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THE FEELING: The 100 Best Things I Ever Did to Be Happy
A long list of the best stuff
THE FEELING is by life and lifestyle writer Kate Carraway and is about wellness, happiness, relationships, health and healing, meditation and mindfulness, rest, pleasure, self-care, self-help, and the self-imaginary.
A while ago, I wrote out a list of some of the best stuff I had ever done to be happy, a few years after I first dragged myself out of a state of unconsciousness. I’ve added to this list a few times, and wanted to “finish” it, because Now I Am Perfect. (Or, because it’s time to start over.) LMK what your best stuff is. xx.
1. chose a way harder and way more excellent career path than I was about to (easier than it sounds)
2. protected my “voice”/writing style and sense of professional self from those (SO MANY THOSES!) who would have me change; hardcore pursued the publications and editors who were/are cool with me as me
3. stopped dating boys/men who were bad news (harder than it sounds)
4. resisted my own, once-profound cynicism and got deeply into books and ideas about happiness and well-being; accepted the essential corniness of the pursuit of my best self
5. went to a lot of therapists until I found one who is perfect
6. got veeeeery particular about what standard of treatment, respect, attention I expect from other people, inclusive of friends, family, boyfriends, bosses, colleagues, etc. Began refusing to interact with “toxic” people (gross phrase, but true). Got very good at letting people go and being let go by them, when appropriate.
7. got waaaaay nicer and better to the people I care about. Started telling people who were/are important to me that they were/are important to me, and why. Became “radically vulnerable” to my closest friends. Pursued improbable but delightful friendships and relationships.
8. stopped going to parties and events just because they exist and I am in some way “supposed” to attend; started spending way more time with my sisters’ children, my sisters, my parents, at home.
9. Stopped assuming things, like, that other people would or should just inherently know things that I expected and never communicated. Stopped assuming that I was right. Started practicing some version of “extreme realness” (TM me) in which I only create and participate in relationships and communication that is honest, direct, realistic and kind.
10. quit smoking; really quit smoking always forever; quit drinking (mostly, but actually mostly); quit sugar, wheat and dairy (mostly, but not actually mostly)
11. focused only and entirely on what I like, need, and want, and not at all on anything else
12. zero “hate-reading” or “hate-following”
13. zero giving a shit about those who hate-read or hate-follow or hate-comment or hate-email me, to the point of almost zero exposure (instablocking, not reading comments, etc.)
14. forgiveness. Forgave. (Ongoing. Hard! I tend… not to.)
15. reveled in what I have and am instead of being all furious about what I don’t and what I’m not.
16. did way less; said “no” more; less but better. On everything. When you’re not self-aware it’s impossible to make priorities for your eternally limited attention, time, and emotional/physical/cosmic energy. When you are, it gets EZ to turn down the stuff that isn’t just going to hit your value-quadrants (mine are about growth and newness; authentic to “me”-ness; fun and joy; meaning).
17. quit therapy. I stopped caring about going, and started feeling bored of myself and the process.
18. took some actual time to recover after the magazine I worked for, for like six years, folded. I went to graduate school, went to Paris, got married, was sad and thrilled and totally reconfigured what I want my work life to be about.
19. the ethos of showing up for work — the right shoes, studied up, notes out, phone away — is obviously owed to the people I love. My new thing is arriving at friend-dates “prepared.”
20. got very real about how much time I was spending online, doing nothing. Like, nothing. (*spits*) Made a list on Twitter called “Musts” and populated it with my best friends, favorite randos, work-adjacent people. Hid everyone on Facebook who I don’t know or love IRL, and/or need to see. Created a separate, secret Instagram where I don’t post and just follow everyone whose pics I like the most. Applying controls to the chaos is the only way to actually get something out of it.
21. divested myself of probably half my stuff. Clothes, shoes, makeup, books, magazines, the shuffling waves of paper that drift behind me. Assumed the KonMari method, and mantle: everything in my apartment (minus this one ugly file box in my office, papers lapping urgently at its sides) is either essential or gives me something. Or is my husband’s, but whatevs. [Update, now that I live in a house, and stuff has exploded upwards from storage into living space, this is less exactly true.]
