My November Happiness Project: Interior Design (Renovate Myself)
For the month of November, I wanted to focus my Happiness Project on practicing gratitude. Making a conscious effort to be more grateful in an effort to increase happiness seemed appropriate for the month of giving thanks. There was more to it than just the obvious holiday connection, though. In the current season of my own life, I was at a point where I was in desperate need of a heavy dose of positivity. The holiday season was fast approaching and so was the end of what had turned out to be one of the most challenging years of my life. Over the last several months, I had been slowly sliding deeper and deeper into a slump. I was stuck in an ongoing state of feeling very alone and sad. I wanted to escape this dark cloud that was hanging over me. I knew I needed to find a way to open my eyes to all the good in my life and cling on to it for survival.
If you are wondering how I got to this point of feeling so low, here is the abbreviated version: The year started with the typical third trimester pregnancy woes. Thankfully, the birth of my second baby in mid-March turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, if not the best. I was higher than high and feeling so accomplished. That all came crashing down hard only a few short days later. Due to a combo of problems, breastfeeding quickly became a huge challenge. We also had a toddler who was really struggling with the dramatic change to his life. All of a sudden, I was experiencing an overwhelming combo of extreme pain, stress, frustration and exhaustion. The tension in our little home escalated until I found myself, for a second time in my life, wading deep in the baby blues. Of course, this all took a major toll on our marriage as well. About the time the breastfeeding ordeal was finally resolved, then the teething kicked in. My baby, who had up to that point been a decent sleeper for a newborn, developed in to a HORRIBLE sleeper. For these past 6 months or so, the complete lack of sleep has been relentless. (No, I do not need any advice on how to get my baby to sleep through the night. I’ve tried it all. Thank you, though.) I am completely burnt out at this point. On top of all of this, I have been experiencing many people in my life pulling away from me because they find my growing passion for environmentalism and ethical living to be, well, bothersome. Simply put, 2018 has been tough. (Update: At 11 months old, my baby suddenly went from waking at least every two hours to sleeping 12 hours straight a night. Yasssss!)
But here’s the thing, my “tough” year was really not all that bad when I step back and put my life situation into perspective. I was able to put off going back to work for another year so I could stay home with my baby. Even so, we were able to find ways to budget and our family never had to go without anything important. Even with a baby, I still managed to travel a fair amount thanks to the financial generosity of loved ones. Besides a couple bouts of mastitis, I have continued to be in very good health. Even more notable, all my loved ones are also in good health. I have a spouse that works extremely hard to take care of us both financially and at home. I am lucky to live in the stunning Pacific Northwest with its abundance of resources (food, community, opportunities). Although I’ve been feeling very secluded lately, the reality is that I do still have many people in my life who would without question be there to support me in a time of need. All this is to say, I have been very fortunate, not just this past year but, throughout my entire life. Now I just need to remind myself to absorb that fact. Everyday.
All of that rambling is my long winded way of saying that I decided that I need to establish a habit of practicing gratitude daily. My November resolution was to write in a gratitude journal every morning to help start my day off in a positive mental space. I found this adorable gratitude journal by artist Lori Roberts. This journal has great prompts throughout that helped me open my eyes to the beauty and blessings all around me in my everyday life. I made a point to get up in the morning before the boys woke so I could enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and write in my journal. This little bit of alone time allowed me a chance to unwind after another frustrating, sleepless night. I was also able to center myself and be prepared to tackle the day with a positive mindset. Anyone who has spend a day with a three-year-old knows how important it is to start off on the right foot.
I imagine that many others can relate to my struggle with mentally escaping my own little bubble. The habit of defaulting to a negative perspective makes it near impossible to truly appreciate life’s experiences. As I know is the case for many, I have recently come to the realized that my addition to social media has been playing a part in my feelings of unhappiness. Beyond the obvious problem of always being distracted and missing out on life’s experiences, there has also been way too much comparing my life to everyone else’s staged highlight reels. Then there is the issue of being exposed to an overload of information, depressing news stories and toxic comments from others. Technology improves my life in so many ways but my excessive unintentional screen time has definitely taken a toll on my (and my families) well-being.
I’ve been aware of my need to rein back my screen time for quite some time, but I was really struggling to make any progress. For my September Happiness Project, I had made a resolution to cut back on my phone usage in an effort to be more present for my children. I failed miserably. In October, I came across the book titled, How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price and immediately added it to my library request list. My plan was to make another attempt at my resolution to cut screen time as part of my November Happiness Project.
I would definitely recommend How To Break Up With Your Phone to anyone who spends a fair amount of time using handheld technology. The first half of the book provides information and statistics about the design, marketing, usage and resulting consequences of screened devices. The whole point of this front section of the book is to scare the reader. For me, it absolutely accomplished that goal. Yikes! The second half of the book is a month-long program to kick the phone (and tablet) addition. I completed the program throughout the month of November. The timing worked out just right so that the final assignment to completely unplug for a whole day landed on Thanksgiving day.
Here are a few of the tactics that especially helped me break my phone habit:
Download the Moment App – I was horrified to find out how often I pick up my phone and much time I was wasting each day.
Significantly Limit Social Media Friends – The book recommends that you delete your social media apps all together. I use my social media accounts to stay connected with my family and my local community so completely deleting the apps from my phone would most likely make me feel even more secluded. I did decide to switch my accounts to the highest privacy settings and limit my friend connections to strictly family relatives and very close friends. No more wasting hours endlessly scrolling through content posted by people I barely know or don’t know personally at all. This also solved the issue I was having with sharing photos of my children. I’ve been struggling with wanting to share my life, which revolves around being a mother, while still respecting my children’s privacy. I decided that I really do not need to be using social media to promote my work at this time in my life. By ruthlessly limiting who can follow me, I have reserved my social media platforms for strictly sharing with loved ones.
Make the Bedroom a Phone-Free Zone – Always keep a good read or two close by and get yourself an alarm clock. I was shocked to discover how hard it is to find a decent alarm clock hah! I ended up ordering this one that only lights up if you touch it or clap your hands. Neat looking alarm clock but overpriced in my opinion.
Designate a Phone Parking Spot – I try to keep my phone in its “parking spot” when we are home and the kids are awake. This one has been hard for me to stick to but this strategy definitely helps minimize mindless screen time. Not having my phone in hand at all times has also encouraged me to bring out and use my nice camera to capture higher quality photos of my boys.
I have not yet reached my goal of achieving a healthy relationship with my cell phone and social media. I am continuing to work on changing my daily habits and improving my outlook of my own life. I still have slip-ups. More often than I would like to admit. But I am continuing to make little steps towards improvement. If you are struggling with remembering to stay positive in your own life and/or you are struggling to break away from a toxic addition (relationship), I hope you find comfort in reading this. This season too shall past. All we can do is keep moving onward and upward. Let’s strive to be kind and supportive towards one another. You never know what others might be going through behind closed doors.