If you don’t want to be happy, warning: This essay is not for you.
Eight years ago, I was dead broke. I’d lost everything but my clothes and furniture to real estate investments and a brokerage that went belly-up after a 100-year hurricane washed it all away. No home, no car, no 401K, no money. I was a real estate agent, but with nothing in escrow, I was effectively unemployed. I had no resources, no apparent possibilities, and no way to pay the rent that was due two weeks later. I was about to turn 53 and I’d been fighting this losing battle for two and a half years. I was plum tuckered out.
Then one day in one of my countless brainstorming sessions with myself, I realized there wasn’t anything there to keep me, and certainly nothing there to support me. So I moved. I sold stuff, gave away stuff, and moved a thousand miles away, found a job, rented a much smaller house, and began the journey back to “normal” (whatever that is). I am happier today than I have probably ever been in my life, and it’s because I have found what a spiritual practice I once studied calls “health, harmony and prosperity,” that is, financial independence, emotional well-being, a home, and a community. Or as it’s also known: Happiness.
Here are the things I had to do to get here (and have to routinely remind myself), even when I didn’t want to. Maybe they’ll help you, too.
- Fake it ’til you make it. Stop moaning about the economy and whose fault it is. No matter how crappy you feel, get up, get dressed, and go out smiling every day. Mingle. You’ll trick yourself into feeling better, and you’ll create a positive atmosphere around you. I was mired in homesickness for three long months until, as if by magic, one day I woke up happy, all my ducks started lining up, and the so-called economy looked just fine.
- Stay away from negative people. Negative people suck the life out of you. No matter how much you love them, keep your distance until you can handle it, especially when you’re depressed. And if you’re the negative person in your own life, quit it.
- Ask for and accept help. If a friend or family member offers to let you sleep on their couch for three months while you look for work or pay for you to move to where the jobs are, accept their help, then put them on a repayment plan as soon as possible and stick to it. You’ll feel better about accepting their help, and they’ll feel good about having helped you.
- Downsize. This is a super opportunity to get rid of all the flotsam and jetsam you’ve been carting around for years. It’s an old real estate rule and it applies here: You don’t pick a house to go with your sofa. You get a new sofa to fit your house. Sell all your excess baggage. Don’t tell me it’s worth more — it’s worth what somebody will pay you for it today! You will feel relieved afterwards, you’ll have some money in your pocket, and you’ll never miss all that old stuff.
- Go where the work is. Just because you’ve always been where you are or love where you are or want to die where you are doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leave for awhile. You can always return if you still want to after you’re back on your feet. But chances are you’ll find out how green the grass is on the other side.
- Be prepared to settle a little. I wrote about this in How to Get a Job in 8 (Kinda) Easy Steps, so won’t repeat it all here — but the gist is that beggars can’t be choosers, and employers prefer to hire somebody who already has a job. Get any job in your field, do it responsibly and well, and keep looking while you’re there. I had multiple offers in the first month after I took my first settle job. Then I got a series of dream jobs (because the dream keeps getting bigger!).
- Make an annual (or longer) budget. Once you’ve got a steady income, no matter how meager, make a plan to pay back your creditors, starting with friends and family. If you put all your numbers in a spreadsheet, you can project how long it will take and even see how much you can save. I bought a car from a friend, paid it off in a year, and for the first time in my life, owned my car outright. I can’t tell you what that did for my confidence during this financial recovery period.
- Start working on your credit. If you’ve lost a lot, chances are your credit took a ding, too. Five years ago, I couldn’t have bought a sandwich on credit. But I worked steadily on my FICO score and bought my first new house just four years after the storm! Go to freecreditreport.com or some other free site and order all three reports. Then file online disputes against all the bad items. Even if you were completely in the wrong, make a note about why you were late: natural disaster, unemployment, whatever. Once I started paying attention, my score went up 75 points in five months.
- Eat better. If it’s white, it’s not right. Eat the right amounts of the right stuff. Cut out the garbage. Drink copious amounts of water and decaf tea. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Walk 10,000 steps a day. It will change how you think.
- Meet people, make friends, fall in love. People are the cure to what ails you. Don’t avoid them just because you’re not feeling your finest. You never know who you might meet who will change everything. I did. Oh, and make of point of laughing out loud… a lot.
- Trust the Universe. Miracles will meet you in the middle if you do your part. That means getting off the couch and out of your own way. Change is good. I promise.
- Pay it forward. What good is all that pain if you can’t pass on the good news? I just did.
Please feel free to share this essay. And leave your comment below so I’ll know you’ve been here and gotten something out of it. Thanks for reading.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.”
— Emily Dickinson