The Happiness Battle Plan

Practically as soon as I get gung-ho enough about pursuing my own happiness to build a whole blog about it, life gets all up in my face like…

“Yo, you sure about that bro?”

“I’m not so sure you are…”

I feel like I’m being tested lately.  You guys already know about the not-so-great job stuff from last time.  Since then, a few other things have gone wrong.  Most of them have been small irritations, but not all.  I could get into them here, but the point of this is not to bring you, or myself down.  Suffice it to say that all in all, lately I’ve been feeling more blue than my hair.

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That’s not my style.  At my core, I believe I’m a happy person.  I practice writing down my gratitudes.  I often find myself deeply moved by art or music.  I receive and give many hugs.  I am such a loved and lucky lady!  

In fact, I’m intensely aware of my good fortune in being born and raised here.  I can explore my rights and freedoms in ways that some, in other parts of the world, simply cannot.  My feeling “blue” comes with its own compounded burden of guilt, since I realize I am in such a good situation.  I am a woman living in Canada.  I am educated.  I choose my own friends.  I am free to discuss my politcal opinions with them.  I could shave my head and show it off in public if I felt like it.  I can drive a car (or a mail truck).  I speak two languages.  My teenager STILL thinks I’m cool.

Yet, who among us is immune to sadness?  Not this happiness-seeker.  I know this cloud; the one that just sort of shows up from time to time, making all of the great stuff that much harder to see, and turning “happiness” into something that takes real work, attention, and a critical mind.  

I mean, as greedy as my Western privileged white-girl blues can seem, if you feel sad, the choice is always there to give into it.  I could wake up tomorrow, and once the offspring is off the school, I could just wander back into the house, sit my arse down, and cease making progress at all.  No one will yell at me if I don’t tidy up.  No one will weep if I do not write a word.  Not a soul would notice right away if I abandoned my personal schedule in favour of a little Jerry Springer, or Netflix, or YouTube, or just endlessly scrolling my Twitter feed.

jerry springer
Is this show even still a thing???

But you know what happens when you quit.  Giving up only feeds the blues.  When you stop fighting for positive momentum, and it gets harder and harder to start again.  When you allow yourself to fall further behind, your mood sinks even lower.  It’s made worse when you wake up the next day to a mountain that’s a little higher.  Worse when you become that much further from where you ought to be.    

I won’t quit.  I can’t quit.  I have goals that I’m after, and too many promises I’ve made to myself.  

I console myself by thinking that maybe I’m a late bloomer.   That’s not so bad.  So, I didn’t become a “success” in my early twenties or anything.  So what?  I’m certainly not alone there.  Maybe I just don’t “make it” until I’m older than average.  Maybe that’s ok.  I want to think it is.  It’s hard to not feel a pang of jealousy when I know so many smart, successful people, and here I am, Jenn Martin, still curious about EVERYTHING, but not much further ahead than I was 10 years ago.  I’m just plugging along, hanging my hopes on a star.  

I’m taking steps to improve.  The “behind” feeling was definitely worse at the beginning of last week.  In fact, it was so big, inundating, and kinda scary that I had to do something about it.  

I made myself a battle plan.


I sat down with a pencil and a clean, unlined sheet of paper. (I don’t like to be confined. Even by those dastardly lines!  Ha ha.)  Alone and with NO distractions, I got introspective.  I wrote notes on the attributes that would make up my ideal self.  Physically, mentally, spiritually, career-wise, socially…everything!  I went crazy with it.  No limits.  (This had the almost immediate effect of helping me feel better.  Purpose is everything!)  I made notes on the most awesome person I could want to be: well-read, informed, friendly, funny, fit, living in accordance with my morals/ideals, spending time with loved ones and making a difference…all of it.  (I tried to be as specific as possible.)

While that was fun, and a pretty illuminating exercise, a pipe dream version of myself isn’t anything, unless I can make those ideas functional.  (Sort of like how saying you want to “get fit” doesn’t get you any closer to a six-pack or make you better at prepping meals!)  I took that sheet of ideals and I extrapolated it into goals on a new sheet.  For everything I had said I wanted, I carefully considered how someone would actually get there.  

For example, yes, I do want to be more well-read.  I have an English degree, and I love books, but for the past few years, I genuinely haven’t read much.  (Life gets busy!)  A goal?  How about I read a book a month, plus I actually keep track of them for myself? I could even do a little review!  (Bring back the book report, yeah!)  That’s a real goal, and it’s a lot better than continuing to feel self-concious that I read too little.

THEN I took this new list of goals, and started scheduling things into my planner.  I slotted in gym time, reading time, ukulele time…all of the fun things I actually want in my life, in a proper space.

