Tag Archives: The Happiness Project

The Confidence Quotient

While I’m not exactly sure why I stopped writing, I am certainly worse for it – and I do not mean my Klout score.

I’d like to claim that line from the movie Contagion where the dad-from-Six Feet Under called blogs “graffiti with punctuation” chastened me or that sitting ten feet from the bureau chief of Chicago’s NYT editorial team has intimidated me.

The truth, however, is that I’m just in a confidence crisis.  My slightly-neurotic analysis has yielded something like this:

When I was smart, I just wanted to be pretty.
When I was pretty, I just wanted to be loved.
I know now that I am neither smart nor pretty, but am miraculously and unquestionably loved.

My simple mind isn’t processing this well.

Further, what’s love got to do with it?

I’m talking about SELF-confidence.  Belief in oneself apparently has nothing to do with how other people view you.  But lack of it sure makes you vulnerable to the worst opinions others may or may not have.  (You would not believe how far I can take this.)

Shouldn’t truly having self-confidence make you a bit impervious to outside forces?  Is it not your own invisibility cloak when the ghost of crappy economy haunts you?  Or the shield against the morally bankrupt thugs who would rob you of your vehicle to success and kick you as they drive away?

I am reminded again of that haunting statement by an interviewer that his dream candidates are single women because they have a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.  It made me furious then, but merely more self-conscious now.

Writing, like any art, is about sharing your impression of the life that surrounds you.  And since we are all the hero of our own drama, everyone’s impression is unique to their storyline.

What has risen up as a monumental roadblock is the nagging disbelief that my storyline matters.

I think self-confidence is the elephant in every woman’s mental room of her own.
And my elephant has taken to sitting on top of me and crushing the life out.

This isn’t to say that men don’t suffer from a crisis in confidence.  I’m sure they do.  But overwhelmingly, I have noticed that women (including me) get derailed by circumstances beyond their control and then struggle to compartmentalize a sucky situation so they can get back to being awesome.

I had a fantastic conversation this week with someone who wanted ME as a mentor.  [If that doesn’t boost confidence, what on earth will?]  Listening to her story and her self-doubt felt very raw.  In the beginning of the conversation, my nag was reciting “blind leading the blind” over and over… but when I stopped thinking about poor me and what an unimpressive loser I’ve turned out to be, I felt my indignation rise on her behalf.

She didn’t embezzle a million dollars, or have an affair with a married supervisor, or punch a client in the face.  [For the record, neither have I – I was just trying to think of things that would, in fact, warrant feeling a little self-loathing.]  Yet she was behaving as if she deserved to be sitting in ashes wearing burlap.

I was a relative stranger and a brand new connection but even I could see that she had something sparkly inside.  And I told her so.

I’ve been inspired by this woman to seek out connections with people who won’t pump me up, who don’t have anything to gain by injecting my ego with steroids.  I’m on a mission to read and subscribe to confidence and positivity bloggers.  I have pulled out my child psych books to learn what I can about building confidence and what plays a role in one’s “confidence quotient.”

So much is determined by it.

Sometimes the mirror your friends and loved ones hold up to you is like a funhouse mirror.  Their investment in your happiness and obvious love throws waves into the truthiness of their feedback.  In my experience, at least, it is rare that someone close can give you raw truth.  Most people shroud feedback in fluffy nonsense rendering any kernel of actionable insight unrecognizable.

I had a high school ‘phriend’ who, while she wouldn’t be seen with me in public thereby reinforcing my leperous sense of self, would write me ridiculous notes about why I shouldn’t think poorly of myself.  These little gems had very little to do with weighty issues but still gave some perspective to the tragic sensibilities of a teenager – things like “You have all your teeth.” and “You do not smell bad.”

While funny in a Dax Shepherd sort of way, this has given me an idea.  I’m thinking about a little project over the next few weeks.   I’m going to emphasize positive things in my life that I can claim credit for as a way of focusing on good and praising my accomplishments as a valuable human, no matter how small.

If Gretchen Rubin can have a Happiness Project, I get to have a confidence one.

I’ll call it The Confidence Quotient – Small Wins or #CQsmallwins.

Who wants to play?

_____ New Year

I love movie characters who show unglossed disdain for whiners.  I especially like the wise, old codgers who advise the desperately-seeking-happiness set to get on with the business of life and quit wallowing around like self-indulgent, spoiled inheritance brats.

I definitely think that there’s something privileged about devoting time and energy to “finding happiness.”

But that isn’t to say that I am not one of those schmoes who reads self-help/improvement books.  In fact, in 2010, I read three:  The Happiness Project, Savor, and Loving What Is.

As I think about my resolutions for the coming year – things I want to accomplish, change, learn, share, I can’t help asking if  pursuing happiness is incongruous with the value of just shutting the eff up and getting on with it.

Einstein is credited with saying that there are two ways of looking at the world – as if there are no miracles or as if everything is one.  The more I think about (and read about) happiness, the more it seems to me that maybe we just need reminding that we are, in fact, happy.

The most recent example of this is in my own household.  I haven’t been feeling very “wonderwoman” this week and it has made me testy (read: bitchy).  My poor hub did his best to dive-bomb in support while steering clear of the indiscriminate scud missiles of nasty I was firing off.  As usual, my zen master of common sense dispensed wisdom that both chastened and inspired me.

It was something along the lines of, “I hope you can be happy tomorrow.”  I am not unhappy was my instinctual reply.  Unhappy people are miserable bitches who make everyone around them miserable too…. oh, shit.


