Upping the happiness quotient

I went through a phase this fall of feeling very wanty a lot of the time. I hate that, especially because at my core I am really interested in reducing consumption, being happier with less stuff, and living simply. But every once in a while I catch the consumerist bug and it drives me crazy until one day I wake up and feel normal again. I don’t satisfy this bug with lots of purchasing, partly because the single-income budget does not allow for such indulgence, but also because of the minimalist values mentioned above. (Yes, even in the haze of want want want I can still find a minute to actually think–a lesson learned, no doubt, from a lot of stupid purchases made when I was younger. Many of which were returned, but still, what a huge waste of time and energy!)

Anyway, the backlash from my wanty phase this past fall is that lately I’m feeling very ascetic. Like, I don’t want to buy anything at all. I just want to get rid of stuff and pare down and spend my time doing other things besides contemplating all of the material goods I could own. I’m also feeling a strong desire to have more leisure in my life. I’m typically a go go go kind of person, yet am also strangely unproductive. It makes no sense. So I’ve decided to do more of the things I want to do and not worry as much about the stuff I feel like I should do. Certainly some of the should do’s are important and need attention, but I tend to fall into the trap of devoting way too much time to that stuff, most often in an extremely unproductive fashion, and to the exclusion of relaxation and fun. Lame.

This weekend I did some things that made me significantly happier, and didn’t cost me any money. That’s kind of perfect, isn’t it? I thought I’d share these things with you in the hopes that you either identify with me or get inspired to find more happiness in your life as it is now.

  1. Painted my nails (and my toenails, but that hardly merits mention as painted toes are de rigueur por moi).
  2. Organized our bookshelf and purged the unwanted or unused books.
  3. Put three books on hold for myself at the local library.
  4. Got started on our taxes. This may not sound fun but it was actually really soothing and gratifying to have an hour to myself to get medical bills and spreadsheets organized. I like being on top of things but am usually doing our taxes at 10pm on April 14th. Reducing my stress level and being proactive = huge win!
  5. Sat down and read a magazine instead of cooking/cleaning/doing laundry. This was especially amazing. I sat in our new Eames chair with a nice snack and just relaxed for an hour without feeling guilty about the housework I wasn’t doing at that moment.
  6. Organized and cleaned out our pantry, which has been a complete disaster since we moved into our house in September.
  7. Organized  and cleaned out our freezer, which was as scary as our pantry. Now I can find stuff, and we have so much more space.
  8. Rearranged some side tables and lamps. Now we have bedside lamps! No night stands yet but who cares when I no longer have to get out of bed to turn off the light when we are done reading at night.

In reviewing this list I realize that some of these things sound like “work,” and that it seems unrealistic that “work” can increase your happiness quotient. But items 2, 6, and 7 have been causing me low-level, constant stress for months. And stress means unhappiness. Every time I walked into our extra bedroom and saw the piles of books on the floor and the bookshelf that was totally disorganized I felt stress. I knew there were books I could sell or donate and that there were other books I had been looking for that were lurking somewhere in the mess. Getting this sorted out took about 30 minutes (I was thinking it would take much longer) and now I feel so much better. No more books on the floor and all the ones on the shelf are arranged by topic so we can easily find what we’re looking for. Same thing for the pantry and freezer. I had been putting off dealing with them because in my mind they became these huge daunting projects (do you do that, too?) and I didn’t know when I’d ever find the time. Turns out that the freezer took about 15 minutes and the pantry about 30 minutes, and both were accomplished while Dylan was awake. Amazing.

Perhaps that biggest thing that upped my happiness quotient, aside from the obvious pampering¬† and relaxing, is that I feel so empowered by choosing how to spend my time and then committing to that choice, whether it’s painting my nails, reading a magazine, or organizing last year’s medical bills. I’m usually the kind of person with a mile-long to do list and everything on it seems so important that I can’t decide what to do and I’m paralyzed by my need to do the “right” thing, OR, I pick something but can’t really focus or be efficient because I am thinking about all the other things I could (should?) be doing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down to read a book but couldn’t enjoy myself because I felt like I was shirking responsibility. It all comes down to conscious choice, commitment, and focus.

What choices could you make about how you spend your time that would make you happier right now, in your current life? I’m curious if other people engage in some of the same habitual self-sabotaging behaviors that I have. What can you do right now that won’t cost you any money, but that will reduce your stress, help you relax, or bring you happiness?

One Comment

  • My wanty phases are definitely cyclical – they hit hardest when my life is off-balance or I’m anxious (which not-so-coincidentally also happens to be when I lose my appetite, causing everything I try on to magically look awesome).

    That said, we try to be more about creating [often free, or at least cheap] experiences (and the memories that go along with it) and less about consumption. It’s one of the reasons we’re cutting back on our alcohol intake – because we were falling into the routine of having a few cocktails at a bar instead of checking out a museum or a neighborhood or a reading/screening/what-have-you.

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