You’d think I’d know better than to try and tackle a big-ass abstraction such as happiness, but what I’m trying to write about here is the stuff I need to do most days to continue to feel pretty good about the prospect of another day. I was careful to include MY in the title as a nod to you all that my way of finding a degree of happiness could be real different from yours.
Let me say this, first: there’s a lot of big-picture happiness that is derived from my family. That I’ve got my sister Anne, my mom and dad here in Asheville, my wife Megan, and our two girls, have helped me to build a strong foundation from which to live a life. If work isn’t going great, rejection slips for my writing seem to be piling up, or people are otherwise giving me a hard time, it’s pretty easy to shake all of that negative weight.
When little girls are calling you daddy, the world isn’t as likely to land a good punch.
1. Write / Make Stuff
When I need a short answer for why I spend so much time writing, podcasting, making films, posting on the website, shooting video with my kids, and participating in projects such as the 48 Hour Film Project, I say, “It’s fun to make stuff.”
My answer is an oversimplification in that it ignores the mental health portion of why I need to write. I have A LOT of mental energy that can take the form of what can feel like tornadoes of too many thoughts slamming around inside of my head. Writing regularly–preferably first thing each morning–seems to dissipate the strength of the mental storms that seemed inclined to form in my thinking. I understand writing might not lead to improved mental health for all.
In addition to having a lot of excess mental energy that I need to burn off each day, the same is true for the physical part of me. I really stumbled onto this key ingredient for my well-being back in the late 90s when I was in the midst of becoming divorced. As that process began, I started to train for a marathon. There’s nothing like twenty miles on a Saturday to help calm the soul put you down on a bed fast asleep. These days–with a family I want to spend time with, teaching to do, writing I want to accomplish–I don’t want to allot the time needed to do long-distance running, but I do run at least six days a week. I like running way more than I like lifting weights, and my latest plan to get the lifts in has been to do half of them each day. So on a typical day, I run three miles and do half of my weight-lifting workout. This usually takes about an hour and fifteen minutes, and is a big part of what helps me feel good about myself and the rest of what each day has to bring.
3. Moderation with Alcohol
I can have a beer–probably two–in the evening and be at my best the next day. Anything more than that or something along the lines of two margaritas, and I’ll find myself waking up after a few hours of sleep unable to get any more rest. It could very well be that I have talked myself into such a cycle being true, but it does seem to me that alcohol is the primary fuel for those tornadoes of thought I was describing earlier.
4. Good Sleep
This post could have been shorter if I’d just have written I need a good night’s sleep to call myself a happy person. I have found that if I get in a bad rut of sleeping…
writing + exercise + abstinence from alcohol usually equals a good night’s sleep
The other part of getting a good night’s rest is that when my wife is teaching, she gets up no later than 5:30 am and that means I at least wake up, if not actually get out of the bed for another thirty minutes. I am the kind of person prone to staying up late to watch sports or play sports video games. When that happens, I wake up tired and am less likely to get in good writing and running sessions. And then I’m feeling bummed and ticked off. Most days, I know I hate not writing and not running enough that I can make myself go to bed early. When I fail to execute the above four-step process, I try to give myself a break and do better the next day.