November 28, 2017

Mental Health Monday: The 7 (Very Effective!) Life Changes I've Made in Pursuit of Happiness

After a very long depressive episode last year, I've been writing a lot this year about the "pursuit to my happiest life". When wording that, I didn't want to say "pursuit to happiness" or "pursuit of happiness", because that would sound like I have nothing to be happy about already. And that's not the case--I have plenty of great things in my life!

When I say "my happiest life", I mean that I want to consistently pursue habits and transformations that make me happy. To reach the level of "happiest" would mean that it can't get any better. And since there is no "cap" on the amount of happiness one can have, I want to continue to learn about and practice the things that make me happy.

This year has been ground-breaking for me. If happiness was a mountain, I started in the lowest point of the valley and charged up three quarters of that mountain over a relatively short period. I still cannot believe the changes that have occurred!


There are several things that have helped me so much in this pursuit that I thought it would be appropriate to write about them. These have literally changed my life for the better in so many ways:


I started psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, always seemed to be one of those things that worked for other people, but just wasn't for me. I really didn't believe that I could learn anything about myself that would change my life. I didn't have any big issues from childhood (abuse, neglect, major loss, etc).

This year, I discovered just how wrong I was to think that psychotherapy wouldn't (or couldn't) help me. It all started with finding a therapist that I really clicked with. If I didn't like my therapist, I never would have opened up enough to discover anything about myself.

In one of my sessions, I had a huge breakthrough that explained so many things about my past, my personality, my anxiety, my relationships, and several other areas of my life.

I feel like that particular therapy session--that "aha!" moment--was the beginning of this pursuit to my happiest life. Everything about my life started making sense, and I was able to start piecing it all together to move forward in my pursuit.


I stopped caring about what other people think of me

This is something that I have struggled with my entire life. Starting in elementary school, I always wanted to fit in; so I did what I thought other people would like, conforming in any way that I could, rather than just being myself.

My feelings would get hurt so easily. I wrote in depth about this in my post about social media causing such severe anxiety. I lived with horrible anxiety for most of my life because I was worried about what other people thought of me. It was because of my "aha!" moment in psychotherapy that I was able to finally let go of that anxiety.

This is me not caring. (Just kidding, it was just one of a trillion pictures
Jerry took of me when I was trying to get ready in Portland.


I started speaking my mind

Because of the said "aha!" moment, I was able to start speaking my mind. I instantly had all the freedom I'd always wanted. I had always been a people-pleaser, doing things that I didn't want to do (or not doing things that I wanted to!) simply because I didn't want to hurt someone's feelings or because I felt obligated.

When I stopped caring what other people think of me, I started speaking my mind--even if it wasn't what others wanted to hear. I always do my best to be polite when I say what I'm really thinking. I also validate others' feelings, which I believe goes hand-in-hand with speaking my mind. Just because I am no longer a people-pleaser doesn't mean I want to be a jerk.

I used to keep quiet if I disagreed with or didn't like something. Now, I feel free to politely disagree or simply state that I don't care for care for something. I used to feel like a doormat--people could walk all over me because I didn't want to stand up for myself. Now, I do or say what I want, and it feels so nice to say my opinion out loud!

Giving someone a piece of my mind! (Just kidding, I was actually rapping along with Eminem)

And you know what? The world didn't end. People didn't suddenly hate me. If they don't like something that I say or if they disagree with me, they don't end our relationship--they get over it, just as I would.


 I stopped avoiding confrontations 

If someone does or says something that bothers me, I simply tell them so (in a validating way). I've found it much easier to say what's bothering me and talk about it than to worry about things and pick things apart inside of my head.

For example, if a friend makes a comment that hurts my feelings somehow, I will just say, "Hey, it kind of bothered me when you said (whatever it is they said). What did you mean by that?" Most of the time, I find out that I am reading too much into it--particularly when it's in a text message. Texts are so hard to read sometimes, because you can't convey sarcasm or jokes very easily.

I always feel better after confronting the issue head-on. I used to let it take up so much of my head space that it would nag at me constantly until I finally was able to (mostly) forget about it. This usually caused "catastrophic thinking", where I automatically assumed the worst: "This person hates me" or "This person never wants to hang out with me again", etc.

I've learned that confrontations aren't necessarily a bad thing. Both parties can speak their minds, and then move on. And using the validation technique I learned in therapy keeps confrontation civilized. It's liberating!


 I stopped hiding my authentic self

I don't feel embarrassed or apologetic for my quirks. And I have a lot of odd quirks! However, I've learned that many of them are symptomatic of bipolar. My diagnosis helped me to feel at peace with these, because now I know it's "normal" for someone with bipolar to feel or act certain ways. But even for the oddball things that make me ME, I don't try to hide or apologize for them.

