Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Alarm Clock, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned on my happiness journey is happiness isn’t just about doing what makes you happy. To be happy, you must also eliminate sources of unhappiness in your life.

Gretchen Rubin, author of the best-selling Happiness Project and one of the premier experts on how little things can increase your happiness, puts it like this:

"To be happier, you have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”

There’s a lot to tackle in that little sentence, so I’m just going to focus on the ‘feeling bad’ portion: recognizing and eliminating the things in my life that lead to feelings of unhappiness.

Naturally, the first item to go was my alarm clock.

I can think of few things I hate more than being startled awake by my blaring foghorn of an alarm. Before I had even managed a yawn, I was already feeling irritated, on edge, and unhappy. 

Instead, I’m now allowing my body to start the day on its own terms; waking up naturally when the sun, the local rooster, and occasionally my black lab, Sam, decide it’s time. At first I worried alarm-clock-free-living was a one-way ticket to slothdom, but now that it’s my choice to be awake in the mornings, I find I’m actually waking up earlier and am much more productive throughout the day. All of which gets my day off to a happier start.

Another big source of unhappiness was my behavior toward those I love the most: my family. We’ve always been very close, but lately, I found I was taking out my stress and frustrations on them. The Wicked Witch had nothing on me, and I wasn’t proud of it. Each time I grew impatient or said something unkind to them, I felt bad about myself, embarrassed by my behavior, and unhappy.

Let me dispel a myth here: I am not perfect. I don’t always respond to stress with deep breaths and Buddha-like patience, but I am working to eliminate the unnecessary snark in my interactions with my family. As a result, I feel better about myself and my family is a whole lot happier around me, which, of course, makes me happy.

The third major source of unhappiness was physical. Specifically, the weight I gained during the last campaign. Political campaigns are like atom bombs to your health and wellness. Combine loads of stress, fried foods and baked goods from well-meaning volunteers minus any time for sleep, let alone a gym, and you get excessive amounts of weight gain.

My unhappiness over the weight gain was less about vanity and more about practicality. Sure I wanted to be healthier, but the real motivation was my wardrobe; of which, not one item fit me comfortably.

So I made some small changes: I ate vegetables. I started sleeping 8 hours. I ran around Europe with a backpack for three months. Slowly, I lost all the campaign weight and then some. 

Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that being skinny does not equal happiness. Some of the most insecure, neurotic and deeply unhappy people I know are also the skinniest.

Losing the campaign weight did not make my life all unicorns and rainbows. What it did was eliminate the daily unhappiness I felt as a I faced my wardrobe and attempted to find something that fit my chubby, campaign physique.

The math is simple: With fewer things to feel unhappy about, you become a happier person.

Try it.

{Image via Serenity Institute}