Why I Like Being “Simple”

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Photo by Khai Sze Ong on Unsplash

It’s been over a month since I’ve last written and I just want to thank you all for giving me that time! My last post went up three days before I started my new job and then it was a whirlwind of travel and learning and bonding and total, absolute exhaustion. But I am happy to report I feel like I am settling in nicely and I am so excited to be challenging myself in new and interesting ways.

A younger version of me would have pushed myself to maintain the blog, the poetry, the novel, the social media presence all at once, even while trying to learn a new job. This time around I said no to overwhelming myself. I said no to setting unrealistic expectations for myself. I said no to torturing myself about “not being enough”. I wrote when I could, I slept when I needed to, and I took a break from obsessing about every little thing. I focused on my new work, I got to know my team instead of hiding away in my room to write (they made that easy) and I am so happy I did.

Maybe it’s because I am older and I’m finally learning a thing or two about life, or maybe I’ve changed for another reason, but I can tell you this: allowing myself to be simple kept me happy, healthy and sane these past six weeks.

I’ve never wanted to be simple. Simple was a sin in my book. If I wasn’t multi-talented, multi-tasking, multi-stressed out, then I was failing. A typical day would have been an intense weight workout, a full day of work, writing all night, responding to piled up texts, walking the dog, cleaning the apartment and then passing out totally exhausted. I got sick a lot. I wasn’t productive. My writing was… well… shitty.

Simple felt wrong, simple felt too easy, simple felt like I wasn’t doing my best.

What I’ve found is that SIMPLE allows me to excel. What I’ve come to realize is that my other talents, my other interests, and loves? They’ll still be there. This blog is still here. My poetry is still waiting for me to edit it and share it with the world. I’ve found other simpler workouts that don’t require me to travel to the gym every day. It’s all there and I will get to it. (When I can!) When I focus my attention to one or two things, I kill it. I sleep. I am not sick all the time. When I am simple I am a better, calmer, version of myself. It took a million and one tries, but I finally saw the pattern.

Now that the travel is done for a bit, now that I am finding my rhythm at work… now is when I can pick up the pen again. Write this blog post for you. Take some new photos for the IG. Make special plans with my friends. And when I do all of these things I will be more engaged because I won’t be tired, or worried, or thinking about the next task. I can simply be present.

I know there will be days when I want to go back to the way I was. When I want to pressure myself and push myself and overwhelm myself. And maybe I’ll need the extra encouragement. But knowing that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe is going to make all the difference. I mean, how often do you let yourself be simple?

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Key to Happiness? Space & Time.

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Photo: Zohar Lazar from NY Mag

I adore my New York Magazine subscription. I know I can almost always read the stories in the print edition on my phone or laptop but there’s something about holding the physical copy in my hand and reading it on the subway that just makes me feel SO good. (It’s also just easier on my aging eyeballs.)

This week they really nailed the cover story… How to be Happy. Which is of course also available online so you can read it too. (But grab it off a newsstand if you can, if only so we don’t all wind up like the humans in WALL-E.)

The story is structured around the most popular course at Yale– Psychology and the Good Life. Why is it so popular? Because college kids are more stressed and depressed than they ever have been before. And arguably, so are the rest of us. The article takes a skim across the course curriculum and its structure. A huge chunk of the course is focused on how our brains trick us into making us unhappy and then moves on to how to rewire our behaviors to be happier. Our brains are basically sabotaging us. Which is depressing to even think about. My favorite takeaway from this portion was that 40 percent of our happiness is entirely within our control. Holy shit.

I will not go on to recap the article here but I strongly suggest you give yourself the time to read it. Which brings me to where I wanted to get to… TIME. The breakdown is this: people are happier when they have more time to just BE than when given some extra money.

Living in a city like New York, it is so hard to see the value in having empty time. It’s a city of hustlers, the city that doesn’t sleep. But filling every waking hour with work, with side hustles, with stuff just to feel “busy” is making us depressed. The misconception is that “busy” means productive and “free time” means lazy.