I have accepted things about myself that I always felt like I needed to change. My weight fluctuations, for example. Of course I don't like the fact that my weight has gone up and down in a range of 30 pounds rather than the ideal 5 pounds, but that's what's happened over the last 7 years; and I have finally accepted that maybe it's just the way my body works!

I embrace the things about me that are unique, even if they seem weird to other people. I want my kids to grow up feeling happy about who they are and not feel like they have to conform to fit in with others; and the best way they can learn this is to see ME doing it. I've learned that I actually really like my quirky, weird, authentic self.

Who doesn't love red plaid pants?

Eli had been wanting to dye his hair green for some time, so we finally did it on Sunday. He was SO excited to go to school the next day with his newly dyed hair; and when he did, he said the kids all teased him for it. I felt terrible for him.

I asked Noah to get a picture, and he took one of me, not Eli, but this is the best I have

I asked Eli if HE liked it, and he said yes. I told him we could change it back if he wanted, but if he likes it, then that's all that matters--he should do what he likes, and not do things just to fit in with other people. He agreed with that, and he went to school this morning with his green hair, styled the way he likes it. I can't even begin to describe how proud I am of him!


 I started saying "yes" more

I used to turn down so many opportunities simply because they were outside of my comfort zone. As a shy introvert, I feel safe and comfortable at home; but because of this, I didn't even give new opportunities a chance.

I always feel awkward in social situations, unless it's just myself and one or two other people. So, if I was invited to do things in a large group, I would rather have just said no than to let it stress me out. When I decided to pursue my happiest life, I also decided that I would say yes to things outside of my comfort zone--otherwise, how would I know what would make me happy if I didn't try new things?

An example of this is when my friend Jessica asked me if I wanted to go on a party bus to Greektown Casino in Detroit. This was the ultimate test for me--riding on a bus full of people where I don't know a single soul except for Jessica, and going to a casino as well as walking around downtown on a Saturday night? Totally unlike me. But I immediately said yes.

Right before I lost $20 in 30 seconds on the Wheel of Fortune slot

Jessica admitted she was totally shocked when I agreed. And I knew I was probably the last friend on her list that she would ask, simply because she expected me to say no.

I actually had a really great time! I still felt awkward around people I didn't know, but I know that putting myself in situations like that will help me to feel more comfortable down the road. Maybe someday, I'll even be good at small talk... who knows? ;)


 I simply stopped doing things that didn't make me happy

The most obvious example of this is running. Last year, I became so tired of running; I dreaded it every day. I had run for seven years, and I just wanted to stop. But I'm "Runs for Cookies"! Who would I be if I wasn't a runner?

I struggled with this decision quite a bit, and it was very hard to formally make the decision (let alone make that decision public). But once it was out in the open, holy cow--I felt an enormous weight lifted off my shoulders. I didn't have to pressure myself to run each day, come up with new goals, or set PR's. It was awesome!

(As you know, I have recently started running again, and I'm actually very happy about it. I needed that long break--eight months--to feel rejuvenated and excited about running again.)

See how excited I am to be running again?!

Another thing that I stopped doing is binge eating. This one was tricky, because I've never been able to make the decision to "just stop" when it comes to food. But for a few months, I constantly asked myself (about almost everything I did) if it made me happy. And binge eating never made me happy.

During a binge, I felt okay because I just didn't care about anything in that moment. Afterward, however, I felt so much self-hatred for it. There was never a part about binge eating that actually made me HAPPY. It either numbed me or made me hate myself.

There have been several times over the last eight months that I have found myself starting to think that I wanted to binge--usually out of boredom or because I feel some sort of uncomfortable emotion (almost always anxiety). Where I would usually struggle with myself for a while, going back and forth in my head about whether or not to do it, now I just remind myself that it's not something that makes me happy. It never has been, and never will be. Since it doesn't make me happy, there is no reason for doing it.

What is the point of doing anything if it doesn't make you happy? There are a few circumstances where it's appropriate (or necessary) to do things we don't want to--like going to work, for example. Maybe work doesn't make us happy, but we know we have to do it. In that case, we just make the best of it that we can.

Another example of this would be housework. I can't say that cleaning out the litter box or scrubbing the shower makes me happy; but I do feel happy when my house is clean. Prior to this pursuit of my happiest life, my house wasn't filthy, but it certainly wasn't clean most of the time. We had things strewn about here and there; laundry would pile up until it was unavoidable; you could make a safe bet that the sink always had several dirty dishes inside; and many other things.

I can't explain why, but I could never relax and enjoy myself when my house was messy. It nagged at the back of my mind, and the obvious answer would be to just clean the house. It felt overwhelming and pointless, though, because it was just going to get messy again the second my kids got home from school.

When I started doing what makes me happy, I had to look at things like housework as one degree away from happiness. Certain household chores most certainly didn't make me happy, but having a clean house always makes me very happy.

