I have a tendency to wallow. I suspect academics are even more prone to this than the general population: the impulse that drives the desire voluntarily to camp out in a library for days on end is not too far removed from the impulse that drives the desire to sit on the couch eating ice cream for days on end. This blog, in fact, is the result of an intense period of wallowing, in which I decided I needed to do something constructive about my situation, even if that was just writing about it.
In general, it’s helped. I feel like I’m coming up with a plan, even if it’s still a really nebulous one at this point. And the semester is winding down, bringing with it relief (and also exhaustion and piles and piles of grading, which continues to be my excuse for not blogging), spring weather, and the prospect of summer travel. All of this has helped my mood tremendously. But I’m also aware that I don’t want my mood to be entirely dependent on external forces: with the ever-present backdrop of loneliness and frustration, I’m particularly susceptible to things like a bad class, or a rainy day, or my dog’s finicky mood wrecking my calm. I’ve got to put in at least another year in this job and this place (most likely), and it’s not all going to be sweetness and light. So another of the things I’m doing is trying to build in happiness.
In the past, I’ve relied on friends and family to help me escape from wallowing. And it’s not as though I don’t still have that support network, but now they’re all long-distance, which makes it harder to call them up to get a coffee. I’m making acquaintances in the new place, but they’re all work colleagues, which severely limits how honest I can be with them. (I love Jung’s definition of loneliness: “Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.” Yup, that about sums it up.)
Recognizing that I’m working without my usual net in this place, I’m trying to be more intentional about building in other elements into the everyday structure of my life that promote happiness and discourage wallowing. So far I’m working on the following:
1. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Sounds obvious, I know, but it’s also something I’ve struggled with doing very consistently, really, since I quit playing varsity sports in undergrad. But I’m really trying to get back in the habit of making it a regular thing.
2. Eat well. Same obviousness and same problems as the exercising. When I’m busy, it’s just so easy to do pasta and sauce from the jar, or cereal for dinner, or whatever. But life always looks better with vegetables.
3. Pick up the phone. I have this network of beloved friends and family, and I need to be better about keeping in touch. What if I plan to talk to some of the people I talk to every couple of months more like every couple of weeks, for instance? People know and love me, unorthodox theology and career doubts and all, and thanks to Skype and my cell plan, it’s never been easier to get those reminders.
4. Laugh at the Doggess. The Doggess, bless her, did not have the easiest start to her life, and she still has a lot of issues stemming from the shelter and whatever came before that. And though I love her dearly, I’m far too liable to get stressed out about what she’s doing wrong, to want to turn everything into an obedience project, and to worry excessively about whether she’ll ever overcome her various problems. But she’s also this goofy, hilarious, beautiful, cuddly ball of awesome, and it’s all the latter that I need to focus on.
5. Work on the exit strategy. Because it’s so much easier to face life here when I know things are finite.
6. Be mindful of the things I do enjoy here. I’m living in an area of the country where I’ll probably never live again, and in terms of landscape and general ambiance, it’s an area I really enjoy. So I do want to enjoy it. I want to appreciate the beauty of this place, from the everyday scenery, to the parks and hiking trails I haven’t done yet. I want to take the time to stargaze out in the country, because I haven’t seen stars for a decade, and they’re glorious.
7. Take every reasonable opportunity to travel. There’s the tricky balance of time and expense and all that, but the worst wallowing of the year was when I didn’t go away for spring break because I decided I needed to catch up on work and save money. Catching up on work and saving money are both good things, but often a trip is a very good investment of both time and money.
What about you, gentle readers? Any suggestions for being happy in the meantime?