22. related: cleaning. I am naturally very clean (and kind of irrationally and randomly germaphobic?) and very untidy. Clean and tidy are not the same. Historically, I tolerate mountains in miniature, made of clean laundry or books, but not a used glass or a lone, worn sock. I have learned that I need to schedule everything that I care about, so I have “CLEANING HOUR” every day, and weekly engagements to do specific things. I also pay real money to have someone come to my house to deep-clean, because outsourcing stuff that costs more to do yourself on the time-money continuum is economically way smarter, and people only don’t do it because of habit and fear. FIN!
23. indulged in some new weirdness [update-update, this is really how you know I started this list a while ago] that I never thought I would. I meditate, practice gratitude in a pretty serious way, use a salt lamp and take salt baths, whatever. I’m sidling up to ideas like tapping and somatic work (a.k.a. “body stuff”) and EMDR. The stuff that has benefited me is mostly stuff that a while ago I laughed in the corny-ass face of, and knowing that makes me feel like a dumb little mouse who should shhhh and just try things.
24. married someone I actually want to be good and kind to. All the time. I have no instinct to flex my ego with him, to be right, to be the cool, mean boss. I’m just on a team.
25. bought flowers constantly — I do single-color bouquets, densely packed, usually white or pink. They’re expensive. Fuck it, though.
26. realized that everyone comes to methods toward happiness in their own way, or not at all, and that even though I asked my sister to try meditation instead of giving me a birthday present (DICK MOVE), it was fine to just do my stuff and be ready with it if someone cares.
27. said one or two or twenty fewer things than I might want to, every day. Choosing what those things are — micro-judgments and stray criticisms, useless observations, tepid personal assertions — is easy.
28. mostly quit caffeine; drinking only my KC Special version of “Bulletproof” coffee when I do (two shots of espresso blended with a quarter-teaspoon of coconut oil); never experiencing mid-day jet-fueled jingle-jangles ever again
29. went back to therapy, after deciding what kind of therapy I really needed (“trauma”), what I was willing to do beyond just “attend” (a lot), and what kind of therapist is best for me and my therapy baditude, a.k.a. my resistance to moving out of my head and into my heart and body (“smarter than me”)
30. acknowledged the very real limitations of my scope of feelings-focus, to the point where I sometimes listen to the same podcast episode or song over and over for days or a week because my immaterial and psychic boundaries are still, like, gelling
31. became realistic and reasonable (words I typically need a textual version of “trigger warnings” for) about time and how much I have and how long things take and what, then, is worth it — like, not taking assignments because they sound cool or pay well if they also need me to spend six days talking to the kind of selfish, incurious person I hate being around. As a for-instance.
32. sought out “softness” everywhere, in everything. Softness as a guide, a goal.
33. i’ll throw “meditation” up on the board as a thing I did to be happy, but on a technicality: meditation has smoothed out some of my most protruding mental edges, one-hundy-thundy percenty, but it’s also the primary source of confidence-poison in my average day because I’m still really bad at it.
34. a crucial update to #14: gave the benefit of the doubt and/or instant forgiveness on light-to-medium-transgressions like three times, and then it’s fair game to tell someone to go fuck themselves
35. “When you change who you are in a relationship, the relationship necessarily changes.” This line came from a nice woman named Cheryl Richardson who I interviewed for a magazine story about self-care, and I keep that line whole and close and active. Thinking hard about what I’m doing to create or re-create or just allow for shitty dynamics, be they subtle or overt, has allowed for wowie-zowie-level changes in many kinds of relationships in my life. My liiife!
36. confronted the absolute, swift and devastating failure of my industry to adapt to new online circumstances (that had made themselves entirely clear by the time I arrived) by taking mad time off to do something else, and then reorienting myself to new work using the same abilities and interests I used before. “Rolling with it,” or moving quickly between realities, doesn’t come naturally to me emotionally, but it turns out it does professionally, because as a freelancer I’ve been enrolled in a secret and elite cowboy school for many years without even knowing it.
37. outsourced everything possible, because there is no moral favor or economic advantage to hauling dry cleaning (especially as a weak-limbed, 5’2” doe-baby) if someone will pick it up for less money than it costs in time and effort. [Update, obviously Simon does this now.]
