The Best Stuff I Ever Did To Be Happy


1. chose a way harder and way more excellent career path than I was about to (easier than it sounds)

2. protected my “voice”/writing style and sense of professional self from those (SO MANY THOSES!) who would have me change; hardcore pursued the publications and editors who were/are cool with me as me

3. stopped dating boys/men who were bad news (harder than it sounds)

4. resisted my own, once-profound cynicism and got deeply into books and ideas about happiness and well-being; accepted the essential corniness of the pursuit of my best self

5. went to a lot of therapists until I found one who is perfect

6. got veeeeery particular about what standard of treatment, respect, attention I expect from other people, inclusive of friends, family, boyfriends, bosses, colleagues, etc. Began refusing to interact with “toxic people” (gross phrase, but true). Got very good at letting people go and being let go by them, when appropriate.

7. got waaaaay nicer and better to the people I care about. Started telling people who were/are important to me that they were/are important to me, and why. Became “radically vulnerable” to my closest friends. Pursued improbable but delightful friendships and relationships.

8. stopped going to parties and events just because they exist and I am in some way “supposed” to attend; started spending way more time with my sisters’ children, my sisters, my parents, at home.

9. Stopped assuming things, like, that other people would or should just inherently know things that I expected and never communicated. Stopped assuming that I was right. Started practicing some version of “extreme realness” (TM me) in which I only create and participate in relationships and communication that is honest, direct, realistic and kind.

10. quit smoking; really quit smoking always forever; quit drinking (mostly, but actually mostly); quit sugar, wheat and dairy (mostly, but not actually mostly)

11. focused only and entirely on what I like, need, and want, and not at all on anything else

12. zero “hate-reading” or “hate-following”

13. zero giving a shit about those who hate-read or hate-follow or hate-comment or hate-email me, to the point of almost zero exposure (instablocking, not reading comments, etc.)

14. forgiveness. (Ongoing. Hard! I tend… not to.)

15. reveling in what I have and am instead of being all furious about what I don’t and what I’m not.

16. do way less; say “no” more; less but better. On everything. When you’re not self-aware it’s impossible to make priorities for your eternally limited attention, time, and emotional/physical/cosmic energy. When you are, it gets EZ to turn down the stuff that isn’t just going to hit your value-quadrants (mine are about growth and newness; authentic to “me”-ness; fun and joy; meaning).

17. quit therapy. I stopped caring about going, and started feeling bored of myself and the process.

18. took some actual time to recover after the magazine I worked for, for like six years, folded. I went to graduate school, went to Paris, got married, was sad and thrilled and totally reconfigured what I want my work life to be about.

19. The ethos of showing up for work - the right shoes, studied up, notes out, phone away - is obviously owed to the people I love. Like, yes. My new thing is arriving at friend-dates “prepared.”

20. got very real about how much time I was spending online, doing nothing. Like, nothing. (*spits*) Made a list on Twitter called “Musts” and populated it with my best friends, favorite randos, work-adjacent people. Hid everyone on Facebook who I don’t know or love IRL, and/or need to see. Created a separate, secret Instagram where I don’t post and just follow everyone whose pics I like the most. Applying controls to the chaos is the only way to actually get something out of it.

21. divested myself of probably half my stuff. Clothes, shoes, makeup, books, magazines, the shuffling waves of paper that drift behind me. Assumed the KonMari method, and mantle - everything in my apartment (minus this one ugly file box in my office, papers lapping urgently at its sides) is either essential or gives me something. Or is my husband’s, but whatevs. [Update, now that I live in a house, and stuff has exploded upwards from storage into living space, this is less exactly true.]

22. related: cleaning. I am naturally very clean (and kind of irrationally and randomly germaphobic?) and very untidy. Clean and tidy are not the same. Historically, I tolerate mountains in miniature, made of clean laundry or books, but not a used glass or a lone, worn sock. I have learned that I need to schedule everything that I care about, so I have “CLEANING HOUR” every day, and weekly engagements to do specific things. I also pay real money to have someone come to my house to deep-clean, because outsourcing stuff that costs more to do yourself on the time-money continuum is economically way smarter, and people only don’t do it because of habit and fear. FIN!

