A few months ago, I finally picked up Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.
As a major fan of homework and lists (glorious lists!), I loved her suggestion of coming up with your own rules for happiness, a happiness manifesto of sorts.
Why read The Happiness Project when things seem to be going so well?
I feel like a chart my gyno made when I was pregnant with my son is a useful indicator here. She did the standard procedures: blood work, tracked my family medical history, analyzed my existing fitness and diet, and in the end, I was fit as a fucking fiddle to pop out a baby.
Except that I had a 75% chance of getting PPD (again) because I’m, ahem, uniquely suited for mental illness.
The occasional bout of lowness still comes around. I’m pretty good about catching myself when I start to spiral. Mostly.
Sometimes I feel down, and it’s hard to shake it.
It starts with a stomach drop. I try to shake it off, but it festers, rolling around in my stomach, growing with each additional drop of “What makes you think you can handle this?” I feel inadequate, not enough. It rises up, up my trachea and is like heartburn, a snake that gradually constricts every inch of my torso without me realizing it. Wrapped up in an ever-tightening embrace with something so cold, I see these feelings and know they are not true, but it won’t let me go. The angst spirals further up still and is pushed up into my eyes, and nothing but water pours out because I feel I need to do so much more, especially when it comes to being a mother. But held in the coils of this beast you cannot control, you hit a point where you feel, you know, there’s not much more you can do. These are simply the joys of single co-parenthood.
The snake lets go. I lose my temper. I get so frustrated with myself that I lock myself away until I can get myself under control. It beats on my door because it wants in. It’s easy to forget how far I’ve come over this past six months, and in my impatience, I forget this used to be my life.
In fact, my life wasn’t always so fucking pretty. I take some respite and sink into the white comforter om my bed and watch the blue sky and clouds float on and breathe in the brightness.
And then the snake takes a new form. Jealousy creeps under the door, and up over my shoulder because I am afraid that I will turn out in the end not to be enough. That I won’t be able to handle it. To handle myself. That I’ll sabotage these things I care so, so much about. It curls around my neck and I can’t speak. I know my insecurity serves no purpose. It gives me nothing, owes me nothing. I refuse to choke on my words any longer, and I finally pull it off. It slithers away. For now.
It’s so easy to forget I’m only a few months into freedom and learning what it means to value myself, to be treated incredibly well, to come to expect to be treated that way even. To love and be loved.
Sometimes, you get triggered. You take a step backwards. It’s part of moving forward.
But moving forward is really more like a dance than it is sustained forward momentum. You spiral around and around the truth, take turns leading and following, and hopefully, somewhere in the midst of all of it, you find moments of presence, effortlessness.
And so we move on. We breathe. We learn to let go. We learn to lean on each other, to apologize, to forgive. And if we are lucky, we wake up and get to do it again.
Right now, my life is my happiness project. And the idea of a happiness manifesto to keep it in check when I fall into that familiar pit where that insidious snake resides? It’s a way of throwing glitter in the air and watching it cover everything, make everything a little bit more bright, magical.
Eventually, I break free, but I need help. I need to be able to see a way that I can move forward again.
So I phrased my manifesto to reflect that by starting it with, “When in doubt…”
So when in doubt…
1. Embrace ease.
Just over a year ago, I was in perpetual hustle mode. And worst of all, I was proud of it. If you’re always hustling, that’s means you’re probably not stopping to savor the moments along the way that are supposed to be the reason you’re always pushing so damn hard anyway.
Stop pushing. Do less. Embrace ease.
2. Delight others.
This is probably the most important one on this list. It’s not about impressing anyone. It’s about bringing them joy. If I’m having an off day, there is no better way to get out of that funk that doing something with no other intention that making someone really, really happy.
Bring someone flowers. Send a singing telegram. Make something and give it away. The snake doesn’t understand joy.
3. Show gratitude
Regardless of your circumstances, you can find something to be grateful for. Always.
Write a thank you note. Tell someone you care.
4. Surround yourself with co-conspirators
I’m an extrovert (ENFP, if Myers-Briggs is your jam), and somehow, I’ve also ended up a writer, which means I spend a lot of time by myself. It’s really easy to get into this mindset of needing to get things done, which leads to me holing up in my apartment for way too long without human interaction. Bad move.
Like a Sim with a low social bar, I need people to refill my well. Being around others is how I recharge my writerly batteries, and being around the kind of people who I can dream up new things with? Well, that’s pretty much heaven for me.
Co-work with a friend. Start a group around a topic of your choice. The snake is afraid of companionship.
5. Learn something
If you’re not learning, you might as well be dead. We are naturally curious beings. Why stop when we finish school?
Sign-up for class. Take small steps towards that audacious goal you’ve been storing away.
6. Choose movement
Next time you get stuck, get up and go for a walk. Kick up your endorphins. Find a forest and lose yourself. The snake can’t find you there.
7. Reach out
Call someone. Be direct. Ask for what you need. Don’t let the snake win.
8. Make something
Create a vision board. Paint something. Write a story. Sew curtains.
9. Be generous
Do more than you need to. Share your bounty.
10. Plant something
We were never meant to sit at desks all day. Get outside under the trees. Buy a plant. Plant some seeds.
More than anything this year, I’ve learned that tiny steps are the key to being able to take that big one you desperately want to. If you need some help making progress there, my friend Nina and I made this. But having a list of things to revert to when things get hard has been a helpful fail-safe for me when it comes to managing depression. Find what keeps you moving. (And if you need help, ask for it. Remember, the snake can’t survive amongst companionship.)