This was one of my favorite and most popular posts last year. Rather than making sweeping resolutions for 2014 I’m trying to stick to the little stuff, so I thought it might be a good idea to share these old tips again, both for my sake and yours. Here’s to a fantastic New Year!
I saw a tall woman the other day.
Immediately I was seized with the “grass is always greener” mentality, one that I’ve outgrown, as I thought “my life would be easier if I were taller”. I felt that way a lot when I was younger. If I were taller, if I were thinner, if my eyebrows were less unruly…
My life is easier now than it was then, though my height hasn’t changed. So what is it that has made a difference? Sure, I had a few advantages: access to good education, supportive family and friends, gainful employment in fields I enjoy. But one can have all of those things and not ever mature past adolescent angst. After careful review, here are seven things that made a difference for me. If you can fit them into your life, they might make a difference for you, too.
Once upon a time I was 28. That year I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, did an internship, was working on my masters, ran a half-marathon, did a triathlon, and was in a few operas. Also, I was grieving. People often asked how I could do all of those things. The answer: 8 hours of sleep a night. I could do without sitting down to eat, I could do without a social life, I could do without reading for pleasure. I could not do without sleep. So every night, with few exceptions, I went to bed at a a reasonable hour.
(NB: I am only a few years past 28, but I do not intend to live like that again)
Make your bed (or whatever)
Disclaimer: I never make my bed.
An unmade bed doesn’t bother me. But I’ve learned that other things do, in subtle ways. Long term, a mess will get to a person, even an oblivious person like myself. I learned that keeping a clean environment was a way of being hospitable to myself, a way of affirming that I am worthy of comfort. I still don’t do a thorough cleaning often enough, but I keep tidy enough that I am able to maintain my sanity.
Learn the difference between needs and wants
I need a roof over my head. On a slightly less urgent level I need not to have a roommate.
I want a back deck, a parking space, a spare bedroom, ample natural sunlight, hardwood floors, stainless appliances, and city living. It is possible that I could have all of those things without going completely broke, but I might come close. So I live in a modest apartment, and the only one of the “wants” I have is the urban environment. It makes me shudder to think of the financial mess I could be in if I had stretched just a little beyond my means for my adult years.
Deal with your “stuff”
This is one that might be easier said than done. Everybody has some issues (abandonment, insecurity, rage etc), and those manifest in different ways in all of us (acting out, being prickly, self-sabatoge, etc). My damage of choice was massive self-hatred which revealed itself as an absolute inability to ever shut my mouth. Looking back I imagine I was horrid, but that might be the self-hatred talking.
So I went to therapy, did a lot of journaling, tried to be honest with myself, prayed daily for healing, and one day finally felt a little better. I had grown up, and it was grueling.
Maybe you can’t. Maybe your traumas and hurts run way deeper than mine. But at least being able to name them can change the ways your “stuff” expresses itself.
And if you can, forgive your parents. Just about everyone blames their parents for something. The prospect of letting it go may seem insurmountable. But it might also be transformative.
Fill yourself with good things
Eat vegetables. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Read poetry. Hydrate. Listen to Bach. Accept compliments.
Stop playing games with God
I learned, as most of us must, that playing nice and doing the right thing would not gain me divine favor. I always knew from cliches that life wasn’t fair, but I didn’t have much evidence to the contrary until a few years ago. Ooooh boy was I angry at God (and to be fair, there are times I still feel that pull of whiny righteousness).
I was never one who did good deeds because I thought they would earn me a reward in heaven – or so I thought. I did good because I wanted a good world, because that was the appropriate response to God’s love. But a part of me held on to the belief that of course I would be blessed, because I did good, because I tried hard.
There was a belief, far below my consciousness, that good would be repaid with an easy existence, and letting go of that quid pro quo mentality was extraordinarily difficult. I am slowly, agonizingly learning that the way of prayer is confounding, and that God’s goodness is not the same as ease.
Buy a stepstool
I no longer believe my life would be easier if I were tall, but I know it is easier because I own a stepstool. In fact, this was the first housewarming gift my mother bought me, in her wisdom. Since I was living alone, there might be things I couldn’t reach, and the stepstool was an easy fix.
When there’s an easy fix, go for it. When faced with something you can’t change, see what you can change. Focus on the small victories. Celebrate them with a healthy snack.
Happy New Year, everyone! If you have more advice to offer, please do so in the comments!
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