I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you should have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.
My 8th Commandment is to Identify the problem. That is, when you’re annoyed, angered, or frustrated, ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem here?”
This rule seems so obvious that it’s hard to explain why it’s so tremendously helpful, but it has been the one of my most major happiness-project breakthroughs.
You might think, “This doesn’t make any sense. If I have a problem, how it is possible that I haven’t identified it?”
But I’ve realized that I’ve put up with a problem or an irritation for years, because I haven’t actually examined the actual nature of the problem, and therefore, hadn’t seen how it might be solved.
Now I’m disciplining myself to ask, “What’s bugging me? Why is something not working?”
I just applied this commandment with huge success.
The Little Girl is unusually ebullient, enthusiastic, and sweet-natured (maybe it was all those happiness books I read while I was pregnant). On the other hand, she’s also prone to tantrums. Big tantrums.
We call her “the girl with the curl,” because she’s like the girl in the poem:
Once there was a girl who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.
Most of the tantrums take place when I’m around, and they were really weighing on me and everyone else. The Little Girl would recover and be fine, but we’d all be left with jangled nerves and short tempers.
We suffered through these tantrums for months.
Then finally I said to myself, “Identify the problem.” What exactly was the problem?
I realized that the tantrums were worst in the morning. The Little Girl was very prone to have big fits as we were trying to get to school, which was particularly unpleasant because it set a bad tone for everyone’s day. Sometimes the Big Girl would practically be in tears.
So I thought, “Identify the problem with the morning.” And then I realized the glaringly obvious fact: the mornings were tough for the Little Girl. She’s not a morning person (strange to say about a two-year-old, but it’s true). And when the Big Girl was her age, our mornings were leisurely. We didn’t need to be at school until 9:00 a.m. We had plenty of time to get up, have breakfast, read some stories, get dressed, and get to school.
But now the Big Girl has to be dropped off by 8:05, and we don’t get up until 6:45, and there are two children to move along instead of just one, so the morning feels rushed.
“I think she just can’t deal with all the hurrying around in the morning,” I told the Big Man. “Let’s try to make it easier for her.”
So we changed our routine. Instead of me doing school drop-off each day, the Big Man and my mother-in-law take turns taking the Big Girl to school.
And it has helped ENORMOUSLY. The tantrums have dropped sharply, and when they happen, they’re much milder. The whole day is better.
Now, I’m perfectly aware that this is Parenting 101. Kids have trouble with transitions. They don’t like rushing. They want to try to do things (like take off their own pajamas) for themselves, even though it takes forever.
But even though I knew all that in one part of my brain, I hadn’t connected it to the reality of our schedule and the consequences for the Little Girl’s behavior. Telling myself to “Identify the problem” helped me identify the solution.
Now, for many people, it would have been impossible to change the morning routine. But it wasn’t hard for me! (My in-laws live right around the corner from us, and I mean right around the corner.) And yet, even though it was perfectly possible, it just hadn’t occurred to me to try to do make this change, until I “identified the problem.”
So look for an area of your life that’s not working. Are you having trouble paying bills on time? Do you never manage to get to the gym? Are you chronically late? Are you stressed during the holidays? Are you having conflicts with your colleagues?
Take the time to pinpoint the actual source of the problem, and you may be astonished at how simple a solution might be.
Via the Mindless Meandering blog, I found a fabulous site called Grant Robinson’s Montage-a-Google. I looooove it. I think that there should be a way to turn these montages into gifts, or cards, or something, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet.
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