38. recognized that this is fucking it. IT. This moment is every moment, and this is the only moment I have, ever have had, ever will have. I like touching my husband’s back in a sort of suit-smoothing motion before he goes to work — is this outlay of personal but unsexy detail too gross? — and knowing that it might be the last time I ever see him. Use up a day like I got a blank check that expires in twenty-four hours, like I won’t touch it or my husband’s massive granite sports-guy back, ever again, like I should be so lucky to ever see another day, another person that I love, because that is all precisely true.
39. decided not to participate in other people’s strategies of passive-aggression and avoidance and repression and emotional sneak-attacks by enlisting an almost kindergarten-simple style of feelings delivery, when necessary. Just, “What do you mean by that?” will make a pass-agg homie’s pupils dilate! Like "ziiiiip"!
40. used things up; I don’t assume I’ll ever go back to a book, or a blog post, or a video, or w/e. I mean, I might, but I do much less in the way of “I’ll read this for real later.” No, bitch, you will read it now or not at all, because later is a grainy projection that may or may not exist. NEXXXXT.
41. wanted what I already had. Actively want, not accept. Def helps that I tend to choose things and run them down, like work and places to live and friends and feelings. It is always a choice, though, to hold up a thing in your life that is good and working, and realize the gold-dipped miraculousness of even that, the hysterical luck of something that is even just fine.
42. rituals, not routines
43. three conscious breaths, multiple times a day, whenever my brain starts feeling scrambled-eggy. Meditation is better, but it’s kind of an event, and this is just, this.
44. listed three gratitudes in the morning, and three happinesses at night. All of them have to be new, but everything, from the way-obvious and the seemingly inconsequential, counts.
45. recognized that self-management is a complex organism. Like: I rely on calendars — color-coded; ever-updated; constantly referred to — for dog and house and appointments and all external memory. And yet: I have no self-control, and really only ever do what I want to do, which might be twelve hours of uninterrupted work, or might be the opposite. This isn’t going to change. So, manager-me has to accommodate writer-me by creating tall blocks of totally empty time to do whatever. Other people use subterfuge and manipulation on their boyfriends; I use it on myself.
46. did one thing, then another thing. Just, do one whole entire thing until it’s done. Then do another. Maybe drink a glass of cold water and crushed iced (my favorite thing is to say it fast like “CRUSH ICE!”) in between.
47. took social media off my phone. (Not Instagram, though. I mean, god.)
48. with randos and strangers and inside of the constant, endless, repetitive interactions with other people in social/economic/city/working life, led with generosity, kindness, the assumption that everyone I meet is fighting a great battle, BUT the moment I'm interrupted, talked over, condescended to, or otherwise have my goodwill taken advantage of, I fucking SCRAM. (This is related to #14 and #34 and is a good little overview of the forgiveness paradigm.)
49. cut my anxiety in half by cutting, you know, aaaaaaahverything out of my diet, and adding in a lot more good fat and vegetables. (Obvious???) Caffeine, sugar, grains, and every other comestible zazzle has to be carefully calibrated for my way-sensitive nervous system. [2023 update: my anxiety is gone now. FOR NOW.]
50. used a more naturalistic paradigm to manage relationships, instead of the boundary-gymnastics, performed in suits of protective armor, that people are into right now: “If I text three times and she doesn’t text me back, I’m done!” or “If he leaves me a voicemail after I told her not to, I’m DONE!” (Definitives, within the usual bounds, are usually nopes.) So like, if I rarely hear from someone, or rarely feel their interest, but I’m supposed to make a plan, I probably won’t, and that’s probably fine. Life is weird. Don’t make assumptions about anyone’s intentions, but also don’t jump in as the do-er and connector, the Little Sister, always.
51. related: just because something is easier for me than it is for someone else doesn’t mean that I should always be the one to do it
52. let myself be and feel and exist as wholesome; let “wholesomeness" be a part of my idea, and ideation, of myself.
53. got way more specific about what constitutes pleasure, and what is an expired version of pleasure (usually, a sinkhole of money or calories or time)
54. twenty-four hours alone in a nice hotel is worth three days of vacation with other people. Forty-eight hours is worth a week. This is math.
