Many years ago I was living in a place I didn’t like. I was working at a job I didn’t like. I was struggling with infertility and what I thought was my only bright spot in life, my husband, was gone all the time with work.
It was at this time that a friend of mine happened to come into the office where I was working. On his way out the door, he made an off hand comment about going to have his weekly treat.
I was curious and asked exactly what he was going to do. “I’m going to go get my weekly cigar and smoke it on my commute home. I give myself a treat every Friday afternoon as a reward for making it through another week of work.” He explained.
Now, I am completely against smoking and if I had been a more brazen girl, I might have challenged him to quit and find another treat. But at the time I wasn’t brazen. I was bitter and unhappy and I really didn’t have it in me to worry about other people and their bad habits. After all, it is pretty hard to love others, when you do not love yourself.
But I thought a lot about the concept of treating one’s self. I was no stranger to treats. I regularly went home and “treated” myself to a heaping bowl of Ben and Jerry’s. But what I was really doing is medicating. Losing myself in calories.
Today I can say I am a happier person than I’ve ever been before. That is not a comment I make lightly. It has taken me a lot of time and practice to get to this point. I have had to make changes that at times have been painful. There is no concrete formula for happiness, but I want to share some of the things I have learned along my journey.
The first thing I want to share is an absolute truth. It is this: Nobody can make you happy. Only you can make you happy. People can add to, or take away from, your happiness, but ultimately relying on another person to change your mental state is folly.
The next truth I’ve learned is that I am enough. Like most mother’s I put a lot of pressure on myself to live some sort of imaginary life where I am superwoman and everything is hunky dory. What I’ve come to realize, and remind myself of when I forget, is that people aren’t going to love me less because I am not superwoman. I am loved because I am me, with all my flaws. People are much more interested in how they feel when they are with me than my latest accomplishment.
Another thing I have come to realize over the years is that I must try my best at the things that are most important to me. For instance, fitness is important to me. When I slag off and get out of shape, it affects my happiness. No one else cares or even knows that I didn’t get a run in or go to the gym, but it bothers me. I’ve learned that to be happy, I have to feel that I am trying my hardest at being a good parent and wife, staying fit, and developing my creative mind. This doesn’t mean I have to be perfect. I just have to feel like I’m giving it my best.
I’ve had to stop medicating and start treating. I remember looking at a photo of myself as a child and thinking, what a great kid. I like me as a kid. If I were to meet me as a child I’d want to take her out for a treat just to spend time with her. And then I thought, you know, I treat my kids to certain things when they work hard or show some sort of behavior I like, why don’t I treat myself?
The beauty of treating instead of medicating is that treats are always better than medicine. Just ask a kid.
Today my treats are things like a new pair of shoes or a nice bar of French milled soap. I do still love Ben and Jerry’s, so once a week or so I have dessert. I’ve heard it said you shouldn’t treat yourself with food. You are not a dog. BUT, I really love dessert and if I’ve been good all week, by damn I’m having dessert.
I also got rid of all the proverbial “pebbles in my shoe”. I found I had small things in my life that didn’t bother me enough to feel an urgency to fix them, but they bothered me enough to affect my overall happiness. For me, these things were a forgiveness I had to give and an overdue task I had to get done. Proverbial pebbles can be anything from a nagging body pain to a wounded relationship to an unpaid bill. Once I plucked the pebbles from my life, I realized the weight that they had put on me. Don’t underestimate the toll that small annoyances take on your happiness over time.
The last thing I’ve found that has profoundly changed my happiness is spending time alone. This means no kids, no husband, no friends, no social media. At first it was hard. And a little boring. I am so plugged into my crazy life that it took me a while to get used to quiet.
My alone time is when I run. I used to only want to do long runs with friends, but when I moved I found myself with no running partner. And I discovered my stream of conscience. I find that my best ideas come when I am alone with my thoughts. Funny how that works. And the added bonus is that good ideas have a way of boosting your ego. Even if you never share a good idea or implement it, just having it will make you feel pleased with yourself.
Happiness is always a work in progress. Life happens. Profoundly sad things happen. Sometimes people need professional help to get back on the right path towards happiness. But working towards happiness is much better than the alternative.
If you feel that it is time to quit wallowing and start living, here are my tips to get started.
1. Decide what you want to treat yourself to and what you will do to earn it.
2. List the things that are most important to you. Keep the list where you can see it often to remind you check yourself in these areas.
3. Get rid of the pebble in your shoe.
4. Schedule alone time.
5. Practice saying, “I am enough” to your self. When you start to compare your life to others stop and think. “I am enough. I don’t need to do what other people are doing to be the best me.”
I hope you are happy. I hope my discoveries are something you have known all along. But if you are not, and you want to make some changes, give them a go.
They have changed my life. They have made me a better mom, wife, friend and artist.
But I still claim my rightful spot in the Work in Progress Society.
image by bubbla loo photograhpy