23. indulged in some new weirdness [2019 update, this is how you know I started this list a while ago] that I never thought I would. I meditate, practice gratitude in a pretty serious way, use a salt lamp and take salt baths, whatever. I’m sidling up to ideas like tapping and somatic work (a.k.a. “body stuff”) and EMDR. The stuff that has benefited me is mostly stuff that a while ago I laughed in the corny-ass face of, and knowing that makes me feel like a dumb little mouse who should shhhh and just try things.

24. married someone I actually want to be good and kind to. All the time. I have no instinct to flex my ego with him, to be right, to be the cool, mean boss. I’m just on a team. Despite/because of this, I make him high-five me a lot.

25.  buy flowers constantly – I do single-color bouquets, densely packed, usually white or pink. They’re expensive. Fuck it, though.

26. realized that everyone comes to methods toward happiness in their own way, or not at all, and that even though I asked my sister to try meditation instead of giving me a birthday present (DICK MOVE), it was fine to just do my stuff and be ready with it if someone cares.

27. say one or two or twenty fewer things than I might want to, every day. Choosing what those things are – micro-judgments and stray criticisms, useless observations, tepid personal assertions – is easy.

28. mostly quit caffeine; drinking only my KC Special version of “Bulletproof” coffee when I do (two shots of espresso blended with a quarter-teaspoon of coconut oil); never experiencing mid-day jet-fueled jingle-jangles ever again

29. went back to therapy, after deciding what kind of therapy I really needed (“trauma”), what I was willing to do beyond just “attend” (a lot), and what kind of therapist is best for me and my therapy baditude, a.k.a. my resistance to moving out of my head and into my heart and body (“smarter than me”)

30. acknowledged the very real limitations of my scope of feelings-focus, to the point where I sometimes listen to the same podcast episode or song over and over for days or a week because my immaterial and psychic boundaries are still, like, gelling

31. became realistic and reasonable (words I typically need a textual version of “trigger warnings” for) about time and how much I have and how long things take and what, then, is worth it – like, not taking assignments because they sound cool or pay well if they also need me to spend six days talking to the kind of selfish, incurious person I hate being around. AS A FOR INSTANCE.

32. sought out “softness” everywhere, in everything. Softness as a guide, a goal.

33. I’ll throw “meditation” up on the board as a thing I did to be happy, but on a technicality: meditation has smoothed out some of my most protruding mental edges, one-hundy-thundy percenty, but it’s also the primary source of confidence-poison in my average day because I’m still really bad at it.

34. stopped spending money whenever possible not only to “save money” (doydoydoy) but because the acts of buying, shopping, participating and getting accumulate to another kind of labour, and other kinds of costs

35. “When you change who you are in a relationship, the relationship necessarily changes.” This line comes from a nice woman named Cheryl Richardson who I interviewed for a magazine story about self-care, and I keep that line whole and close and active. Thinking hard about what I’m doing to create or re-create or just allow for shitty dynamics, be they subtle or overt, has allowed for wowie-zowie-level changes in many kinds of relationships in my life. My liiife!

36. confronted the absolute, swift and devastating failure of my industry to adapt to new circumstances (that had made themselves entirely clear by the time I arrived) by taking mad time off to do something else, and then reorienting myself to new work using the exact same abilities and interests I used before. “Rolling with it,” or moving quickly between realities, doesn’t come naturally to me emotionally but it turns out it does professionally because as a freelancer I’ve been enrolled in a secret and elite cowboy school for many years without even knowing it.

37. outsourced everything possible, because there is no moral favor or economic advantage to hauling dry cleaning (especially as a weak-limbed, 5’2” doe-baby) if someone will pick it up for less money than it costs in time and effort. [Update, obviously Simon does this now.]

38. I know that this is fucking it. IT. This moment is every moment, and this is the only moment I have – ever have had, ever will have. I like touching my husband’s back in a sort of suit-smoothing motion before he goes to work – is this outlay of personal but unsexy detail too gross? – and knowing that it might be the last time I ever see him. Use up a day like I got a blank check that expires in twenty-four hours, like I won’t touch it or my husband’s massive granite sports-guy back, ever again, like I should be so lucky to ever see another day, another person that I love, because that is all precisely true.

