The First Splendid Truth about happiness is: to think about your happiness, you must think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.
Research shows that the absence of “feeling bad” doesn’t mean that you “feel good.” Nevertheless, removing sources of bad feelings will protect your good feelings from being swamped by guilt, anger, remorse, irritation, envy, fear, anxiety, boredom, and all the rest.
Last week’s question for self-examination was – what’s making you “feel bad”? It’s important to understand what’s creating bad feelings. Bad feelings are often important signals that you need to make changes in your life.
Once you’ve identified sources of bad feelings, it’s time to try to eliminate those sources from your life. That’s this week’s challenge.
When I asked myself “What makes me feel bad?” I realized that I was caught in a vicious cycle. Seemingly minor annoyances would make me feel overwhelmed and irritated, so then I’d behave badly, which would make me feel guilty and horrible, so I’d act even worse.
To give a typical, minor example: each morning, I’d open the coat closet to get out our coats, hats, and mittens for the walk to school. The closet was crowded and messy, and it was hard to find our various items. It made me feel bad to see the chaos.
As a consequence, I was much more likely to snap at the Big Girl and the Little Girl, “Hurry up!” “Why can’t you keep track of your hat?” etc.
Then I’d feel terrible about how I’d acted. Then I’d snap even more.
So I started my happiness project on a very basic, un-elevated level. To try to stop myself from feeling irritable, I became much more diligent about…
not letting myself get too hungry
dressing more warmly
taking pain medication whenever I felt a headache or neck pain start up
making sure to turn off the light each night as soon as I felt sleepy
cleaning out clutter and organizing stuff
These steps did, indeed, lower my general level of irritability. And that cut down on the guilt I felt for behaving badly. Mess isn’t a serious problem, but being chronically short-tempered is a very serious problem.
Once you’ve given careful thought to what’s making YOU feel bad, you can begin to apply the Eighth Commandment (see left column) to “Identify the problem.” Why are you feeling angry? Or guilty? Or envious? Or anxious?
Say you’re feeling guilty. Why? Maybe you feel guilty because you think you’re letting your children watch too much TV.
Really force yourself to examine your feelings and thoughts. Are they really watching too much TV? Who says? Do you really care, or do you just think you should care? Think through possible solutions. Should you get rid of your TVs altogether? Can you limit them to videos only? Weekends only? Etc., etc. Either decide that, in fact, you don’t really think it's a problem—or act. Don’t just suffer these pricks of guilt as the years pass.
Also, remember that surprisingly often, it’s possible to “re-frame.” You can turn a complaint into a pleasure, just by changing your attitude. So, for example, I used to feel annoyed by the fact that I pay all the bills. I felt aggrieved and resentful. Then I asked myself, “Would I want the Big Man to pay the bills if he asked to do it?” and I realized—no, I really want to keep that job for myself. I want to see where our money is going. Once I realized that I wouldn’t choose to give up that job, my aggravation lessened considerably.
Some examples of things I’ve been trying to do, to put an end to my own bad feelings: stop gossiping, call and see members of my family more often, clean up the kitchen after I eat, don’t leave clothes strewn around the bedroom, don’t read the newspaper during my time with my children, don’t fire off an email to the Big Man when I’m annoyed, don’t push past elderly people on the street, make playdates for the Little Girl, start thinking about holiday shopping…and on and on.
Another thing that would make me feel bad is the feeling that I wasn't pushing myself hard enough: I didn't have a big enough vision, I wasn't trying new things, I wasn't networking, blah, blah. One of my resolutions is to "Push myself," and I'm doing more of that. In a way, it makes me "feel bad" because it's uncomfortable, but it also relieves my bad feelings that I wasn't doing enough.
Some of the most important things I’m trying to do are too private to record here.
The trick here is to figure out WHY you are feeling bad and HOW you can change that feeling. Either work to fix the situation, or accept it.
If you’re feeling bad about yourself, the way to feel better about yourself is—act better! Your self-esteem will rise when you feel more worthy in your own eyes.
Via the great blog Communicatrix (or maybe it was through the Communicatrix newsletter), I found a very cool site called Listography. It lets you make lists of all sorts of things. This is a fabuous tool for a happiness project, or just for fun.
Making lists of resolutions is, I think, a great way to start a happiness project. And making lists of "favorites" or "books to see/movies to watch" or "places I've visited" etc. can add greatly to happiness, by highlighting happy subjects for our consideration. And making lists is FUN.
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If you're starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It's easy; it's free.