It’s worth noting here that my planning style used to be way more chaotic.  I used to just have one list for to-do’s AND my schedule.  It was all in one place, mangled together.  It was ugly, and a mess, and I NEVER wound up getting everything finished.  

As of last week, my schedule is now JUST a schedule, and my to-do list is separate.  In fact, I actually sub-divided those “to-do” tasks: one list for ‘urgent’ things and one for everything else.  My schedule pages look a LOT less stressful now, and there is NO excuse for not attacking the “urgent” list first!

I  also want to highlight here the fact that I once used to have this crazy idea about fitting everything into a single day.  Like, my ideal day would involve cooking, cleaning, working, writing, singing, personal projects, research, working out, playing an instrument, spending time with my child and partner and everything else.  Of course, it’s impossible!  My solution?  A schedule that leaves lots spaces, so I don’t go crazy, and that spans the whole week.  

I know I’m neurotic, but you guys, whatever it takes, right?  

A lot of folks believe in more of a “go with the flow” approach, but I find a lack of planning stressful.  If you want to get things done, this is one system that takes into account your vision for the future.  You will at least know that you are doing things in accordance with your higher self!

The whole process, start to finish, took me about 2 hours.  I now have ideals and goals that I can review periodically, and I can always check to see that they’re infoming my schedule. The new plan isn’t perfect.  I still need to play with it, but I already think it is VERY helpful. I can at least see a path toward progress, instead of dealing with the awful feeling of treading water.  

Plus, while I’m not at my very best now, I think that happiness is cumulative.  This is a good way of making sure I am actually doing those smaller, happiness-inducing things that wind up meaning so much.  (I’m even planning on seeing my friends more, as I don’t very often, and I crave those deep, thought-provoking conversations!)

So no, I’m not where I want to be.  Yes, I want to wash these blues right outta my head. (Perhaps literally…I’m plotting a new dye job to boost my spirits too!)  I am willing to work for it, and if you’re like me, you might just be well-advised to go back to the drawing board and do the same.

Happy Monday everyone!  

Now get out there and shoot for the stars! 🙂

Courting the Muse

Honestly, today I’ll be happy just to think of something to write about.  Nothing is forthcoming, and that is so odd for me.  Usually, I have something at the tip of my tongue (fingertips?).  Something to say.  Something to rant about.  Some great cause.  Well, not today.  Not really sure what’s up with today.  Am I sad?  Nostalgic?  What is this mood anyway?  Is it the blues?  I don’t think so, although the damp gray sky outside could certainly convince me otherwise.

Ah, there.  Just turned on the light above my desk. Hopefully its warm glow will help me out.  Help illuminate a path for my writing.  I can’t actually write nothing today, and I can’t stay in this funky mood, right?  I mean, here I am with a snack and talking to you all, and… oh, just flaming great.  I’ve no coffee.  Hmm.  Maybe that’s my problem.

I’ve returned!  With coffee!  (I also stopped to pet the cat for a bit, and to irritate Jason.)  Back to business.  Yup, any minute now.  I will soon startle you with some grand insight and brilliance into some…great topic.

“Creativity to me is just like…it’s like a bird, like a friendly bird that embraces all…ideas, and just like shoots…out of its eyes all kinds of beauty.”

Ha.  Or maybe not.  Here I sit without a lesson, or advice, or anything to grab your attention at all.  I pause, breathing in and out and watching my cursor.  It looks as if it’s breathing back at me.  Waiting.  Have you got any ideas old friend?  No?  Didn’t think so.  Heh. Post number two and the well has already run dry!  How can I possibly hope to make it?  Looks like I shouldn’t be writing at all.  I’m just wasting all of this time.  

Now everyone will know I’m secretly just a hack!  

Why am I doing this to myself?

Why am I doing this to you?


Writers are a curious breed.  We dance with a partner who may or may not show up.  How frustrating to be all dressed up and ready to go, only to be left hanging.  The muse is fickle, and if you write, or create in some other way, you know this well.

I wish that all of my writing would emerge in a great torrent of inspiration.  I wish the words would consistently fall into place effortlessly, and transform themselves into the pretty sentences, rife with meaning that I dream of writing.

Sometimes, every once in a while, it feels like they do.  Those times are beautiful.  They are of the ‘time-stands-still’ variety, and they are a part of what makes writing wonderful.  When it goes well, the experience is joyful and liberating.  The brain is engaged and firing on all cylinders.  The heart seems to beat a little faster.  The flow state is possible, and everything hums along for a little while. (Yay!)

