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  • Cynthia Ramnarace

10 Ways to Pursue Happiness

Updated: May 6, 2023

Coffee in my husband’s travel mug – check. Egg sandwich for my son, done. Snacks set out. Check the calendar—what is going on today, and who needs to be reminded of what? I pull some salmon out of the freezer, preparing for tonight’s dinner.

It is the same list of tasks I complete every weekday morning. Coffee, breakfast, “do you have everything? Phone, keys, wallet?” It’s going to rain – do you want a different coat? Kiss goodbye. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

The monotony is exhausting in its own special way. Why am I the one running the household assembly line? Not just running it, but also staffing it?

I could ask for help. I could require everyone to take care of their own lives every morning. After all, my kids aren’t little and my husband is a full-grown man. But let’s get real: My morning drill sergeant routine is really about my being an absolute, unredeemable control freak. Because controlling the rhythm of our day, while it stirs my inner cauldron of resentment, also instills a sense of calm. I did it all, so I know it got done.

Coffee, breakfast, “Did you…? Should you…?” My actions are control disguised as benevolence. Left to their own devices, my son would eat a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and my husband would eat nothing at all. They’d forget things: coffee mugs, keys, snacks. They wear the wrong outerwear! Is this the worst thing? No. Would it teach some personal responsibility: the hunger, the chill, the forgetting? Probably.

I resent it and yet –It’s my shtick. It’s who I am! The doer, the organizer, the taskmaster. I’m not going to change.

My husband supports me in a myriad ways, one of which is reading these essays and then asking, "What can I do for you?"

So what do I do with that not-so-little epiphany? Well, I guess it’s this: If I know I will not stop doing for others, how do I take some ownership over the rest of my day? How can I pursue my own happiness in a way that has nothing to do with anybody else?

I took some time to think this over, and this is what I have come up with.

I have to set boundaries. With others, yes, but also in my own mind. I can’t have it all if I’m giving it all away. I also need to figure out what makes me happy, and then do that thing. Not what other people say will give me peace and fulfillment (Have you tried pilates? No. Do you want to? No.) but rather, figure out how to create a connection with my inner self that allows me to grow into who I am meant to be.

Yesterday I had a frustrating interaction during my workday. Instead of scrolling through Instagram hoping for a distraction that would settle my nerves, I did something different. I went for a walk. Just myself. I didn’t even bring the dog. I walked and I processed and I let the frustration go. And in its place, I came up with a list of ways that I can work on prioritizing myself within the madness of this overburdened time of my life.

So here are my 10 goals for living a less task-driven, hamster-wheel, resentment-festering life.

  1. Stop comparing myself to others. I have a friend who regularly reads books about business strategy and how to move up the corporate ladder. She is highly successful. Maybe I should read these books too! But you know what – I don’t want to. The last thing I want to do after a long day of work is read about how to do more work. So, nope. I’m very happy for my friend, but her life and her goals are her own.

  2. Stop working past 5 pm. Now, obviously there are times when an important project or pressing deadline warrants breaking this one. But yesterday I found myself at 5 pm still working, not because there was anything that had to get done, but because my husband and son were coming home late and so I had free time. Free time! And I was choosing to work? Stop that.

  3. Don’t cook the dinner. When I don’t feel like cooking, I’m not going to cook. Either someone else will step up and do it, or I’ll have a bowl of popcorn and a glass of wine and call that fine dining. Also, I’m going to stop asking people what they want to eat. I’m going to make what I want! This is not a restaurant and I am not a short-order cook. At least, I’m not anymore.

  4. When tired, go to bed. Who cares if it’s 8 pm? My teenaged kids ignore me after dinner anyway. If I’m tired, my body needs sleep. And God knows I’ll probably be up at 3am anyway, thoughts rushing through my brain, so sleep when you can, right?

  5. Say no to obligations, but yes to interactions. When I want to say no, I’m going to say no. But, if a friend asks to get together, I am going to say yes. Even if I’m feeling antisocial, even if I’m feeling insecure, or sad, or am PMS’d, (especially if I’m PMS’d), I’m going to say yes. Because being with people you enjoy is its own antidepressant.

  6. Stop inviting people over. It just leaves me feeling overwhelmed by needing to clean the house, cook the food, mix the drinks, do the shopping. Instead, make reservations.

  7. “I really need a drink” isn’t about needing a drink. When I think about opening a bottle of Sancerre at 4:59 pm, instead, I now ask myself: What is it that I really need? A hug? A nap? To not cook dinner? For someone else to notice all the dust on the moldings? Connecting with my true needs, and then fulfilling them, leads to longer-term happiness than draining that bottle of nice French wine. (That said, I’m not advocating absolute temperance. Sharing that nice bottle with my husband in front of the fireplace on a Friday night is, sometimes, exactly what I need.)

  8. Donate the old jeans. If they don’t fit, what purpose do they have other than to silently mock me? Embrace the elastic waist! And while I’m at it, I’m going to stop judging my 49-year-old body for not being my 25-year-old body. Breasts sag, bellies bloat, stretch marks appear in unexpected places. That’s what a body does as it ages, and berating it for doing what nature intended is really unfair. I mean seriously, look at all this body has done for me. My thighs are my thighs. They’ve powered me through this life, and even they deserve some love.

  9. Stop saying “When things calm down I will…” Things never calm down! And if they do, it’ll be unexpected and last for a hot minute. If I want to achieve something, I need to set my mind to it and make it happen. Now. The older I get, the more I understand that the human experience is just a series of chaotic and calamitous situations that, over time, come closer and closer together. If I keep letting the everyday drama dictate my own timeline, I will never get to my personal to-do list.

  10. Stop trying to change other people. My husband is never going to remember that I already told him about our plans for the weekend—twice. My parents are going to make their own choices about their health. My daughter will take hours, days even, to respond to my texts. I’m not changing anyone, and the more I try, the more I put barriers up in our relationships. Accept that everyone is going to drive you crazy in some way, and remember that odds are, you can be a strong cup of tea yourself at times. Forgive, accept, move on.

So there you go – 10 ways I aim to to pursue my own happiness. Like one or two? Feel free to give it a try. Or even better, go for a walk and come up with a list of your own. Because subconsciously, you probably know exactly what you need to do to find happiness. You just need time and space to let the ideas flow.

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