I have been so guilty of this it’s not even funny at this point. I used fill every wakeful hour with whatever I could. I thought I was being productive. But by the end of the year (for many years) I didn’t move the needle much on any of my goals. I had just kept myself busy and stressed for essentially, the sake of being busy and stressed. I was trying to match the busy and stressed out lives of my peers. Which makes me sad just thinking about it.

This article has come at such a good time for me. I have been exploring self care, meditation, and relaxation techniques for the past year. It’s insane to think that I have to research how to be chilled out, that I actually have to read articles about this to learn that it’s OK to spend an entire weeknight just resting… but I do. And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that almost all of us have work to do in this department.

Happiness and success in America have always been measured by money and by time spent working… things that stress us and depress us. It’s time to flip the switch and change how we talk about ourselves and each other. If a friend likes to spend every Thursday night sitting in a coffee shop alone reading our reaction should be “Wow good for them for carving that time out,” instead of  “Shouldn’t they be working on their small business idea?” And the next time you want to spend an hour reading a book, let yourself. Give yourself the time and space you need to be truly happy. I know I am trying.

 

 

 

 

Guest Post: Why I Fear Happiness

I will not gab here for long, because the guest posts are for other voices. But I just wanted to say: hurrah! My very first Cheap Courage guest post. YOU COULD BE NEXT. Just drop me a line! And now without further ado… “Why I Fear Happiness”:

img_20161009_120902054I could talk your ear off about Ireland.

My second semester my sophomore year in college, I lived in Cork for five months to study abroad. On a brisk January morning I found myself in a taxi with a man with an accent too thick to decipher, two red and white polka dot suitcases, and some scribbled instructions from my father on how to find my apartment. I knew no one and tried to wear a confident, albeit terrified and tired, smile as I entered the worst apartment I’d ever live in.

What followed was five months that, as every cliche about studying abroad goes, “changed me forever.” I stumbled between pubs and classes, fell in love for the first time, traveled 8 countries over 30 days with my roommates, and found I was a person I actually quite enjoyed. My anxiety stayed at bay and my depression never seemed to take hold while overseas.

It was every montage sequence you find in a grainy sepia-toned coming of age film about 20-somethings trying to find their way. It was chaotic and hard and therapeutic and exhaustingly beautiful. When I got back to the states though, it took me years to find that person again and more or less, I never recaptured that frenzied happiness I had once felt.

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Molly at 20 in Ireland

Three weeks ago, my husband Luke and I boarded a plane headed to Ireland for our honeymoon. Us picking Ireland as a honeymoon destination was a decision made on a lucky find with a cheap airline back in March. It wasn’t until we took the train from Dublin down to Cork and taxied through the city that it started to feel real.

The next few days, next to the day I married Luke, were the happiest I’ve ever been. My cheeks frequently hurt from smiling too much and my slight Irish accent came back within days. Unlike my college town, the city of Cork hadn’t changed in the nearly six years since I had lived there. The hot chocolate shop still stood, as popular with locals as ever, and the famous chipper was still serving bags of greasy chips. The pub I used to frequent still had the same white daisy painted over the blue exterior. Even the table configurations inside were the same.

We took trains around the county of Cork and on our last day ventured out to Doolin to hike the Cliffs of Moher. While I had lived in Ireland, I joined a mountaineering club (mainly to meet Irish men but that’s beside the point) and seeing the Irish cliff sides again brought everything back. It brought me back. I was 20 again and confused but also deliriously happy about the freedom that being away from home can only give you.

But I wasn’t back. I stood on a mossy tuft of grass and looked out over the sea. We had taken a picture together moments before and when I looked at it, I could see my forehead wrinkles. I had smile lines. My hair was longer but slightly less thick. I also was thinner but different.

This was different.

I was now 25 and married. I lived just beyond the city limits of Chicago with Luke and our aging dog who didn’t quite understand she was aging. I had a stable job. I was happy.

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Luke and Molly, the newlyweds

I’m not a fan of happiness. It’s weird to see that written out but it’s honest. Happiness is fleeting, it’s inconsistent, it’s never permanent. It’s a hope, not a promise. When you finally start to feel happy, that’s when you should be afraid because now you have something tangible to lose. I didn’t realize how happy I was in my life until I stood in the October air of County Clare but now I’m do. And now I’m afraid.

