I Give Up...
Sometimes when something just isn’t good or right for you - you just kind of know it.
There are some things I do because I want to hide a bad feeling with fake happiness, some things I do for instant gratification even if I know I’ll regret it later, some things I do because it’s just the opposite of the thing I’m currently doing.
I’ll also do things because I’m bored, or stagnant, or frustrated with a lack of momentum.
But at the end of the day, most, if not all, of those kinds of decisions don’t make me feel good in the long run. When the gratification or happiness or perceived momentum wears off, I’m left poorer and more tired than I was before with nothing really to show for it.
So I decided to give up.
On September 1, 2018, I made a list of things that I think make me happy, and then I assessed that list with, what I hoped were, unbiased eyes. From that list, things like Michael and family and the dogs truly did add to my happiness, which I was glad to see. Other things, like Taco Bell, made me happy in the moment but made me sad after a while when I looked at my salty bloated belly the next morning.
Something I discovered was that if a thing cost me money, specifically if it cost me less than $20, I was being bamboozled. “Oh, it costs me so little and it makes me so happy!” was one of the biggest lies my subconscious came to believe.
So I pared down my list to identify all of my “happiness conductors”:
Beauty Products - something about just buying something because it promises to make me happier with the way I look or feel is one of the most alluring lies in my life. I’ll buy a face cream or hair treatment or piece of make up without blinking an eye.
New Clothes - I’m always looking to reinvent my image because I think I have the most boring style in the world - I wear shorts/jeans and t-shirts - usually with something nerdy on it. I’ve never been good at fashion, but I always get jealous when I see a girl wearing something cute and I look like I rolled in from all-day community service (hint: I did not, I spend most of my time on my couch pinning fall outfits).
Dishware / Kitchen Accessories - maybe it’s the southern girl in me, but something about having a rotation of seasonal china and linens on my dining room table (which we NEVER USE) makes me feel accomplished. Why having 13 different styles of plates, napkins, placemats, salt shakers, and napkin rings says “she must be doing well” to me, I have no idea.
Journals / Sketchbooks / Pens - maybe if it’s pretty I’ll carry it around all the time? People might stop me and ask me what I’m writing or drawing, with all of that time I spend in public writing and drawing… So far, this has not been a positive case study. Mostly because I never leave my house.
Books - creating the illusion that I’m well read is, I came to realize earlier this year, more important to me than actually being well read. I re-upped my Audible subscription, started downloading Kindle books on my iPad, signed up for a Goodreads account so that people would KNOW what audiobooks and ebooks I was reading… I read 4 books from January to March and then just… stopped.
Art Supplies - see above, but replace books with art supplies. It’s all about the illusion of productivity.
The $1 Aisle at Target - don’t tell me that when you go into Target, you just walk right past the dollar aisle without any sense of longing or curiosity. It’s so cheap, and SO CUTE.
Coffee Cups - Michael put a hard stop on these when we stopped being able to fit them in a single cabinet. Self-expression is so important to me - I need people to know who I am just by examining the words or design on my coffee mug THAT NEVER LEAVES MY HOUSE.
Fast Food - this one is an excuse that I just love. I suffer from chronic fatigue on top of being an introvert - so when I’m out of my available energy funds, I’m out and if breakfast/lunch/dinner isn’t ready before I run out of energy credits, that’s just too bad. We’ll get Taco Bell or Chick Fil A or Wendy’s or Starbucks because putting on clothes that are acceptable for “what happens if I get a flat tire on the way” scenarios, leaving the house for 10-15 minutes, and paying $10-15 for pre-made food seems so much easier than putting fish in the oven and making some rice - which takes all of 15 minutes…
What I thought I knew:
The lower the perceived effort, the happier I was.
That’s not true.
As I curated this list and starting reflecting on these “happiness conductors”, I realized that they revolved around two basic concepts:
How I think others should perceive me, and how I think I should perceive myself.
And if something could aid in those perceptions AND cost me less than $20??? Forget it, it was automatically in my “cart”.
So. I decided to give up.
I don’t stick to things very well - I always have the best of intentions, and I sprint out of my intentions gate at full speed. Before I’m rounding the first turn, I bank it but run out of all of my stamina. I did the first 4 weeks of P90X. I read for the first 3 months of 2018. I went Paleo for 8 weeks. Etc. Etc. Etc.
However, once I discovered why, even though some of these things are “good” things like eating well and getting in shape, I couldn’t sick them out, I decided I’d take a different course of action. Instead of trying to add into my life, I decided to give up some things first.
At the time I made this list, knew that I’d be quitting my full-time-salaried-with-benefits job soon, and Michael and I needed to reconsider our budget anyway. It was remarkable to me how many things on my “happiness” list actually cost me money and gave me absolutely zero physical or emotional ROI. It became pretty clear to me that the easiest way to clean up my budget was to clean up my vices.
So on September 1, 2018, I made the following “budget cuts”, giving myself 3 months (which seems to be my stamina window sweet spot) to practice:
No New Beauty Supplies : the exception here was basic health care items like shampoo and face wash (and basic make up items like mascara because I knew I was running out soon and I apparently didn’t time this well).
No New Clothes : I have so many good clothes in my closet, so I took out each piece one by one and asked myself what I loved about it, reinvented some outfits, and donated things that I was only holding onto because of what I thought I should like.
No Fast Food : learning to plan ahead, meal prep, and grocery shop properly would be a key factor here and I’m still working on this. I’ve stopped at McDonald’s once because my doctor took 2.5 hours to draw blood and I almost passed out before I got home.
Double-Trouble Blanket Ban on TJ Maxx and Marshalls : hours and dollars WASTED on things because they’re SO CHEAP and SO CUTE and oh my gosh just stop going through those automatic double doors, Rachel! (In the spirit of full disclosure, I went into Marshall’s yesterday to buy more mascara.)
I’ve learned so much about myself, my habits, and my cravings from giving up these things that I was so sure were bringing me happiness. When I’m sad or bored, I want to go shopping and look at new things I could have if I wanted them. When I’m super hungry, I crave junk food like it’s my only option in life. When I’m frustrated or stagnant, I want to buy things to pretend like I’m being more productive than I am.
I’ve also learned that I have pretty much anything I need already at my fingertips. I made the mistake of planning my first craft show during this period of giving up, and since I couldn’t go shopping for things I needed, I starting looking inside my own space for things I might be able to use - and guess what? I designed and pulled off my ENTIRE booth with things I already owned! (With the exception of 5 picture frames I needed which I got at Goodwill for $7). I would have just gone out and spent untold hundreds of dollars on my booth, lost money, and would have nothing to show for it, but instead I made money on the show AND re-fell in love with things I already owned and would have otherwise overlooked.
This singular exercise of planning my booth only on found objects made me re-discover my resourcefulness, a trait I always prided myself on, but feel that I have been ignoring for a long time. Reawakening that trait has given me new confidence in other areas of my life, and I’m excited to chase that feeling over and over again.
November 30th will be my 3-month mark of budget-cutting false happiness, and I’m very pleased to say that I am very confident that I’m going to make it! We’ve saved so much more money than I realized I was spending, number one, and number two the self-realization of my own happiness has been 100% worth it.
Give this exercise a try - I highly recommend it. There are dozens of articles on Pinterest about things you can give up, if you’re not sure where to start. Otherwise, you can start with making lists of things you idolize or expect to bring you happiness, and start deciding what things might be worth giving up on.
Just remember this: it’s okay to give up!
If you’ve tried this already, comment below on your successes, failures, realizations, etc. I’d love to know more about how people tackle the pursuit of happiness.