I just found a note from August 15th, 2016 of Things That Made Me Happy and I remember what sparked it. I had retired from teaching students with special needs in public schools for 12 years, and had time to myself to do whatever I wanted for the first time in my LIFE. Prior to teaching, I was raised and truly caged by parents with mental illness, many abusive traits, and very limiting, shameful and punishing fundamentalist beliefs. So it felt Extra Good to have my own time for the first time in my life and I wanted to use it to get to know myself. I remember I was sad about something at one point and a friend of mine asked me what made me happy, what I did to cheer myself up when I was upset, and I had no answers for her off the top of my head. Teaching had made me happy. Helping kids. Beyond that I didn’t know. So I made this list

I have omitted one entry that I am just TOO embarrassed about. It’s too dorky, even dorkier than what you can see. I needed this list and I needed to reread it often so I could remember my own preferences. Like, when people asked me what my favorite _______ was, I could never pull up an answer off the cuff. I truly didn’t know, it was never a priority of mine to know myself in that way. So I made lists of my “favorites” too

Once I referenced the lists enough time, I started to know myself more, and I worked on keeping this information in my brain by regarding it as important. I’ve since learned that I used to really misunderstand the idea that “happiness is a choice” because when I heard that and I wasn’t happy I was like FUCK YOU. But the advice could be worded better, I think. What’s more accurate for me is, “Happiness is a byproduct of a lot of good choices.”

Circumstances, of course, affect happiness. Just a change in environment can make me so much happier. When you make a shift and you feel that relief and that joy? You’ll become more aware of how negatively you were being impacted before. And you can keep that info with you next time you have to decide whether to enter into a toxic environment again.

I’ve learned how to do whatever I can to change the circumstances that are making me unhappy, and it’s challenging. Difficult decisions are needed, new effort is needed, new skills and habits are needed. But once the effort leads to a shift into greater happiness? That feeling? Oh baby. it’s the best.

If you still need to learn, like I did, what makes you ACTUALLY feel good and peaceful and open and excited and content in this life, lists help. Make lists of the things in your life that make you happy and the things that don’t. This seems straightforward, but, have you done it? Can you maybe learn something about yourself you haven’t been paying attention to by doing this? I bet you can.

I now believe that harnessing our own wellbeing, happiness, habits etc. is our most important task as individuals. It’s foundational to what happens in your life. Everything we do and who we are flowers from the internal space we create for ourselves. Feelings are foundationally important.

That’s something I had to teach myself, my dad still tells me constantly that feelings don’t matter, logic does, and he mocks anybody for expressing their feelings with a sarcastic tone and sarcastic gestures. I never believed him, but I was impacted by that consistent message. He’s wrong, of course. Your feelings matter SO MUCH and prioritizing them makes life better, I promise.

I get down on myself sometimes for still being “bad” at things I want to be “good” at. I want to have skills I don’t have yet, but like, literally ALL the skills I have now in documentary filmmaking, producing, directing, editing, acting, writing, working in restaurants, working in tons of spaces that are not the public school system, have ALL been acquired in the past four years. I forget to remember that. I also have to remind myself of what I’ve overcome in my life and the majority of my years that I spent inclosed and unhappy. I didn’t even know what made me happy just four years ago. Now I do, and I don’t need lists anymore. I feel happier in this moment than I ever have been in my life. And it’s like, I did this.

If I can offer you a helpful thought today, it’s: When tracking your progress, consider where you started 🖤.