By Annie Gebel
I set out to write a fabulously inspiring article encouraging all of you to be happy. What I kept coming around to though, was that there isn’t a formula I can give you for how to be happy. I can’t provide you with a simple bulleted to-do list that once checked off one by one will leave you grinning ear to ear. If you can imagine an author sitting in front of her typewriter pulling out sheet after sheet, crumbling it, and tossing it into the sea of other failed attempts on the floor – that was me. Well, I work on a computer and didn’t actually throw anything on the floor, but I just couldn’t get it right – because there is no right to happiness.
I decided to take a step back and a fresh look. Rather than spinning a great how-to tale, I’m just going to be real and we’ll see where that leaves us. Maybe you’ll find something inspiring or encouraging in my reality.
I hear a lot of you (our readers, my friends) expressing dissatisfaction with their looks, their weight, something of that sort. And it makes me sad. I feel that way because I used to be in that place. I didn’t like my gut, my thighs, my shoulders, my hair, my fingers. I could pick myself apart with the best of them. But now I don’t. And feeling that difference inside of me makes me want the same for all of you. I know, I know… it’s easier said than done. But you can do it. I started listening to the compliments I heard from friends, not blowing them off as “just being nice.” I started realizing that my husband’s touch was clearly telling me that my body wasn’t something he detested. If he didn’t, why should I? I read a few books that really made me question why I, of all people, was being mean to me? I started telling myself positive things about my body. I started meeting every negative thought or comment with a positive. In time – it wasn’t overnight – I started to appreciate what my body can do. I began to love me outside in as well as inside out. Sometimes those old tapes still play in my head, but I simply stop them and play something much more fun to listen to – probably some country with a fantastic beat!
The holidays are upon us and for some of you that means jubilance and joy. But for many it marks months of emotional and financial stress. Let’s talk about the money first. I’ve made a few changes that have helped my holidays be less stressful as far as money matters go. First of all, I stopped buying gifts for everyone and sending Christmas cards. Early in our marriage we bought gifts for parents, siblings, close friends, nieces and nephews, each other, our kids and sent a year-in-review letter with pictures to about 250 families. As you might imagine, that added up. My sisters and I decided to draw names for the cousins, which means I only have to buy one gift from each of my kids. We no longer buy gifts for everyone else, but do send cards to our parents and siblings. After some advice from my little sister (wise beyond her years) I’m sending cards to family and friends for the first time again this year. We stocked up on cards last year at 75% off and bought pictures online during penny print sales.
Another trick that has helped keep me from pulling out the credit cards is to buy gift cards throughout the year. Each month I grab a card or two for department or grocery stores I frequent. Then, during this time of the year, when part of my budget is going toward gifts for the kids or special foods we only eat once a year, I can fall back on buying eggs and toilet paper with the gift cards I’ve kept. I find this easier than trying to save money. Cash always finds a way out of my wallet, but gift cards I forget about until I’m in need!
Emotional stress. As always, what’s inside is harder to address than what is outside of us. It goes deeper. If you feel more stress during the holidays, you’re not alone. I used to feel pressure from my kids to get them their favorites. I used to put pressure on myself to create feasts for our family. Both of those pressures are a thing of the past. The kids still get presents, but their requests for everything are sometimes met with lessons of giving, donating, appreciating what they have, and passing it forward. It’s very fulfilling to see them slowly get it. And this year my nine-year-old daughter started thinking about how she could raise money to buy gifts for the Angel Tree at the mall a couple of months ago! Chalkin’ that one up as a success! Other times the “I want” whining is put aside and they’re given something else – like time in the kitchen with Mama or a festive drive to look at lights. It’s true that they won’t miss last year’s must have toy when they’re adults, but they may remember time together as a family.
Our feasts are more like normal dinners now. I don’t push myself to stuff us full of all our holiday favorites in one day. Instead I spread the cost and preparation over several days and weeks, making pecan pie on a Monday and saving the pumpkin pie for the main event. It’s a nice treat to enjoy the holiday tastes for weeks, and less insanity all in one day in the kitchen!
If emotional stress for you is more about dealing with that one particular relative who can’t compliment you without couching it in an insult, well… I give you permission to smile, nod, and walk away. Just because someone is related to you doesn’t mean you need to sit with them over a glass of wine and feel belittled or picked on. Say hello and good bye, no reason to be rude, but spend your time at the family party with the people who uplift you, make you laugh, and leave you feeling good. After all, it’s the holidays – it’s meant to be a joyful time. So, be joyful.
I guess that’s the crux of my experience with being happy. It’s a choice. For me it’s been several choices. I’m more conscious of the decisions I make for myself and my family than I used to be. I used to live according to what I thought I was supposed to be doing. Now I deliberately make choices about what we want and need – according to goals, budgets, and capabilities.