55. recognizing who is on my level, and who isn’t. “On my level” isn't w/r/t some kind of status or achievement or ability, just, effort made in the world. I don’t want to hang out with people who aren’t trying to shoot the lights out, or the moon, who don’t want to try, or think they shouldn’t have to, during their limited time on Earth, whether that effort is toward fun or art or relationships or whatever: just something.
56. continued to develop a sexual relationship with myself, and my sexual poetics, even/especially in a serious, real-deal, forever-date-style relationship
57. being brunette right now and in general makes me UNHAPPY but having “straight shiny Harvard hair” that isn’t tangled like sea grass from bleach and benign neglect makes me HAPPY
58. got uncomfortable every day, or, a lot. Not, “Do something ‘hard’ every day!” because something hard could mean running faster on the treadmill, or whatever, a furtherance of familiar difficulty, but instead, eat that Death Cookie, tong yourself out of your comfort zone and drop it (you) into a swamp. I don’t know another measure to use to assure yourself that you’re doing something real.
59. related: expected to feel good most of the time. Just “feel good.” As a baseline, an assumption. I should feel good.
60. had fewer expectations for basically everyone. Even Simon. EVEN SIMON.
61. went to bed an hour earlier than I thought I should. No, earlier than that. Earlier.
62. took email off my phone (Twitter was already gone), as a forever-thing. There are some good reasons to have email with you, like, having to do with airplanes and, maybe [bites apple; pauses], hmm, meeting updates? But, no: some vague expediencies are not worth the additionally decimated attention span. [2023 update: work-email-en-phone is BACK because a baby will really, you know, cut into your workday.]
63. blackout curtains!
64. this is “in progress,” but, as much as possible: was the same person in every scenario. When you act substantially differently with different people and for different reasons, it’s your shadow-self consuming your integrated self, and the integrated self is what we’re after.
65. treasured my “treasures,” like, set up a little place where I keep my tiny, sparkling bounty, anything especially new, or nice, just things that I want to look at in the morning and at night while I’m pushing jewelry on or pulling jewelry off. Like: Halloween candy-bounty style. Right now: an evil-eye pin my friend got me in Greece; a card I gave my Golden Banana Simon and then kind of kept for myself; my super-fave pen (Uni-Ball Vision Rollerball Fine Point in black). My tendencies toward maximal minimalism (and, sort of, nihilism?) mean that everything goes wherever it goes and that’s it, a drum-tight operation, so having a kind of mantle-altar-shrine thing just there, BEING there, gives off a thick, salty wave of dopamine.
66. focused on my various micro-obsessions: whatever song is on repeat, or story I can’t stop talking about, or random aesthetic lick — a repeating color? Pattern? Texture? — is doing it for me. It’s telling you something, and urgently, and you have to find out what.
67. frequently engaged in what I call “The Wondering” which honestly is just a daggy game where, when I’m in less-than-ideal emotional circumstances, I ask myself what I’d rather be feeling, via where I’d rather be, and what I’d rather be doing (and zero points for aspirational obviousness like “trillion-star hotel room, Bali, post-swim, pre-sex”), and sifting through some potential scenarios and the associated feelings-fields, which is how I found out I had an unresponded-to urge toward service ("It's like that book I read in ninth grade that said ‘’tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people’”), as a for-instance.
68. the obviousness of “automation” as an anxiety-reducer escaped me because I’m so moody and hate being told what to do, BUT now that I always water the tree, clean Jemmy’s funny little ears, and edit my organic grocery delivery order-thing all on Saturdays, it all gets done without me ever really thinking about it
69. “creating evidence of love” is real and obvious but can get harder and greyer when we’re mostly online with each other, especially in those friend-colleague-acquaintance-community situations where it can feel weird to both do something, and not. So, as a rule, send a card, or a note; send flowers; buy a gift; bring food. Every time I remember my own situations and celebrations, I remember so well the physical manifestations of love: a crate of oranges; lavender essential oil and magazines; bottles of champagne packed with new glasses and crackers and caviar; sticky notes; ribbon and confetti litter, left as evidence. It can feel clumsy and annoying and expensive to create it, but intention is nothing when it’s not made real, right? Also: “69.” Nice.