Just Luke and me, admiring how clean the house is

If someone unexpectedly stops by my house, I don't have to feel embarrassed or apologize for the mess. If we make plans for company, I don't have to spend a full day or two beforehand deep cleaning the house. THOSE are the things that make me happy, and that makes the dreadful chores worth it.

Also, I discovered that there are a lot of chores that I actually do enjoy: organizing closets, drawers, cupboards, etc; folding clothes; vacuuming; cleaning the windows; weeding the landscape; dusting; and several others. I will never enjoy washing pots and pans or cleaning the litter box, however ;)


So, the first step to doing things that make me happy was to really step back and look at what was making happy and what wasn't. I eliminated the (unnecessary) things that didn't make me happy; and as for the things that I have to do regardless of whether I want to or not, I looked at them from a degree or two away. These changes have made such a huge difference in my life.

I'm sure there are many things that I've forgotten to include on this short list (yet very long post), but these are some of the best transformations I've made for myself. I'm the happiest I've been in the longest I can remember, and it's not due to external factors--it's all from things that I've worked on inside of myself.

As cheesy as it sounds, I've learned that true happiness really does have to come from within--nobody else can make me happy; nor can money, objects, or just expecting things to happen on their own. I had to make changes to the way I was looking at or doing things in order to find joy in them.

So, the pursuit to my happiest life continues, but I am clearly off to a running start (no pun intended); and I feel liberated in a way I've never felt before :)



10 comments:

  1. This is a great post! I'm so happy for you!

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  2. I love this so much. I’ve had quite a challenging mental health year and I feel like I’m getting no where! I also feel like I haven’t been true to myself and that’s caused a harder year. Your post is just what i needed to read today. I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well! To happiness. To being ourselves- no matter who that may be.

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  3. I love the thought of eliminating the things I'm doing that don't make me happy and thinking of the "have to do" stuff as a degree from happiness. That's an awesome idea!

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  4. The last one is something I've been working toward this year. 1.5 years ago, I started a business with two people I know. This year it has brought me more frustrations and stress than it has joy. It's not even like it's bringing in lots of money where I could call it a job and justify the hours I put into it. Yesterday I informed my partners that I needed a hiatus. I felt guilt and anxiety about it. I need to stop feeling those feelings because I'm doing what I need to do to be a happy, healthy me.
    I've also discovered that a clean, tidy house is calming, so I can put that time into taking better care of my house and having the mental energy to do more with my kids. I don't doubt that it is the right decision, but it can be hard. I've been debating leaving the business, but right now I'm hoping that a break will allow me to have that second wind and go back to enjoying it.
    Last year I struggled with depression on and off. I enjoy making things and know that this process helps me be mentally healthy, so when I didn't feel like making, I knew it was a problem. This year I made a resolution to make every day. I have kept to that resolution (11 months and counting!!) and have been in a better place this year. Finding and doing the things that bring us joy (and avoiding, as much as possible, the things that bring anxiety and stress) is important.
    Congratulations on heading toward the happiest you! This is something we all should work on.

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  5. Great post! This has been a great theme in my life recently too. I found Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection to be life changing!

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  6. Really insightful post! Thank you for sharing!

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  7. Thank you for sharing all of this. I have a similar struggle and am trying to work my way through it. Watching you work through it and seeing your tips/journey has been immensely helpful:).

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  8. Fantastic post! Your sharing your story has helped me in so many ways and I can't thank you enough!

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  9. You look and sound just so darn happy! Plus you look so cute in these pics!! I really love this post. I think I need to re-read this again and look at my own life choices. That's not to say that I'm not happy, because mostly I am! I have a great life and family/friends to support that but I still catch myself feeling down sometimes. Mostly about my weight, it always seems to circle back to my weight!

    I think I might sit down tonight and write a list of what makes me happy. I know for sure, for example, that counting calories does NOT make happy. In fact, most days I wake up just dreading the fact that I need to track my food. But really, I don't NEED to do it. I just need to learn a healthy balance of eating and hopefully find that it makes my happier! I'm also loving your section on housework :) I HATE cleaning the house but I sit there and stare at how messy everything is and I hate that more haha. I know if I just did a little at a time every day, it wouldn't need to do a huge marathon cleaning session before company comes over.

    Thank you as always for sharing Katie! You are so helpful to so many people!!

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  10. You have definitely made me rethink how I look at binging as well as cleaning. I get very anxious when my house is in disarray, and it's that way a lot thanks to my spunky almost two year old daughter! But I need to do it because it makes me feel better when everything is in place. And with my binging, I'm just like you where I don't care during it, but I really need to ask myself if it'll make me happy (answer--nope!). Thanks for such great insight!

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I'd love to hear from you! I read all of my comments, and if you have a question, I do my best to respond; sometimes, however, I get busy and forget to go back to reply, so if it's important, just email me! :)