The Best Stuff I Ever Did To Be Happy

I wrote this list of, wowie-zowie, 41 things in three parts, over three years. Maybe more. It's... ongoing.

Part One

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 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” (barfy word, but true) people. 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 (2008ish), really quit smoking always forever (2011), quit drinking (2012), quit sugar, wheat and dairy (-mostly; 2016)

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.

Part Two

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 in the little spaces in-between.

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 waaaay smarter, and people only don’t do it because of habit and fear. FIN!

23. indulged in some new weirdness [2018 update, this is how you know I started this list YEARS 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.

Part Three
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, say, 2008) 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.

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Pic is the view from a treehouse in Guatemala where I spent a month once, very happily.

Kate Carraway