I write in chapter two of my book, “How Our Emotions Work” (see sidebar for ordering information), that one source of happiness/unhappiness is how well we keep our promises to ourselves. If we cave in and break a promise to someone else there are often consequences, but what happens when we don’t keep our word to ourselves? We are diminished in our own eyes. We feel bad. We berate ourselves: “Why did I do that?” Our blood sugar levels go up. Whatever.
So in addition to the tangible result (I’m tired today because I stayed up too late last night watching something), I am unhappy with myself in a way that I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t made a wrong choice (I’m tired today because I stayed up late with a sick child). This is all pretty obvious, as many (most?) of my ideas are, but I don’t know that I’ve actually thought it through this way before.
Here are a couple of rules I’ve made lately and then broken:
1. One dessert per week, as part of a meal, plus one piece of dark chocolate per day. This rule applies even if there are pumpkin cinnamon-chip cookies in the house.
2. No more obsessive Serial-related reading or listening; only the current episodes of the Undisclosed and Truth & Justice podcasts may be listened to, and them only once. (And only the current post on Susan Simpson’s blog may be read–added that one just now.) Honestly! I said in two previous posts that I periodically (choose/allow myself to) get drawn into various old mysteries, usually the JFK assassination or the JonBenet Ramsey murder. I don’t think either of these cases is at all benefited by the time I waste on them. The same is true of this one; the fate of Adnan Syed isn’t going to be affected one way or another by the inordinate amount of time I’ve spent pondering and puzzling over the question of who really killed Hae Min Lee. (Hey, I’ve narrowed it down to three suspects and can tell you in excruciating detail what the evidence is for each one. Why hasn’t his legal team contacted me?) I said in the previous post on Serial linked to above that getting involved with this international phenomenon did add to my happiness, but, as with so much in life, too much is just too much. At some point you have to call a halt, and this is it for me.
The first rule directly affects my health; the second directly affects my use of time. I may be sewing or cleaning or ironing while I’m listening to yet another re-hash of Serial, but that’s time that I could be spending on much more worthwhile material: listening to the rest of the sermon series on the book of Luke by Mark Dever that I promised myself I’d get to after I heard the first one in person last November when we went on our Thanksgiving trip, for example. (Really, really great stuff, those sermons.)
I am trying more and more to follow my own advice and live intentionally; to ask myself over and over as I go through my day: ‘Will I be happy when I look back on this tomorrow?’ If I break my own rules the answer is inevitably ‘No.”