70. eliminated domestic “drag” by not instigating or re-upping any new little errands or dumb tasks for myself. So if I have to return, like, a broken pepper mill, I don’t then take the store credit, that I will have to think about and go back to the store to spend on something that will end up breaking or banal-ifying; I’ll spend it in that moment. If I get a gift card, I’ll use it that day, before I lose it or touch it twice, and c’est ça. Don’t buy one housewarming present, buy 20, and have it ready for next-next-next time. A task has to be self-limiting.
71. went to the library once a week. If I only do this, as a way of mashing in some normalcy and steadiness and recurring joy in my life, that’s fine.
72. “When people show you who they are, believe them” yepyepyep fer sure we know I get it, BUT, really.
73. hypnotherapy got more done for me in a few weeks than $70,200 of therapy. This might be recency bias, but, feels like!
74. stayed pretty weird, even when I can tell when that weirdness is alienating the people around me. This makes me both happy and irritable. Why am I always supposed to “go” to everyone else? Sometimes, they can come to me. Like, GOD!
75. related: not rearranging myself into a circus-clown version of a girl when there’s any risk of experiencing boredom in group scenarios, or what I think of as “social inefficiency.” I often left parties, meetings, coffees (and more recently Zooms) exhausted from entertaining (I’m sure I’m often not) other people (and in so doing, abandoning myself), and I’m so much happier when I’m still. This one is really upsy-downsy, because it’s in my joints and muscles and puppy-energy.
76. This is more of a dawning awareness than an action, but, not really believing that anyone has ever talked about me behind my back is a kind of highly functional mental derangement. If I didn’t hear about it, it didn’t happen, okay!
77. Related: not messing around with new hobbies, or the idea that I should have any. The only stuff I like to do is swim, read, write, and talk. (I like sleep and sex and saunas and massages but you can only do a certain amount of those, even on vacation.) I already know what I like. This is settled science.
78. never (or, rarely) having to apologize because I only did and said things I can get behind is the little chocolate-dipped sugar cookie on the side of an espresso
79. if I can intuitively, naturally, easily, just GET that the shame and guilt that runs (ruins?) most people’s lives is stupid and optional, surely I can come a little closer to also GETTING that the fear that runs (ruins?) my life is stupid and optional, too
80. if you’re going through a hard time with some predictable end-point — medical treatment, work crisis, long-weekend bachelorette party — buy yourself one small gift every day, Advent Calendar style. (You COULD ask your person to do this for you, so there’s a surprise element, but what if they fuck it up?) I bought myself something small/nice every day of IVF and when my ovaries felt like grapefruits and I was throwing up in the clinic’s parking lot from hypernatremia… it really helped!
81: related, in the sense that balancing one’s identity as a luxury fox with one’s identity as basically ascetic (I mean, I don’t like things, except for certain things) is a trip I will always be on: economic participation, so, “spending money,” on anything that isn’t utterly necessary, life-smoothing or truly satisfying is the biggest waste of time, energy and attention. Shopping, buying, paying for, getting, having (or returning), managing, using, cleaning, organizing, fixing, thinking about, expunging, annihilating… multiply that by every little item. It’s labor; it costs. You know?
82. related-related: spend money once a week. Do bills, groceries, drug store, Sephora, new boots, birthday present for whoever, all on the same day. Seeing it fly in real time will lead to better decisions.
83. it’s not self-care if you regret it after
84. resisted the urge to make a plan or a promise in a conversation that really just wants your presence, right then
85. stopped, or tried to, confusing the study of salvation for salvation itself. Got that, KATE???
86. for me, the challenge is not “asking for help,” it is “not asking for help”
87. for me, the challenge is not “helping,” it is “not helping”
88. said one fewer thing than I wanted to, to Simon, every day. This is THE marriage advice. I just wish I could remember where I heard it. I thought it was from my oldest sister but she thinks she heard it from me. (Here’s me, thinking, around 10am every day: “Oof, there’s that thing…”) [UM, on reflection, I realize that this is the same thing as #27? Did I hear this advice… from myself???]
89. expecting lot of good things to happen for me is the same as expecting a lot of good things to happen for everyone, at least the way I play it. Entitlement and generosity can be the same impulse.
