Monday, December 31, 2012

Seven gloss-free ways to be happier in 2013

In the grocery store I was drawn to my favorite glossy women's magazine, which promised advice on “ways to be happier” in the coming year. I didn't buy it. At this point I know that this magazine consists almost exclusively of lists of lists, with the same advice over and over in different permutations.

I'm pretty sure I'm just as qualified to offer advice as anyone who publishes them on glossy paper. So, here you are: my advice to myself and the three other people who might read this, looking ahead to the new year.

Muddle through. 

Deal with stuff directly, even--especially--the stuff that scares you. Have those conversations you dread or feel anxious--and don't expect yourself to do it perfectly. Too many hours of preparation can just increase your anxiety or mean that you never get around to the actual conversation! And don't expect yourself to take a sharp turn in a relationship or fix it all in that one conversation. Just take one little step to deal with what's in front of you.

Know your bottom lines and be honest, but start with questions and listening. This, I think, is the basic advice of a book recommended to me by a friend who knows some of the challenges I had this year, Difficult Conversations. I think this is the advice because I haven't gotten past the first chapter yet. But it's my advice to myself anyway, for quick prep.

I recently had a conversation that was very difficult, that I would have delayed infinitely if I could have. Because of a real deadline in the world and a wonderful person's push to action, I did it, and I got through it. I asked questions and did my best to really listen. I was pretty blunt about my concerns and my bottom lines. Being determined and comfortable being pretty blunt made it easier to listen, because I didn't need to plan my next comment since I knew I would just say whatever was actually on my mind. So I'm trying to pay attention to this lesson.

Do the best you can without too much strain and anxiety * 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

You don't have to be perfect. Just be good enough.

You can't always learn something as quickly as you wish, or as quickly as someone else might wish. You can't always do some new difficult thing as well as you would like to. Sometimes we don't have the time we wish we were able to devote to something. Sometimes I just don't have any more room in the 3% of my brains that I use.

Anne Lamott wrote, "You can only go as quick as the slowest part of you can go." That's just how it is. Be gentle with yourself for being subject to this reality.


Yeah, this is definitely my favorite.

Think about or write down all the stuff you've got going. All the responsibilities, all the projects. And all the stuff you just want to do.

Then, take a second look. Yes, you can't get rid of some of the stuff. But, pick what really matters to you, and just jettison the rest. I suggest actually yelling, "Jettison!" to formalize the decision and announce it to the world.

Just do enough, the parts that feel great to you. Jettison the rest.

I would like to do this more often.

Resign from materialist culture, and commit acts of resistance against it.

Maybe you're already doing this because you're broke or poor or you've suffered a change in your fortunes. Good job!

Don't buy more stuff you don't have concrete plans to actually use! My grandfather, a farmer, kept every piece of iron he ever owned so he could use it later. He's gone now, but the iron remains in a huge pile. My grandmother, I discovered after her death, did the same with fabric. In fact, I've done the same with fabric--I have a big stash of fabric that includes some I bought in the 7th grade and haven't used yet. It's easy to go overboard keeping too many things for later use, and the easiest strategy is to prevent the problem.

Don't shop at stores that are the targets (pun intended) of organized boycott efforts. That list includes Walmart, of course.

Buy fair trade and buy local. If you haven't yet, try Spokane's wonderful fair trade store, Kizuri.

Give during the year, in the form of getting rid of your stuff that you're not using and in the form of giving to causes you believe in, because good groups need support year-round.

Make stuff yourself: subvert the dominant paradigm's insistence on defining us all as merely powerless consumers. With my crochet hook or cookie cutter in hand, I say, take that, overlords!

Take collective action, even when you have to organize it yourself.

This is the advanced version of resistance and in my opinion the most important kind of resistance. My old bumper sticker reads, "Commit Organized Acts of Resistance and  Conscious Acts of Solidarity."   It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done, to be part of something larger than myself or my family, to create change along with others. It's important to work with other people to do things you care about because it creates a supportive culture in your life for all your subversive activities. It's like Lucy tells Charlie Brown, "You need involvement." Of course, I'll take this opportunity to encourage you to get involved with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, because we've got some exciting stuff going on.

And, we all need to talk  to people unlike ourselves about our shared values. I learned yesterday that a large, conservative organization in town has a major program about providing water in countries around the world: $10 provides a lifetime of water for a kid. That's a starting point for a conversation.

Know that you do enough, you have enough, you ARE enough. 

I appreciate a friend reminding me of this via a tattoo on her wrist that says so in indelible, not invisible, ink. I read it and thought, yeah, me too. Then the overlords and Barbies and their evil minions in my head said, "What does that mean? How are you enough? Enough what? Enough for what? "

So I've started listing the answers. I'm enough of all things to appreciate myself. I do enough to say no to things that don't work for me, for WHATEVER reason. I am a good enough mom to feel ok about the reality of needing time for myself too and about the times that I'm not the most awesome mom in the world. I am thin enough to feel good about my body and my self. I'm good enough to not condemn myself without changing and without promises to change in that moment.

Feed yourself.

I think the bottom line is this: do the things that make you feel fed and that put your values into action.

For me, what I often need is time for myself. Sometimes I arrange it, though not as often as I'd like. One time in the summer I got 36 hours to myself and could not remember what I like to do!  So I called my friend. She offered me a list of things that might be fun. Oh, yeah, I remembered. Once I got started, I knew exactly what to do.

So, ask your friends for help if you need to, but do it. What feeds you?

Happy New Year.

A version of this was originally published on the Community Building website.

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