Most of my life I’ve been unhappy. I don’t know if most people would gather that as words are easy enough to hide behind. I talk about myself in vague, self-deprecating ways so no one delves deeper. I talk constantly about anything and everything so people don’t question me for fear that I’ll never stop talking. I can remember two concrete times in my life I could call happy: those winter and spring months of 2011 and the past couple years.

I don’t know what to do with happy. It feels like something palpable I should be able to hold tightly. I remember my flight home from Ireland back when I was 20 and how scared I was. It was like emerging from this contained segment of my life and desperately wanting to hold onto who I had found. What I had found. I had figured it all out and nothing would ever be bad again. I remember crying the second the wheels touched down in Milwaukee. The pressure behind my head built and I was nauseous. Somehow, I felt I had to let go. In the coming months I’d fake my way back into sorority life and be more miserable than I’d been in years.

Recognizing happiness is like when you’re in a horror movie and thinking about the monster is what makes it more powerful. If I recognize I’m happy and draw attention to it, that’s what will be the end, or so my brain keeps telling me.

When the plane touched down in Toronto from Dublin, Luke and I scrambled through the airport, desperately trying to get through customs as fast as possible during our short 1 and a half hour layover. We made it just in time to our plane to Chicago. We laughed the way you do when you’re tired but also relieved. He squeezed my hand and kissed my sweaty forehead. As the plane took off and we headed back to Chicago, I reached out and grabbed a hold of his thigh.

This time when we landed back home, I didn’t want to let go.


img_20160612_124208-1Molly Sisson, 25, graduated in 2013 from University of Iowa with a BA in English and a focus in Creative Writing. She attended University College Cork for a semester in the spring of 2011. Following college, she fell into a career in finance and currently resides in Oak Park, IL with her husband, Luke, and their overly energetic dog, Lucy. She spends most of her free time reading listicles, binging entire series on Netflix, and eating lots of macarons. She sporadically posts blog entries on her blog: http://awriterswordvomit.blogspot.com/.

We Do A Lot. (And We Should Say Thank You.)

love2Today was a hard day.

But I had it in my planner that I had to write a new blog post.

And so here I am.

I tried for an hour to come up with a reasonable post topic. And in that hour I took the dog out for the night, made my lunch for the week, put on a face mask, did the dishes, and swept my floor because I got cauliflower everywhere while I was cooking. The rice is still cooling while I type. And no topic came to me except for the one flowing from my fingers right now. Which I am realizing is this: We Do A Lot.

Most of my readers are people like me. Dreamers, doers, fighters, and believers. We put effort into every single day because we don’t know how else to live. We make plans and follow them. We make plans and change them for better ones. We do more everyday in hopes that our lives will get better, that a stroke of luck will come our way and we’ll be ready to pounce on it. We do a lot and we’re never gentle on ourselves.

Today I cooked an elaborate breakfast for a man I’m seeing, walked my dog, tidied my apartment, went to my day job, walked my dog again, went back to work, ran some errands, worked out, had dinner, started drafting a freelance blog post, and then came the whole list I opened with. I’m not listing this to brag (at least not right now because sometimes I do like to brag), I am listing it because it sounds like a lot. It is a lot and yet, I found myself, while washing the dishes thinking:

You’re so pathetic. What an unproductive day. You won’t even attempt to draft a blog. How lazy can you get?


And on and on until I dragged myself in here to begin. We do so much and we never say “thank you” to ourselves. I hardly ever thank my body for working out everyday, thank my mind for getting me through a challenging day at work, thank my resolve for maintaining side gigs. I just keep pushing.

Of course, it is this desire to push that gets everything done. The will that pushes me to move ahead, to work harder and smarter, and get more done and find more to do. The desire that I love in me and that I am sure you love in you, my fellow Doers.

But every once in awhile wouldn’t it be nice to say “thank you”? To acknowledge just how much we do instead of always seeing ourselves as falling short? Just to say “thank you” could change our whole perception of how we see ourselves and the work that we do.