90. determined a route through my home, including a mental “starting line” and “finish line” (my “starting line” is the north-east corner of my bedroom, and the “finish line” is the south-west corner of the kitchen) so that when I’m overwhelmed by the tumult of geodomestica, I start at the start and do any tasks — cleaning, organizing, errands, repairs — on the path, until the end
91. avoided the dull, arid, numb-buzzing middle, the neither-here-nor-there-ness, the endless scroll, the Garbage Time, at all costs, whenever possible (not always possible)
92. played “hotel” at home by first making a bedroom as clean, empty and emotionally neutral as possible and then spending a long stretch with just a book; a bath and assorted soaks, salts and oils; snacks; a downer of choice; and no — no — internet or interaction with anyone else. Check-in’s at three, babe.
93. honestly, writing my own guided meditations has a “shoots my own porn” quality, I know, but being able to correct the elements of other guided meditations that I can’t tolerate, like logic gaps and psychic shortcuts, to build a cohesive world with some real purpose (instead of, say, for a dramedy pilot that won’t ever get made???)… I mean!!! It’s the best!!!
94. instead of denying or dismissing nostalgic spasms, tried to identify what it is that’s being nostalgic-ed. It’s going to be a person, a season, a city, a song — but what about it? Other than the wide-open fields of youth, most nostalgia is just about a feeling that I want to feel, that I then have to produce.
95. prioritized privacy, solitude, vibing out, silence, and the self-imaginary, because that’s what everything else flows from
96. sun in the morning, barefoot in grass or dirt at dusk, and candles and warm water after that
97. “Horny on Main,” honey. It’s fine. It’s fine! It seems true that either a) most people don’t feel their sexual impulses in their teeth and their fingertips, or b) they must be doing a big job keeping it so restrained (which, hey, maybe they’re into???), but I need to just live in it, dig into it, exalt in it, even quietly. What’s more connective, funny, specific, revealing, silly? What’s more worth it?
98. update to #42: rhythm, as well as ritual (but not routine)
99. writing, like journaling, but to the nth degree, has helped me so much, more than anything other than various cross-streams of therapy and meditation. I keep a diary and make lists and notes and write down and emotionally diagram anything that stood out, that bugged, that hit. It’s so much work, but if I’m not a little sweaty, I’m not going to be happy.
100. paid attention
January’s edition of THE FEELING: Diary is out and is about the last year of my life, more or less, and what is “owed,” and to whom. “At one point during the pregnancy I was on about something, some worry, and Simon said ‘We owe it to the people who went through all of that’ — loss; IVF; whatever the cumulative effect is — ‘to just enjoy this.’ That’s his bootstrappy version of ‘owed’: we put in the work. I mean, yes?” Get it here.
I had to show you this:
I have so much Che-denfreude.
This is dumb, but having a baby and two careers in a small house in a pandemic is hard and when I need to instantly re-remember Simon as the moonshot-that-landed, I listen to “my” Simon song (not “our” song, he would never; “our” song is by Mazzy Star obviously) which is “King of My Heart” by Taylor Swift. Does the job, man! Positive that I have posted this before but this is “CURRENTLY” and this is what’s happening.
Related: It was my birthday on Tuesday and I asked Simon to have mercy on my nervous system and give me the day off conversation — just, like, I can’t talk anymore, please, please, please, no talking, no nothing, no asides, no jokes, no updates, no questions (jk he never asks a question), baby stuff aside, like, one day of real silence. And the result was: he tried!
Related-related: I also wanted a particular book, that I tweeted about (he doesn’t have Twitter, but is mysteriously up-to-date on whatever nonsense I’m involved in on there). He said “I got you the Tom Ford book! It’s on backorder” to which I said “Do you mean… Richard Ford? And by that do you mean… Richard Powers?” From there we got to the end result, which is that I actually wanted (and got) the new Richard Powers, Bewilderment, and that I actually wanted, and got, someone who makes an effort outside of their own milieu. (Is there even a new Richard Ford???) (And like. Bless this man for careening soapbox-style through the cultural references he has learned in the last six years. Tom Ford!?)
I love you.