Then there are the other times.  Times with no humming.  Times of false starts.  Times with five or six chucked opening paragraphs.  Times of aimlessly checking the internet in idle frustration.  Or, I might simply find that I consistently hate the tone of everything I produce.  There are moments when I read back what I’ve written and find it to be too whiny.  Too aggressive.  Too superficial.  Too deep in the weeds.  Too personal.  Too ethereal.  Too abrupt.  Too verbose.  Too something.  Too anything.  Those are the times when creativity is challenging, and I feel entirely grateful I’m not stuck whiting things out like in the old days.  I know well those trying moments when I must battle for my words, and when they only show up incrementally; one at a molasses-slow time.

So how do you do it?  How do you gracefully dance with so unpredictable a partner?  The easiest answer is, you just keep doing it.

Sounds simplistic, but it’s the truth.  All that you can ever do is invite the muse and show up.  You cannot force or cajole her.  You just do your job!

Your ‘job’ as a writer or artist, even if you are not currently being PAID to be a writer or artist, is to create.  If you are an artist on your own time, and doing it out of love, your time is limited.  You must create when the opportunity presents itself, or not at all.  You must keep writing even if you don’t like what you’re writing.  You must allow yourself bad days at your self-imposed “job,” just as you would expect of anyone else in another job.  Don’t think there’s any shame in struggling through a messy hour of disjointed writing.  Your job is to show up, ready to dance, with outside distractions kept to a minimum.

 She still may not come.  It’s worse if you become resentful or full of expectation. Don’t take it out on yourself if you fail to meet your ideals as a writer.  (Don’t go into a downward spiral, like I did, up above!) Don’t waste time beating yourself up, especially when the internet is full of trolls aching to do that for you.  If no one has told you this today, YOU are AWESOME, and you need to know that, because believing in any other nonsense is going to make the “job” we just talked about that much harder.   An instance of “bad” writing does not a bad writer make.  It’s ok!  It’s very important to generate words, even if they’re terrible, because it always seems like if you keep hacking at it, you will eventually find some less terrible words underneath.  (Plus, it’s better to force yourself to write for 15 minutes straight, and then have to edit the ever-loving crap out of it, than to have never written at all!)

If you’re still stuck, you may need a break.  A real one.  A creative one. Not a TV-watching or internet-surfing one.  A brief 20 minutes at a skill or hobby, (e.g. origami, chasing the dog around the backyard) can help your brain get into a better state for creative flow.

Or, you could always do something that often works for me.  Take a shower!  Not just recommended for hygiene purposes, I find that almost every time I get under the water and my mind gets idle, I start writing things in my head.  It just happens, and a LOT of those shower-inspiration moments have become blog posts, or letters to the editor, or even just the right wording for an email I needed to send.  (Bonus: you usually smell better afterward, and everyone loves that.)

So you get a wash, you bother to show up, you promise to write no matter what (might wanna turn off that wi-fi!) and you’re truthfully STILL getting nowhere?  You need to start thinking of things you care very deeply about.  Make a list.  Get an old-school pencil and paper if it helps.  Why?  Because passion makes for damn good writing, that’s why!

Need help?  Well, the way I see it, you can go a couple of different directions.  Try this:  What was the last thing that made you really angry?  When was it?  Who were you with?  Where were you? Really get back there, and get pissed off all over again, but this time on paper.  Find the wrong in that situation, and write to fix it.  

Not interested in starting your own revolution?  Well, go to the other end of the spectrum.  When was the last time you felt truly blessed?  You know, actually filled with wonder and gratitude.  Maybe it was an experience that left you happy to be alive.  Maybe just something that made you smile for the rest of the day.  Maybe you fell in love over the weekend!  Whatever it was, go for something that practically fills your eyes with tears of gratitude.  Look at moments when your heart is full, and write to extract meaning.  

Not that this is easy. These big things that touch your soul are usually both the hardest and most revealing to write about.  Naturally, they are also the most rewarding.  Talented impassioned writers, angered over injustices can generate pieces that make you want to stand and take action.  Writers who celebrate life, and all of its winning moments can uplift their audience, and build a personal connection that takes the reader along for the ride.

Nearly all writing can be seriously upgraded through merciless editing.  This is extremely good news if it didn’t go well the first time around!  Thankfully, YOU are smart enough to know what reads well and what doesn’t.  Trust yourself.  Even if what you first write is hideous, you CAN fix it. (Tip: read things aloud to find the ugly bits quickly!)

Most of the time, once you’ve generated a piece and gone back to edit it a few times (the 4th edit is my secret weapon), you really won’t be able to see a difference between the words written in a fit of inspiration and those that took way more effort.  🙂

So no more excuses!  If the muse doesn’t deign to dance with you today, you’d better just get used to doing the funky chicken alone!

Yours in occasionally awful writing,