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I don’t think you can describe me as a naturally “happy” person. In fact, the first time my partner called me “constantly cheerful,” I nearly laughed right in his face.

So what the hell is this series about, from a self-professed not-that-happy person?

I can give you a list of what it’s not:

  • It’s not a catch-all list to bring you to eternal happiness
  • It’s not a guide to waking up early and smelling flowers, or any of those ridiculous “habits of happy people” articles (Does anyone else hate themselves a little more after reading these? These articles are terrible)
  • It’s not a cure to your sadness
  • It’s not even a cure to my sadness

This series is going to be a fairly personalized list of tips that I have picked up. So why am I writing this in the public sphere? First, I have a terrible memory. I can’t guarantee I will remember most basic life tasks unless I make a note somewhere. Some of you following my more private writing venues may remember a time when it felt like I wrote down every detail of my life so as not to forget. Second, I’m writing a long series of personal tips for myself in the hopes that at least a few tips work for you.

Who knows how long this series will go on, but my hope is that making it a series encourages myself and others to view happiness as an endless process of learning yourself.

  1. The Definition of Happiness is Flexible

Once, a group of friends and I came up with the theory that some people’s baseline does not fall close to happy, and so these people have to work to be happy. They have to work for the “typical” baseline. Now, this was at around 2 AM and after a night of Classic College Partying™*. My best friend, Maxine, found our insight less than thrilling; understandable, what we were saying tends to go against most advanced psychology.

Still, this viewpoint stayed with us. We mention to each other sometimes, “remember that time we figured out the secret to happiness.” So, while this viewpoint is probably not helpful for most people, it’s been helpful for me.

My happiness doesn’t look like happiness for other people. My happiness is constant work, I can’t be stagnant or I’m suddenly 50 paces from where I wish I could be.

Embracing the idea of flexible happiness allowed me to feel less broken. It helped me break away from the idea that happiness is one-size-fits-all.

All the yoga and sunset-watching in the world won’t make me happy, but it might work for other people.

  1. Perfectionism is Bullshit

Grad school, in many ways, is much more of a hotbed for perfectionism than I intended. Like many people who have successfully entered higher education, I’m pretty hard on myself. This is really helpful in a lot of ways! It helps keep me on track and pressures me to try hard.

It’s also incredibly detrimental after a certain point. This past week, I got a 93.7 on an exam. I was devastated. This is not the part where I tell you that it was 93.7 out of 200. It was 93.7 out of 100, and yet I felt like a failure. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t gotten 100, or even 97. Maybe the few points I missed would make the difference in my grade, but I was forgetting two things: First, berating myself and talking down to myself wasn’t helping; Second, every professor I have this semester has stated that GPA in grad school means absolutely nothing.

Even if I had gotten a bad grade, talking down to myself for not reaching my own impossible or impractical standards does a disservice to both me, and my peers. 

It’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay for the standards by which you judge yourself to differ from what your professor/boss/parent/lover wants. Sometimes that’s more important for your happiness.

  1. Stopping the Thought

I suffer from catastrophic thinking. I say suffer because I mean it.

For a variety of reasons, I have a hard time processing negative interactions or moments. My first response is to latch onto any negative moment, and suddenly my brain is taking that information and blowing it way out of proportion. My mind will imagine the worst situation possible, and I’ll believe it. Two friends having a conversation about me or in which I was mentioned? They’re shit-talking me, and this means the breakdown of all my social relationships. A man raises his tone sharply at me, without warning? He’s going to beat me.

I’ve gotten better over time. I’ve worked really hard to just stop the thought. I’m not at a place in my life where I will not have the thought yet, but I can usually stop it before I convince myself that it’s best to withdraw completely. Some days, I can have the first negative thought and cut it off there. Other days, I go through the full spiral. The key is to remember that while this though process may have kept me safe in my youth, it’s no longer helpful and definitely not healthy.

Step 3 requires Step 2 for me. I’m going to mess up. Breaking thought patterns and habits, even when you desperately want to, is more difficult than I can describe.

Next Time on How to be happy, part 2 of ???: the never-ending journey, expect:

  • How to maintain boundaries
  • Embracing conflict for those with trauma
  • And more! I’m very wordy.

This definitely ended up being way heavier than I intended, but it felt good to write. In that way, I think this post has a secret tip 3a: write about your happiness, what does it look like to you and for you?

*you know me, totally wild