by Dan Puzzo
Writing about self-encouragement and the pursuit of happiness was something I felt ill-equipped to do. After all, I am by no means a happy-go-lucky person. In fact it’s quite the opposite; I’ve wrestled with depression and, increasingly, anxiety for most of my life. Surely I wouldn’t be the one to consult about this. But then it occurred to me that the people for whom happiness is a hard-won achievement would know more about self-affirmation than someone who is happy nearly all the time without paying it any conscious thought. Limitations force us all to hone our skills to cope, and those who feel self-doubt or even-self loathing are no different.
To be clear, I have some answers but I do not have THE answer. These are the things that have helped me. Maybe they’ll help you too.
1) Focus only on what you can control. There are certain chronic diseases which are beyond anyone’s power to alter. You cannot choose not to have crohn’s disease, but you can choose to prepare healthy meals for yourself. You cannot choose the body type you were born with, but you can choose to work out regularly. This applies to cosmetic things as well. I am a short, balding man with dark circles under my eyes, which I cannot change. But you best believe I’m going to be the fittest, healthiest tiny raccoon man in town.
2) If you can’t be happy, make someone else happy. I view my really bad days as some sort of shared equilibrium between people. If I’m feeling really low one day, I think of that missing happiness (or happiness I just can’t get to) as something tangible that I can give to someone else to make their day better. If you feel unloved, call someone up to tell them how much you love them. If you feel underappreciated, text an old friend or acquaintance and tell them about a nice gesture they once did for you that you still remember to this day. Your low becomes their high.
3) Don’t squander your daily intake of sunlight. I am a total night owl. Left to my own devices I would be up till 3am and sleep in til noon every day. But I don’t allow myself to do that, even on days I’m not working. Why? The sun! Nature! Animals! All of these things are better for your soul than anything your apartment or office has to offer. Eat outside, walk through familiar surroundings looking for plants and animals that you ordinarily shuffle past on your commute without a second thought. Pause to let the sun’s rays soak in. You can still Netflix binge, dick around on Reddit and game. Just do it during the night hours, when you’re not missing the warm breeze on your face or patting Bowser the neighborhood bulldog’s head on his morning walk.
4) Limit social media. It’s well documented that social media is harmful to our sense of happiness. Holy shit everyone’s going on vacation, everyone’s getting engaged, everyone’s having babies, everyone’s getting hired for an awesome new job! No, they’re not. These are a handful of your hundreds of friends, and the things they’re posting are the highlights of their lives. People never post when they get fired, or when they suffer a miscarriage, or when they’re suffering marital problems, or when they get explosive diarrhea on their vacation to Cancun. I assure you, these things are happening too.
5) Respect your body even if it’s hard to respect yourself. In a strange way, I separate my physical self from my mental self. Your body is the loyal servant of your mind, always trying to fight off sickness, keep your muscles and bones mended and survive above all else. Your body wants you to succeed, so bad! So the next time you get ready to eat a sleeve of Oreos, thinking “I’m such a piece of shit, I keep doing this to myself.” No, you keep doing this to your body you asshole! Would you chain a random person to their bed because YOU’RE feeling tired? Would you force an old man to down two vodka tonics because YOU had a shitty day? No! Then why would you let your mind do these things to your poor body, your most loyal friend of all?
6) Avoid your bed during the day, treasure it at night. This goes along with my whole not squandering daylight rule. Yes, I know: Sleeping and feeling nothing is preferable to being awake and feeling like crap. But you will eventually wake up, and when you do, nothing will make you feel worse than realizing that there are only 4 hours of daylight left before you’re plunged back into darkness. You missed the warm breeze and patting Bowser on the head, so now your day is already shittier before you even get started. Don’t rob yourself of those joys. (Yes, I realize sleeping is also a joy. That’s why there are ample nighttime hours to devote to it!)
7) Make the times you feel shittiest your most productive times. Being depressed saps you of energy, drains your initiative, and makes everything feel futile and uninteresting. Oh well, time to curl up on the couch and passively watch Rick and Morty while the fruit flies buzz around the pile of dishes in your sink. Fuck. That. If you think about it, only doing chores, errands and cleaning while you’re happy is sabotaging time you should be enjoying. Scrub the toilet, fold your laundry, take out the trash all while you’re feeling like crap because it’s not raining on your parade; your parade was already rained out!
As I said, I’ve provided you with some answers, but not THE answer. I’m not promising these things are a cure-all. If they were, I would be the obnoxiously chipper guy at work jibing you for having a case of the Mondays, sending you painfully unfunny Bit Strips and trying to get you to join my fantasy league. But no, I still struggle with my well-being and sense of worth despite employing these 7 tactics. That does not make them worthless though, it makes them vital.