There’s another embarassing truth at play here.  My husband is not American.  Ergo, it is more painfully obvious to him than most when I show every emotion I have at the exact moment I have it.  Americans as a rule have no filter for politeness or decorum or shame.  We are a selfish, showy lot.  It mortifies me.  I’d kill to have a stiff upper lip.  But no, I’m a bawling mess of emotions even when I’m not hormonal.

As soon as he shared his simple wish for me, I started counting up all the ways I’m lucky instead of all the previously-glaring have-nots that were bumming me out.  I didn’t suddenly pay off my debt, get skinny or move into a polished mansion.  All that changed was my perspective.  So is that it?  Is all this fuss really that easy to alleviate?

Maybe so.  At least for me.

If there is one thing common amongst my Phacebook Phriends, it is that everyone seems to have a moan or groan about 2010 to share.  I don’t know anyone who has posted something joyful or celebratory about how the last year treated them.  Perhaps that’s indicative of the economy.  Maybe every year is like this and I’m just noticing because I can easily jump on their bandwagon of crab.  In any case, each post seemed an invitation for me to one-up my acquaintences for “worst year ever.”

But what is the sense in that?

I’m a big believer in speaking your mind.  Legitimate grievances, to be fair, need airing.  The generic whining that is a poor excuse for most conversation does not, however, qualify.  Not even close.  Complaining doesn’t actually make people feel happier. It doesn’t change your plight.  It spreads your miserable dissatisfaction to others and invites the snowballing of poor-me syndrome. 

So yes, I will set out my resolutions tonight and tomorrow.  I will outline some things that will make me happi-ER and some things that will make those around me happier.  Of all these, the most important ones (and probably hardest to keep) will be to  shut up about whatever it is giving me a sourpuss (jelly belly, skinny savings, dust bunnies, etc.) and just get on with it.

It is, after all, a wonderful life.

Happy New Year.

Bad Mouth

There’s a movie line from Steel Magnolia’s that says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about anyone, come sit next to me.”

It usually gets a laugh whether delivered on screen or in-person.

But “gossip” has really gotten on my last nerve.

A reader of this blog said to me, “I don’t know how you can write all that personal stuff.”  Here’s the thing – it isn’t a secret.  What’s more?  I don’t want things that I consider fundamental to my growth as a person or uniqueness as a personality to be kept secret.

I would rather be known.

Part of my vows to my husband included that very sentiment. 

I have simply been accepted for most of my life.  With my hub, I have been cherished and celebrated.  He clearly gets what is exclusively mine.  He loves me, not in spite of who I am or what I do, but because of it. 

If I haven’t mentioned it before, I recently read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  She chronicled her life over the course of a year with the aim to improve small things in order to make a big change.  I like this concept.  It’s very “Think globally, act locally.” 

Immediately after finishing the book, I set out on my own happiness project.  The initiation was around the same time as our move to St. Louis.  I wasn’t working, we didn’t have a social life, we were living in someone else’s home.  We needed a fresh dose of happy.

Among my initiatives were ‘make new friends,’ ‘schedule fun,’ ‘spend time alone without guilt,’ and ‘accept others.’  I had also included ‘stop gossiping.’

I never thought I had a problem with gossiping.  For years, the only person I ever spoke ill of was myself!  I used my shock and awe stories to determine who was worth keeping around and who wasn’t.  If they could handle the truth, so to speak, they stayed.  I probably burned more than a few great friendships through premature revelation.  The truth is sometimes hard to share.  It sometimes requires delicate framing, or softening.  I had none of that discretion.  My disclosures were filterless fireballs that singed everyone in their path.

Then there was a long time I didn’t share anything with anyone.  No one needed to know me because I realized (with horror) how much of a work in progress I still was.  You don’t get the full impression of a magnum opus at the halfway point so why bother showing a few brush strokes on a canvas? 

But then I grew up again…

And realized is that no one is complete.  No one is 100% healed or completely normal or fully actualized or perfect.  Ever. 

Here’s another secret – everyone knows that you’re not. 

So why do we bother walking around pretending that we’re so evolved and full of wisdom and experience.  We’re full of OUR wisdom and OUR experience.  It is no more and no less valuable than anyone else’s. 

In finding a partner, a friend, a mate, I think the goal is to find someone whose brand of crazy matches your own.

My partner loves to debate.  We watch news shows and political commentary and read foreign press just to avoid the abject partisanship in U.S. coverage.  The problem we’ve found is that not many people like that kind of discussion, intellectual or not.  Most of my family avoids topics like politics and religion because with those topics comes confrontation.  I respect that.  Not everyone likes to acknowledge or discuss differences.  But, I think it’s a mistake.  Our differences aren’t shameful.  Our differences should be expected.

I love the Mark Twain quote that opines people who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t.  I would say the same is true for good discussion.

It drives me crazy when the only topics of conversation are other people not in the room.  Gossip isn’t just talking bad about people, it’s talking about people without them present to represent themselves.  Gossip is one step above grunting on the scale of communication evolution.  We, with all of our differences, customized set of experiences, and personalized knowledge put a slant on everything we say and think.  It’s ok.  Everyone does it. 

Not acknowledging that is the critical error.

I’ve been in conversations where gossip was alive and kicking.  I’ve expressed my disinterest in joining the gossip.  And then found myself unable to stop the blurt of information coming out when the questions didn’t stop.

So here’s another tack – There is an art to conversation.  It requires curiousity, genuineness, and openness. When you feel yourself unable to think of something interesting to say, or you feel tempted to trot out someone elses’ life for display to shield your own from scrutiny, ask a question.  The best conversationalists are people who know how to engage others.  Learn about them, their thoughts, their experiences, their lives, their opinions. 

That’s it.  Just ask a question.

Maybe they’ll ask you one back.