The Checklist You Need to Have

I just listened to Gretchen Rubin’s keynote for Alt Summit, called “Designing Your Life.” Gretchen’s well known for her excellent book The Happiness Project, which I included in my summer reading guide. Her next book, Happier at Home, will hit the shelves in September.

In the Q&A after her talk, an audience member asked Gretchen what she does when she gets discouraged. How does a happiness expert get out of a funk?

Gretchen said, “Now I have my bag of tricks that I use when I go through a bad period. I go to bed early, I call my sister, I clean something up. I go through all the things that are meant to cheer me up.” It usually works.

That got me thinking about my own bag of tricks. When I’m in a funk, sometimes my first impulse is to curl up with a pint of Graeter’s. But I know from experience that doesn’t actually make me feel better, and besides, I don’t keep ice cream in the house anyway. (Too tempting!)

But over time, I’ve learned what does actually make me feel better:

  • curling up with a good novel
  • calling an old friend
  • talking to my husband
  • going to bed early
  • doing a brain dump to regain perspective

I may want chocolate when I’m feeling down, but it didn’t make the list, because I’ve finally realized it doesn’t actually cheer me up. But good books and good chats do, so now I try and stick to what works.

What works for you? What’s in your bag of tricks?

If you’d like to listen to Gretchen Rubin’s talk, you can do so here.

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  1. I would love to hear that keynote! Is there any way to do so online, or is it locked down? Thanks so much.

    I like to take a long hot bath. Even if I don’t think it’s what I need, I always feel better afterwards.

  2. Rebecca says:

    Great post! I sometimes forget I have a plan and just plain wallow around :-/

    For blues/emotional drama, I listen to A Quiet Heart by Soundforth Music. The CD, designed to quiet and lift a troubled spirit, is a companion to the Quieting a Noisy Soul DVD series.

    If I’m suffering ennui, I try to start just the tiniest of household or garden projects, and usually inertia takes over.

    I absolutely can’t watch a movie, read a book, or use another distractor, or my blues come back with a vengeance when I’m done.

  3. I’m so glad you have come back to discussing The Happiness Project. I’m hoping to finish it today.

    I was scheduled to read Madame Bovary this past month — which of course is a novel about an unhappy woman — so I decided The Happiness Project would provide a nice contrast as side reading. LOVE IT! I’m really excited about creating my own happiness project!!

    What pulls me out of a funk? A long walk (my best prayer time), happy music, intimacy with my husband, a nice comment on my blog, time spent with an upbeat person, but mostly — SLEEP!!

  4. Penelope says:

    Playing with a puppy – if I can find one! Taking a dog for a walk.
    Listening to some favourite music, stuff I can’t help but hum along to.
    In the winter, lighting the open fire and curling up by it in the gloaming with a cup of fragrant hot chocolate, wearing cozy slippers, and watching a favourite movie with my husband!

  5. I like escaping into a nap–but if I’m doing it to avoid housework, it doesn’t work, because then I wake up with the chore still to do and less time in which to do it!
    When I’m stressed, these things help:
    a funny/happy movie
    a good book
    reading my Bible
    a long, HOT shower
    plenty of sleep
    time with my husband (intimate and otherwise 😉 )
    and YES! a lovely chat on the phone with a friend or my mom! I also tend to do picking up/cleaning when I’m on the phone, so then I feel REALLY good when it’s done. 🙂
    And cleaning, finishing a cleaning project that is, leaves me with a great, accomplished feeling.

  6. I find that getting up and doing something gives helps my mood. As does cutting back on coffee. Not splurging on food-because then I just feel guilty. Reading a good book. Hanging with Mr. Hippie.
    Now, this probably can be categorized as a “stupid” question but…what is a “brain dump?”=)

    • Anne says:

      “Brain dump” means getting everything that’s swirling around in your head out of your brain and onto paper. This helps me a lot when I’m feeling overwhelmed: somehow it always looks much more manageable when it’s captured on paper (whatever “it” happens to be at the moment!)

      Also, brain dump is Project 19 in One Bite at a Time.

      • Virginia says:

        I need to brain dump or I can’t get to sleep sometimes =) Great post Anne! I’m going to list mine out before I take a spoonful of icing or veg on my phone 😉

  7. Katie says:

    I’m terrible about getting myself out of the dumps. I tend to decide to just wallow bitterly–though admittedly, I rarely wake up the next morning still feeling blue. It’s really, bad, though, because if I can tell that someone else is in a bad mood–if the DDH has had a bad day at work or something–I get really antsy and nervous and upset and just end up escalating the negativity. Sigh.

    The dogs are the best for those moods, though. They know when I’m upset, whether sad or angry, and if I’m moping about in bed or on a couch they will jump up and aggressively cuddle me. The beagle is not as effective, but the Lab, he just knocks me over, flops half on top of me, and demands to be loved. And after petting them and cuddling with them and maybe sobbing into their furry shoulders, I usually feel better. Plus, they’re just ecstatic when I get up happy again, waggling around with their whole bodies.

