Ingredient no.1: Rest (12 Months of Happy)

As I was conceptualizing what a “12 Months of Happy” project would look like, I was mulling over what elements I would need (or want) to include. How do you retrain your brain to feel happy after more than a decade of training it to feel unhappy, anyway?

Well, I started by making a list of the things I DO want in my life, and a list of the things I no longer want to take a prominent role. When I did, I began to see two common threads through the whole thing: I want more joy, less stress. To be clear, when I say stress, I’m not talking outward circumstances, here — there’s only so much you can do to eliminate the stressors in your life. Shit happens; life is messy. Ultimately, it’s more to do with your inner life, what you think about — dwell on — in quiet moments. Do you let your stressors become stress, or do you manage your emotions and work for joy?

I used to think that joy was a sign of naivety or denial, but the older I get, the more I understand it’s often the opposite. Ennui and discontent are stops along the path of passivity. Choosing joy is hard. It takes work. So how do I start to choose joy? Well, by identifying some of my habits that are causing me to feel stress and gently beginning to address them. I’m calling these practices the Ingredients of Happy, and the first one is Rest.

It’s really hard to feel happy when you’re chronically running on empty. Exhaustion makes everything feel 10x harder and more overwhelming, which in turn makes it harder to feel good about your body and to make gentle, supportive decisions through the day.

I’m constantly tired. Some of this is life season (having young children is just plain tiring, you guys), but a lot of it is me making choices that sabotage myself. The two biggest problem areas are how I rest at night, and how I push myself during the day.

Like a lot of caregivers, I tend to indulge in revenge bedtime procrastination. If you haven’t heard of it, here’s the gist: it’s the decision to stay up too late (sacrificing rest) to “make up” for a lack of free-time during the day. The problem with this, of course, is that this practice is ultimately more draining, not rejuvenating. The result: an endless feedback loop — I’m worn out and need down time, so I take that from my sleep time, so I wake up still drained, so I need more down time, which I steal from my sleep time. You get the idea.

There are problems with how I rest (or don’t) during the day, too. I blame this in part on “hustle culture.” In our society, “busy” is a badge of honor. How many times have you heard (or given) the answer “super busy” when someone asks “how have you been?” In our fast-paced, productivity-obsessed culture, “busy” has become a barometer for your worth. If your schedule isn’t full to bursting, you’re lazy or doing life wrong. I tend to race through my day, focused only on an (often nebulous) to-do list, suppressing my physical and emotional need for rest, giving in to the urgency of productivity. The result is the same as bedtime procrastination: a hamster wheel of exhaustion.

So how do you practically begin to move away from these habits? Well, here are two of the ways I’m going to intentionally pursue rest in the coming months:

  • Sleep more. This includes being more intentional about what time I go to bed, but also giving myself permission to sleep in or take a nap when I can.
  • Sit down for a break before I hit a wall. This means listening to the warning signs my body is giving me when I’m getting tired during the day (sore feet and shins, or a feeling of general “heaviness” are a couple I’ve started noticing) and making the choice to sit down and do something restorative for 15-30 minutes. The goal is to do this before I’m so tired that a short break isn’t enough, and before I’ve reached my emotional limit, too.

What about you? Are you not resting enough? What would happen if you tried to identify some of your trouble areas and began to gently move away from them over the coming weeks?

Curious what was on the lists I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Well, subscribers to my newsletter are getting an exclusive this week: I’ll be sharing the whole journal entry with them, including what was on the lists and some thoughts I had while I wrote them. If you’d like to see more of that content in the future, sign up in the sidebar (on desktop) or below (on mobile).

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