Rachel said...

I am doing a study right now where a major theme is feelings follow actions. In my working out efforts it is become very obvious to me. I can't wait for myself to feel good to work out, and every single time I work out I feel good. I am noticing it in other areas of my life too.

I am seriously considering crashing in on you all and giving you the chance to have some break time. Maybe a plane ticket is in my future with our tax return money :)

Anonymous said...

So many thoughts...

I'd say "we are so much alike" but that's sort of a given at this point, I think. I, too, feel better about myself when I give myself a reason to feel better...i.e., when I'm doing things I should be doing but haven't been, etc.

And I, too, do not ever feel comfortable patting myself on the back. I feel this obligation to always be criticizing and pointing out the things that still need to be not be self-satisfied. I don't know why there doesn't seem to be any middle ground between being proud of what I've done and being too self-congratulatory (at least in my own mind).

I think it lies in the sneaking, deep-seated suspicion that at the end of the day, I really am a worthless piece of crap, and my only redeeming quality is that I don't want to be a worthless piece of crap and constantly half-kill myself trying not to be a worthless piece of crap. Intellectually, I mostly know that isn't true - but instinctively I feel that it is, so I keep beating myself up - because that way, at least I'm not a sanctimonious, self-deluded worthless piece of crap.

Ain't it great how incredibly skilled we are at emotional self-flagellation?!? If that were a marketable job skill, we'd be rich.

I have to go check out the Happiness Project now so I can have some intelligent, informed opinions on that. And I suspect I'm about to get caught in the best time-suck a total lack of money can buy...sigh.


Anonymous said...

You know what else? Any time you have the ability to take a couple of days away, drive down here and we'll hang out at our cabin. Or you can by yourself if you prefer. You really do need some time away. I'm getting ready to make a weekend to go to the cabin by myself, in fact, because I have got to get away for a little while or something's going to blow...