It’s August 29th, 2004 and things are NOT going as planned. I wake up: zero ‘Happy Birthday!” texts. I open my email: three pieces of spam and one email from a colleague asking me to teach his Friday evening class.
I push through the glass doors of the school where I teach and my co-workers barely glance up from their grading. My work BFF pulls me aside for a quick gossip about our boss and points out I have a marker stain on my shirt. I head into my kindergarten class hoping this is some sort of elaborate ruse: A setup to lower my expectations before everyone jumps out and yells ‘Surpriiiiiise!’
Friends, there was no surprise party. My 26th birthday was commemorated with a voicemail from my parents and two belated emails from high school friends.
After I spent a few days sulking and eating my feelings, I realized there was exactly one person to blame for The Sad Birthday Debacle Of ’04.
Had I told anyone my birthday was coming up? I had not.
Had I given my roommate or my friends a head’s up that my birthday was a big deal to me and one of my love languages is ‘fuss-making’? Nope.
Had I done anything to make it easier for my friends to show me they loved me? No. If anything, I’d made it oddly hard. I’d created one of those “If you don’t know, then I’m not telling you” scenarios.
What if we made it easier for our friends and family to make us happy? What if we helped people make us happier?
Of course, a giant preamble: Really, you’re the only person who’s responsible for your happiness
In a perfect world, the people who love us add to our lives. They help us be our best selves. They’re interested in knowing what makes us happy. Once they have that information, they want to do things that will add more happiness to our lives. That said, your best friend is busy. Your partner has hobbies. Your family members have lots of things on their proverbial plates. They all love you and want you to be happy! They do not necessarily have time to make your happiness a priority in their lives! So let’s do our very best to hold two truths in our big, clever minds and hearts simultaneously: 1. People probably won’t know how to make us happy unless we tell them. 2. Even if they know how to make us happy, the people in our lives are not required to spend their time and energy making us happy every minute of every day. Yes? Yes.
Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about how we can help people make us happier.
Let’s imagine a super luxurious spa day. Picture it: cucumber water. Fluffy robes. Enya.
Now, imagine exiting the spa and driving directly to a tax appointment, to be followed by dinner with your passive aggressive cousin.
But CLEARLY you wouldn’t do that, right? No sane human would ‘undo’ six hours of happiness and self-care like that, would they?
My dudes, we all do this ish all the time. We check email while we’re on vacation. We make mental to-do lists while friends tell hilarious stories. We start doing the dishes in the middle of the party we looked forward to hosting <- real thing I do because I’m Super Fun. This is so, so self-defeating and joy-sabotaging. In the pie chart of our lives, joy is a pretty small slice.
Much of our lives consist of boring, responsible, logistical things. The shining moments of joy – a great conversation, a long-awaited holiday, amazing food – are the minority. And yet! So many of us crowd those few happy moments with stuffed schedules and mental to-do lists.
In fact, studies show that a significant amount of happiness comes from anticipating something we enjoy and a significant amount comes from recalling it. We’re literally sucking joy out of our lives by cramming our schedules and minds so full. We deserve better than that. Our lives and minds and relationships deserve better than that. And it’s not hard to do better!
It’s 2009 and I’m standing in the tiny galley kitchen of the ‘garden’ (read: basement) apartment I hate, fighting back tears as I stare into the fridge.
Two days ago, I splurged on an expensive ball of fresh mozzarella. Today, where there was once fresh mozzarella, there is now a plastic container of cloudy mozzarella water.
That cheese cost $5. At the time, I was earning $16 an hour as a teacher at a non-profit. After taxes, the cost of that cheese = 30 minutes of my life. And my boyfriend ate it. My earns-three-times-what-I-do-doesn’t-have-school-debt-wants-to-split-everything-50/50 boyfriend ATE MY SPECIAL EXPENSIVE CHEESE.
It will not surprise you to know, dear reader, that what followed was an all out, raised-voices fight about money.
It also won’t surprise you to learn we did not remain boyfriend/girlfriend much longer.
If you’ve ever shared a living space and expenses with someone, you’ve probably had a similar experience. In fact, 57% of people who divorce cite money as the reason for their split.
Of course, money is complicated. We all spend it in different ways, for different reasons. These five basic steps can help you argue much, much less.
5 ways to argue about money nicely and productively
I’m standing in the aisle at Target, staring at a plump, pink tube of $20 ‘cheek gel.’
My cart is already filled with sensible, not-really-for-me-purchases. Toilet bowl cleaner, frozen peas, ibuprofen.
Can I afford this blush? I can.
Is my current tube of ‘cheek gel’ almost used up? It is.
Do I feel cuter and more on top of it when I’m wearing makeup? I do.
Am I pretty sure this particular blush would work best with my skin tone and type? Yup.
I sigh and shuffle my way to the Wet & Wild and buy the $4 blush instead.
Maybe you’ve never done this. Maybe you’ve never spend $150 on sensible purchases and gifts for other people and then denied yourself something you want and can afford. Maybe you’ve never bought the ‘close enough’ jacket because it was cheaper (even though you could afford the jacket you truly loved).
If you’ve never done that – congrats! You can stop reading now. Here is a post with photos of animals in buckets.
If this behavior sounds familiar: I see you and I get you.
One of the things I hear from many of my ‘Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is’ students is “I just can’t seem to spend money on myself or on anything fun.” They don’t have trouble living on a budget and they top out their 401 k every year. Their savings accounts are flush and healthy but their closets, homes, and calendars are, uh, less so.
Why do we do this? Why do we deny ourselves things we can afford and we know would make us happy?
When it comes to happiness, I’m afraid I share a few traits with lab rats. Yes, I too have nearly invisible eyelashes. I too have nearly hairless extremities. But what I’m talking about here is my personal propensity to find the button that brings me what I want. And then I push it over and over till I’m a quivering pile of mush. See, many years ago, I discovered two things that always brought me happiness: 1. improving the aesthetics of my living space 2. travel So anytime I felt stuck or lost or blue, the solution was easy: fuss with my living room or take myself on a trip. Daytrip to a new city = 1 week of improved mood! Rearranged office and one new throw pillow = I am a new human who loves everything and everyone! And while it’s great to know myself and know what makes me happy, It's reductive and short-sighted to winnow or narrow your sources of joy. Click To Tweet What happens when my house is ‘done’ and every corner has been perfected? What happens if I develop a health issue that prevents me from flying? Or something happens that requires me to stay close to home?
We’ve all seen those hand-lettered quotes floating around Pinterest, haven’t we?
“Write your own definition of success!” “Success is: [photo collage of six pack abs, checked off lists, and lattes]” or that illustration of the imagined path to success versus the reality.
If you’re anything like me – you nod at your computer screen. You think “Yes! I shouldwrite my own definition of success!”
Then we forget about it. We go back to subconsciously believing the version of success marketed by every magazine, tv show, and movie. And based on those standards we’re doing life wrong.
It took me yearrrrs to realize that I – like everyone else, ever – had quietly absorbed all these ideas about success.
I’d watched enough sitcoms to know that success looks like stainless steel kitchen appliances and European cars. I’d read enough women’s magazines to know success looks like a high, tight butt and a high-earning husband. I’d been an American long enough to know that success looks like a six-figure salary, 2.5 children, and good teeth.
I’d never opted into these beliefs. They seeped into me by osmosis.
But somehow, one day, a light switch flipped on in my brain. I realized that if I actually wrote my own definition of success, it’d probably be a lot easier to achieve and a lot more fulfilling once I got there.