39. decided not to participate in other people’s strategies of passive-aggression and avoidance and repression and emotional sneak-attacks by enlisting an almost kindergarten-simple style of feelings delivery, when necessary. Just, “What do you mean by that?” will make a pass-agg homie’s pupils dilate! Like "ziiiiip"!

40. use things up; don’t assume I’ll ever go back to a book, or a blog post, or a music video. I mean, I might, but I do much less in the way of “I’ll read this for real later.” No, bitch, you will read it now or not at all, because later is a grainy projection that may or may not exist. NEXXXXT.

41. want what I already have. Actively want, not accept. Def helps that I tend to choose things and run them down, like work and places to live and friends and feelings. It is always a choice, though, to hold up a thing in your life that is good and working, and realize the gold-dipped miraculousness of even that, the hysterical luck of something that is even just fine

42. rituals, not routines.

43. Three conscious breaths, multiple times a day, whenever my brain starts feeling scrambled-eggy. Meditation is better, but it’s kind of an event, and this is just, this.

44. list three gratitudes in the morning, and three happinesses at night. All of them have to be new, but everything, from the way-obvious and the seemingly inconsequential, counts.

45. recognized that self-management is a complex organism. Like: I rely on calendars - color-coded; ever-updated; constantly referred to - for dog and house and appointments and all external memory. And yet: I have no self-control, and really only ever do what I want to do, which might be twelve hours of uninterrupted work, or might be the opposite. This isn’t going to change. So, manager-me has to accommodate writer-me by creating tall blocks of totally empty time to do whatever. Other people use subterfuge and manipulation on their boyfriends; I use it on myself.  

46. do one thing, then another thing. Just, do one whole entire thing until it’s done. Then do another. Maybe drink a glass of cold water and crushed iced (my favorite thing is to say it fast like “CRUSH ICE!”) in between. 

47. took social media off my phone. (Not Instagram, though. I mean, god.)

48. with randos and strangers and inside of the constant, endless, repetitive interactions with other people in social/economic/city/working life, lead with generosity, kindness, the assumption that everyone I meet is fighting a great battle, BUT the moment I'm interrupted, talked over, condescended to, or otherwise have my goodwill taken advantage of, I fucking SCRAM.

49. cut my anxiety in half by cutting, you know, aaaaaaahverything out of my diet, and adding in a lot more good fat and vegetables. Caffeine, sugar, grains, and every other comestible zazzle has to be carefully calibrated for my way-sensitive nervous system. 

50. used a more naturalistic paradigm to manage relationships, instead of the boundary-gymnastics, performed in suits of protective armor, that people are into right now: “If I text three times and she doesn’t text me back, I’m done!” or “If he leaves me a voicemail after I told her not to, I’m DONE!” (Definitives, within the usual bounds, are usually nopes.) So like, if I rarely hear from someone, or rarely feel their interest, but I’m supposed to make a plan, I probably won’t, and that’s probably fine. Life is weird. Don’t make assumptions about anyone’s intentions, but also don’t jump in as the do-er and connector, the Little Sister, always.

51. related: Just because something is easier for me than it is for someone else doesn’t mean that I should always be the one to do it.

52. let myself be and feel and exist as wholesome; let “wholesomeness" be a part of my idea, and ideation, of myself.

53. got way more specific about what constitutes pleasure, and what is an expired version of pleasure (usually, a sinkhole of money or calories or time).

54. twenty-four hours alone in a nice hotel is worth three days of vacation with other people. Forty-eight hours is worth a week. This is math.

55. recognizing who is on my level, and who isn’t. “On my level” isn't w/r/t status or achievement or ability, just, effort made in the world. (For me, it’s mostly about who is CURIOUS and who is NICE, so maybe just “empathetic.”) I don’t want to hang out with people who aren’t trying to shoot the lights out, or the moon, who don’t want to try, or think they shouldn’t have to, during their limited time on Earth, whether that effort is toward fun or art or relationships or whatever: just something.

56. continue to develop a sexual relationship with myself, and my sexual poetics, even/especially in a serious, real-deal, forever-date-style relationship.

57. Being brunette right now and in general makes me UNHAPPY but having “straight shiny Harvard hair” that isn’t tangled like sea grass from bleach and benign neglect makes me HAPPY.