We do a lot. And sometimes not doing it all is okay, too. I just wanted to remind you (me) of that today. love

 

How to Be Happy (Hint: Not with this blog)

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Self Help by Annie Terrazzo

Wouldn’t it be absolutely brilliant if you could Google search or ask Siri “How to Be Happy” and get a bunch of personalized returns? A link to your soulmate, a link to your dream job, and links to fun new hobbies would all pop up and you could save them and file them and never have to think about why these things make you happy. You’d get special websites dedicated to how to deal with your shortcomings, horrible things from you past, and anxieties you picked up along the way.

Sadly, until an algorithm that can calculate each individual’s happiness is created, we’ll have to keep doing it the old school way and just live. (Sounds so tiring, I know.)

The thing is, the internet already tries to do this but in a sloppy, non-mathematical way. Everyday we are bombarded with articles, blog posts, infographics, cartoons, videos, GIFs, and pictures all claiming that they know what it takes to make us happy. They contradict each other, clog up our pages, become mantras we live by, stories that we share with others going through tough times. We consume them as fast as they are written. And I am no less at fault than anyone else.

According to the internet, Happiness, capital H, is achieved by the following:
-Being Alone AND Finding the Perfect Mate
-Finding Your True Passion AND Being Okay With What You Do Now
-Taking on More Responsibility AND Getting Rid of Responsibility
-Binge Watching Jessica Jones AND Leaving Your House

All of them claim to know the real you, what you really need, how the world really works, and then they wrap up by saying something along the lines of “But of course, only you know what’s best for you because I’m a freelance writer who slams out 15 of these a day to feed myself.” They aren’t necessarily wrong in pointing to things that generally make people happy, and I do think their intentions come from a good place, but really, how are we to find our way if we’re willing to let other people tell us what they think is right?

Let’s go back to the part where I said I am a part of the problem. I love sharing this shit. I share one, two, three, eight hundred articles a day on my Facebook page about living a better life, reasons why we all feel like shit all the time, what it’s like living as a Millennial when everyone hates Millennials–even other Millennials. We gasp and delight in the slightest sign that we are not alone, that there are other people out there just like us. Instagram is LITTERED with “This is so us”, “This is me”, “Too real”, “So true”, comments. I use them. You use them. We love them. They ARE us. But why the hell do we delight in this so much?

We think we’re all different and then sh*t bricks when we realize that we’re all the same. Think about it, someone with opposing political views has definitely commented on the same Instagram post saying the same exact shit as you. Your ex is on there too, thinking they’re the wounded ones, your mom thinks anything Rihanna posts is so her. …It goes on and on.

And the number one way we’re all the same? No one knows what the hell they’re doing and we’re letting endless articles and blog posts and stories and songs tell us how we should behave and how we should feel. Just because someone else has also has a tendency to black out on rum (omg, just like you) does not mean that the way they choose to love is the way you should choose to love.

Just like with’slacktivism’, people are emotional slackers too. Instead of genuinely being self-aware, we’re letting all the countless articles we consume daily to do it for us. I do this all the time because I am someone who is constantly studying herself, constantly wanting to do better, and constantly hard on myself. The articles make roughing myself up emotionally much easier. I can even be lazy about it sometimes. I’m sure the desire to find true, unabated happiness is less severe for others, but I think that to varying degrees we all want to find the life we think we want and we think we deserve.

I want to have the key to true happiness for each and every one of you. But I don’t. And most people online don’t either, but it is nice that they want to try. I think the most important thing we can do is really try to learn about ourselves through therapy, through journaling, through meditation, through mistakes, through memory–the list goes on. I guess this is what I meant by saying we were going to have to actually “live.”

I’m not suggesting you stop reading the fun “I found true happiness selling manure and you can to” articles. Actually, I am encouraging you to continue, but while being careful not to fall down the rabbit hole. Take breaks, pay attention to what makes you happy and write it down, notice patterns. Maybe you will see a pattern forming that tells you that really do love manure. Then take that manure article and use it to enhance your new life as a bespoke fertilizer designer.

We need to stop the mindless consumption of “This Is Why You Are Sad”, “This Will Make You Happy” articles and make sure that we are consistently looking inside and taking note of what is actually there, not what we wish was there.

But, of course, only you know what’s best for you.