I was sitting in my hairstylist’s chair two weeks ago getting a bang trim, right after news of celebrity makeup artist Jake Bailey’s apparent suicide broke, and we were saying all the things people always say after tragedies. It’s so heartbreaking, who would’ve known, everyone is battling their own demons. ”Have you ever been depressed?” Matt asked and I snorted out a laugh because of course-sad, tired, lonely and unsatisfied has been my baseline since my teens.
There’s something shameful about admitting that, about copping to being a miserable person, and I feel inclined to list all the positives, too. I laugh a lot! I don’t hold grudges! I generally view the glass as half full! It’s just that the moments of genuine happiness and excitement always catch me off-guard, always feel fleeting. But exploring the why of it is starting to prove futile, a kind of chicken-or-egg dilemma (which came first-the depression or the shitty relationship with my parents?). There’s been no great loss or trauma in my life; on the contrary, I’ve gotten pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted.
Recently, after yet another visit with my mom that didn’t have to end in tears and screaming and her storming out on me (but did), the realization hit: Whether it’s a chemical imbalance or a bad attitude, the problem is me. And it’s getting really, really old. So I decided to take the self-help/therapy wisdom I’d ignored for so long about happiness being a choice and only being able to control your own reaction, force it down my own throat and create a personal Happy Project, if you will. The good news: It’s working. The bad news: I’m becoming a person who starts conversations off with, “Let me tell you about my Happy Project…” (No, I haven’t captioned any Instagram photos with that hashtag yet. Yes, you have permission to shoot me if I do.) Here are the five changes I’ve made that are helping to reset my mindset.
1) Cut back on drinking. There’s one thing in common with every instance in which I argue about something not worth arguing over, overshare with an acquaintance or first date (and then feel uneasy about it) or stay up too late, to the point that I’m sluggish and irritable the next day: alcohol. I’m not giving it up completely (let’s not go crazy here), but I did cut out hard liquor for the time being and swapped my Pinot Grigio habit for Pinot Noir, since I like red less and therefore drink it slower and only crave one glass at the end of the day instead of three or four.
2) Delete all dating apps. I have no particular preference when it comes to meeting someone on the subway versus via Tinder-in fact, I had a successful relationship with someone I met on the app. But when that ended and I rejoined all the Tinders, Bumbles, Hinges and Happns of the world, I just felt overwhelmed. Editing yourself into this perfect cool girl and scrolling through hundreds of photos and coming up with witty one-liners every time you match with a model cuddling a baby tiger is exhausting. And all the time I spent doing that was time I wasn’t reading books I wanted to read or catching up with friends I wanted to see. When I started to wean myself off the apps and spend my personal time more productively, voila!, someone came into my life.
3) Use my time in more meaningful ways. GOMI, or Get Off My Internets, is a forum dedicated to snarking on bloggers and calling out their photoshopping, staged lives and grammatical errors. It’s petty, it’s a time suck and for the last couple years, scrolling through for 30 minutes before I fall asleep has been my biggest guilty pleasure. But last month, I went to Paris for fashion week and didn’t check it once (I know, I know, how did I possibly find other things to do there?) and when I came back, the desire was gone. Now, I try to read a few chapters of a book, catch up on Heather Havrilesky’s therapeutic Ask Pollycolumn or write before bed and it feels much more fulfilling.
4) Stop indulging in mean gossip. At a recent dinner, a woman I had just met started tearing apart her co-worker, counting off all the ways this person was awful and made the workplace a horrible environment. I was first taken aback, then bored and ultimately, I left thinking this person was the wretched one, not the co-worker. A little venting at the end of a long week is normal; spending an entire phone call or night out ranting about every last annoying thing that girl did on Snapchat is not. I’ve been guilty of initiating and getting sucked into endless gossip sessions, but after realizing that they almost always make me feel even worse, I’ve made a conscious effort to stop engaging.
5) Write down three things I’m grateful for every night before I fall asleep. It’s the oldest, most clichéd trick in the book and yet, forcing myself to sift through my entire day, looking only for the positives, really works to put things into perspective. For good sleep, it certainly beats counting sheep. (And the red wine doesn’t hurt, either.)