    So maybe I’m terrible at getting myself out of the dumps, but the dogs are really good at it. ^_^

  8. asithi says:

    My list is pretty short. Usually I:

    read a book
    exercise or go for a walk
    take a long bath

    I kept a journal since I was 12. I fill one up every 4 months because I use it as a brain dump. If I am concern about something, I would write about it for days. While my friends and husband are great, I would feel anxious talking about some of the trivial things I think about. For example, in the greater scheme of things, who cares about whether I need to exercise more or how to squeeze more time to blog. In real life, I have not found anyone else who share the blogging bug.

  9. I usually gravitate to immersing myself in a novel. But what helps even more than that is talking to my husband, memorizing or reciting some Psalms, and listening to sacred music. Also, cleaning or walking – just getting my body busy and focused on something else.
    And if none of that helps, I know that I usually feel better in the morning, so I just do my best to get to bedtime without losing it too many times.

  10. I like to curl up and watch a good movie. I’m working on a list of 100 movies every woman should see, so I’ve seen a lot of great films lately. (Washing something mindless just makes me feel worse.) When I’m especially hormonal, a movie that makes me cry it out gets bonus points.

    Other things have worked at other points in my life, but an introvert with a one-year-old sometimes needs some entirely passive time alone.

  11. Carrie says:

    Anne I wrote a blog post on this very topic, to be published after the baby’s arrival. Great minds think alike 😉

    My checklist includes exercise, music, and list making/brainstorming.

  12. Love this idea of having go-to fixes!
    1. Sleep would be good, I keep telling myself as I’m flying high on my second wind past midnight.
    2. Having cleaned is a good feeling even though getting ready to clean is not.
    3. Good conversation with some deep people. Have to have it or I’ll wither.
    4. Brain dump for sure. Every two weeks or so, I find that I have to scribble out about five or ten pages worth of all the mental/emotional tangles.
    5. Getting away from my own space and going where someone else is in charge, like the farm where my dog went to live his final days. There were puppies there and who can stay stressed when there’s a pile of puppies in your lap? (Didn’t somebody mention puppies in a comment above?)
    6. Reading C.S. Lewis or somebody else really wise who talks heart-to-heart with the reader through written words. Right now I am absolutely loving “Surprised by Joy”.

  13. Michelle // To Mother With Dignity says:

    Good books always cheer me up, as does watching a favorite movie or TV show. And I’m always in need of quiet alone time when I’m in a funk. I guess I just need a few minutes to process out why I’m feeling down in the first place!

  14. summer says:

    I just finished the Happiness Project two days ago! My life is very different. I’ve struggled with a wicked mental illness for a long time. The concept of acting the way I want to feel is not exactly new to me, but I’m using it again because it’s popped up in three books I’ve recently read.

    Thing that help me work my way out:
    Act how I want to feel (emotion follows action)
    Distractions (focusing on my kids, cooking, meditative tasks)
    Acts of service, charity
    Doing my nails, a facial, taking care of my skin, dyeing my hair

  15. Tim says:

    Is it a cop-out if I give the Sunday School answer? I pray, read some Scripture, sing praise songs, that sort of thing. That is, once I come to my senses a bit or just get tired of wallowing!


  16. I like the idea of a happiness bag of tricks! I go for a run if I can (feels productive; produces endorphins). I like to get into a good book too, though I’ve been having some trouble with this lately — I’m wasting time I could be reading good stuff reading stuff I don’t care about. I know I should make my way through your summer reading guide Anne. The problem is right now I’m having to produce a huge volume of my own words for various projects and I kind of feel bad reading when I should be writing. I read a vast quantity of magazines.

  17. I find socializing of any kind helps me a lot. If I’m in a funk I can’t reason myself through, talking to a friend or my husband or writing in my journal (or my blog!) about it can make a huge difference.

    Great question! It really got me thinking!

  18. Pingback: Joy-Filled Days - Raising Kids. Keeping House. Choosing Joy, Everyday!
  19. Jasi says:

    Lists of my favorite things work well, things I’m grateful for. Trying to make others happy, particularly children because they really experience joy fully, that makes me happy. And if I can manage it, staring up at a patch of blue sky works wonders for me.

  20. fivekitten says:

    Putting on some loud country music, favorite records, or 50s/60s/70s music always puts me in a good mood. So does going out and soaking up some sun. Thirft/Antique store shopping and chocolate work…but can be dangerous. I instantaneously notice a difference when I put music on though.

  21. Beth Anne says:

    Love this!

    My happiness checklist: calling my sister, quality time with husband (not always possible with his crazy job and/or deployments), calling my mom, going for a run (3-4 miles, running at breakneck speed to the most upbeat music I can find), tickling my 4 year-old and making him laugh (if his giggle could be bottled, I’m convinced it could cure a world’s worth of happiness problems), shutting down work and chores earlier and heading to bed, sometimes a great chick flick, sometimes a great escapist novel (never historical fiction – something about pioneer days and/or cholera and/or world wars makes me extremely depressed!), a cup of darjeeling tea (light on the tea, generous on the sugar), online window shopping (just for a bit, always with the intention of spending $100 or less, and usually I end up not buying anything at all, just knowing I can buy if I want to – there’s something enjoyable about that.), prayer time – just being super honest with God

    It’s actually quite lovely putting this checklist into words. It makes me feel more empowered and ready for any slump that comes my way. Thanks for this, Anne!

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