Jenn and I oh-so-rarely allow guest posting here. You could say we’re a little controlling of our content and message. But when the editor-in-chief of one of our favorite health and fitness magazines offers up a guest post, can you really say no? No!
Jenn and I have both subscribed to Self magazine for years. So we’ve been reading Lucy Danziger’s editor’s notes for years, too. And Lucy’s a busy lady: She also directs content for Self.com, writes a couple of blogs and is now an author. What I love about Self is that it not only has a balanced view on health and well-being, but it also tackles happiness. And happiness is huge!
Lucy’s new book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness, is a fresh, relatable approach to looking at the positive and stopping self-destructive patterns. The book uses the metaphor of an “emotional house” (the office is your job, career, and money, for example and the living room represents your friendships and non-romantic relationships) to help you see what is going right, and what rooms might need cleaning. And now without further ado…
In our book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness, Catherine Birndorf, MD and I ask women “What room are you in?” meaning what area of your life makes you unhappy, when everything should be going well?
Where is the mess?
What brings you down?
Or as I like to say: Whatstrips your buzz?
We’re not talking about the big things like illness or loss since most of the time when facing serious adversity, we rise to the occasion. But it’s the little things that bring us down—the minor conflicts, the nagging complaints or the negative inner voice in our head, what I call “nega-speak” since it’s always there in my brain, rarely boosting and often berating me for something I should have done differently, better, or with more grace and gratitude. I asked Catherine if this is typical and she said yes, she sees it in her practice all the time: Ourhappiness is sabotaged by the small conflicts,
a fight with a friend, the last five pounds, the few bills left unpaid, the nagging mom, the less than perfect first date.
First, a confession: For me, for years, the biggest mess was in my metaphorical bathroom, where we deal with health, vanity and body image. That’s where I could step on the scale or avoid it, and in either case the number I saw or the number I worried about seeing was a downer. Or rather about 20 to 25 pounds heavier than someone my 5-foot 5-inch height wants to see on my healthiest day. And that meant, metaphorically speaking, I would drag that scale from room to room of my emotional house. (I never actually picked up the scale but if I had it would have been to chuck it out the window.)I would enter the living room (where our social life resides) and instead of thinking: Fun party, can’t wait to talk to all my friends and meet new people. The thought bubble was: Do I look fat?
The rooms are connected!
Then there is the bedroom where on the worst days, I would be feeling unattractive, and that would lead to not feeling sexy, and with two little kids, a full-time job and an over-busy schedule, sometimes my pillow was the most alluring thing in my bed… I was tired! My hubby thought I was attractive, and of course I loved him, but the problem was at the end of a long day, I would enter bed exhausted, often with a pile of reading still to do and not exactly fetching. I realize sex is about expressing love, but you have to love yourself, too, and that was, at least during those “tired years,” the hardest part.
That was then. This is now.
Back up: First let me say, I have learned a lot since those days, and now I not only am less heavy (by about 20 to 25 pounds) but also lighter of being, of spirit and of heart. I try to get more sleep, I also get to the gym daily, and I take better care of myself. If I am tired I ask for help, from co-workers, from my spouse, and now that my kids are older they can do more to make home life go smoothly for everyone (not just by making their beds but also rationally discussing things over breakfast or dinner, whether it’s homework, social plans or the workload we’re dealing with).
I realized “Too much of a good thing is a bad thing” as we say in the book. It’s one of the “Key Processes” we give women to rethink, restrategize and reapproach their problems. Because most of us try to do everything for everyone and leave little time for taking care of our inner selves, much less our outer selves. And the result is we end up not feeling attractive but worn out. At that point we’re no good to anyone.For me, I realize now that by trying to ace the test, by trying to be great at my life, I was wearing myself ragged. By trying to be super mom, super woman and super boss, my own health and well-being were back-burnered. I literally wasn’t putting my own health (bathroom) high enough up on my to do list, and what suffered was my feelings of being attractive (bedroom). Until one day it just clicked and I realized: enough. No more beating myself up about all the things that were not perfect. No more not taking care of myself. No more nega-speak. At least that was the plan, since we are all a work in progress and even I slip sometimes. But I know how to get back on track. What changed? A simple thing: I got older and realized: the only person responsible for taking care of me is me. That and a health scare.
You can’t cheat your heart. Normally people who want to get fit and lose weight simply diet. Not me, since I never wanted to count calories or weigh food or go to a support meeting. But a health scare changed my thinking once and for all. Not my own health scare but my father’s, since I had to visit him in the hospital with a minor health problem (which he doesn’t like to talk about!), and I realized that for me, being heart healthy was a priority. I could cheat on a diet, or promise to cut back on chocolate, or ice cream or go work out later, but you can’t cheat your heart.
I wanted to eat healthier and be healthier, from the inside out. I tried to cut out all foods that raise cholesterol and find more foods that lower it: greens and fruits and fiber-rich carbs, and fish and low-fat dairy and anything that could leave me full and energized without all the gloppy or oily or starchy or sugary ingredients I used to eat without thinking about it. (I used to think: if I workout I can eat that stuff; now I think: be kind to your heart, your body, by eating the healthiest food you can!)
I stopped stress eating and started losing weight. Instead of standing in front of the cupboard asking: Whatshould I eat? I would reach for a healthy snack (nuts or yogurt) and ask: What’s eating me? And then interviewing and researching and writing The Nine Rooms of Happiness with Catherine made it clear that these stories real women told us about their lives were universal. We all allow the little things to bring us down. In one room or another. The key is to close the door on those messy rooms and come back later, when you want to tackle the problem.
You can change your thinking. The Nine Rooms of Happiness provides Key Processes for thinking and approaching emotional messes in a whole new way. Once you do that clean-up work you get a “pearl” of wisdom to carry with you and hold, so you can remember your new approach and not have to start over every time. (Go to NineRooms.com and learn these Key Processes or share pearls of your own.)
Now, Catherine and I can teach what we’ve learned: That you can be healthy and happy any day, it’s just a decision you make to take care of your inner self, which leads to having your outer self where you want it to be. You’ll be happier and healthier, in the bedroom, in the office, the living room, any room of your emotional house.
My own happiness has been hard won, and like fitness and health and financial security, it is something most women have to work at or at least be mindful of. But it’s worth it, since you can have money in the bank and the number you wished for on the scale, a healthy family and even a job you enjoy, but if you are not happy, little else matters. Our final “pearl” of wisdom in the book is: It’sall in you. You have the power to change your life and be happier every day, in every room.
Thanks to Lucy for stepping in and sharing her road map to happiness. I think I’ve got a couple of rooms to clean! —Erin
Want to work on your nine rooms of happiness? Comment below for a chance to win Lucy’s book! We’ll notify the lucky winner by email. U.S. residents only, please.