58. be uncomfortable every day, or, a lot. Not, “Do something ‘hard’ every day!” because something hard could mean running faster on the treadmill, or whatever, a furtherance of familiar difficulty, but instead, eat that Death Cookie, tong yourself out of your comfort zone and drop it (you) into a swamp. I don’t know another measure to use to assure yourself that you’re doing something real.

59. related: Expect to feel good most of the time. Just “feel good.” As a baseline, an assumption. I should feel good.

60. have fewer expectations for basically everyone. Even Simon. EVEN SIMON.

61. go to bed an hour earlier than you think you should. No, earlier than that. Earlier.

62. took email off my phone (Twitter was already gone), as a forever-thing. There are some good reasons to have email with you, like, having to do with airplanes and, maybe [bites apple; pauses], hm, meeting updates? But, no: some vague expediencies are not worth the additionally decimated attention span.

63. blackout curtains are, as we say, “everything.”

64. this is “in progress,” but, as much as possible: be the same person in every scenario. When you act substantially differently with different people and for different reasons, it’s your shadow-self doing it, and it’s consuming your integrated self, and the integrated self is what we’re after.

65. treasured my “treasures,” like, set up a little place where I keep my tiny, sparkling bounty, anything especially new, or nice, just things that I want to look at in the morning and at night while I’m pushing jewelry on or pulling jewelry off. Like: Halloween candy-bounty style. Right now: a Chanel lipstick my friend was gifted at a Chanel show in Paris, okay okay okay; an evil-eye button my other friend got me in Greece; a card I gave my Golden Banana Simon and then kind of kept for myself; my super-fave pen. My tendencies toward maximal minimalism (and, sort of, nihilism?) mean that everything goes wherever it goes and that’s it, a drum-tight operation, so having a kind of mantle-altar-shrine thing just there, BEING there, gives off a thick, salty wave of dopamine.

66. pay attention to micro-obsessions: whatever song is on repeat, or story you can’t stop talking about, or random aesthetic lick — a repeating color? Pattern? Texture? — is doing it for you. It’s telling you something, and urgently, and you have to find out what.

67. frequently engage in what I call “The Wondering” which honestly is just a daggy game where, when I’m in less-than-ideal emotional circumstances, I ask myself what I’d rather be feeling, via where I’d rather be, and what I’d rather be doing (and zero points for aspirational obviousness like “trillion-star hotel room, Bali, post-swim, pre-sex”), and sifting through some potential scenarios and the associated feelings-fields, which is how I found out I had an unresponded-to urge toward service ("It's like that book I read in ninth grade that said ‘’tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people’”), as a for-instance.

68. the obviousness of “automation” as an anxiety-reducer escaped me because I’m so moody and hate being told what to do, BUT now that I always water the tree, clean Jemmy’s funny little ears, and edit my organic grocery delivery order-thing all on Saturdays, it all gets done without me ever really thinking about it.

69. “Create evidence of love” is real and obvious but can get harder and greyer when we’re mostly online with each other, especially in those friend-colleague-acquaintance-community situations where it can feel weird to both do something, and not. So, as a rule: send a card, or a note; send flowers; buy a gift; bring food. Every time I remember my own situations and celebrations, I remember so well the physical manifestations of love: a crate of oranges; lavender essential oil and gossip magazines; bottles of champagne packed with new glasses and crackers and caviar; sticky notes; ribbon and confetti litter, left as evidence. It can feel clumsy and annoying and expensive to create it, but intention is nothing when it’s not made real, right? Also: “69.” Nice.

70. eliminate domestic “drag” by not instigating or re-upping any new little errands or dumb tasks for myself. So if I have to return, like, a broken pepper mill, I don’t then accept a gift card or store credit that I will have to go back to spend on something that will end up breaking or, inevitably, banal-ifying. A task has to be self-limiting.

71. Go the library once a week. If I only do this, as a way of mashing in some normalcy and steadiness in my life, that’s fine.

72. “When people show you who they are, believe them” yepyepyep fer sure we know I get it, BUT, really.

73. Hypnotherapy got more done for me in a few weeks than $70,200 of therapy. This might be recency bias, but, feels like!

Kate Carraway