How often have you seen “This too shall pass” embroidered onto a throw pillow?
It’s one of my family’s favorite sayings, something to be intoned after a layoff or a breakup and I find myself reciting it on the regular – usually while stuck in traffic.
But realistically, ‘This too shall pass’ applies to the good stuff, too. This season of life when my friends and I have free time and discretionary income, when everyone in my family is healthy, when my husband and I like our jobs and home … it won’t last forever. That’s okay! Smooth seas never made for a skillful sailor.
I’d like to make the argument for banking our happiness.
‘This too shall pass’ applies to good times, too. Bank happiness while things are easy + sweet. Click To Tweet
As Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project,
“I think you can bank happiness – that is to say, learn about yourself and what makes you happy while the sailing is smooth. When the waves swell up and get rough, you have the memories of the times you were happy. You’ve been there and done that so you know it’s possible to do it again.”
So how do you do that? How do you store up happiness for a rainy day?
Figure out what makes you happy
Well dur, right?
But what we think makes us happy and what actually makes us happy – they’re not always one and the same. Many of us believe that a packed social calendar, a big ol’ bank account, a home filled with expensive things will make us happy. And it might! MY LIFE IS SERIOUSLY BETTER FOR HAVING SPENT $400 ON A ROOMBA.
Figuring out what makes you happy is a long and evolving process, but it’s worth the time and effort. Once you know what makes you happy, you can do more of it. And when you know what makes you happy, you can find ways to do happy-making things even when times are tough. (Here’s how to figure out what makes you happy.)
Know your Tough Time non-negotiables
I spent 2006 living with three roommates in a tiny, two-bedroom house, working full time while attending grad school 75% time. I was so broke I spent four weeks contemplating a $13 purchase. I vividly remember sobbing into my then-boyfriend’s neck, “I’m just so miserable!!!”
But things significantly improved when a friend sat me down and gave me a stern talking to about non-negotiables. I could choose my own, but I had to choose three things I’d do every single day no matter what. No matter what! No matter my schedule or budget I would:
- get at least seven hours of sleep
- eat three meals
- drink two glasses of water
These super simple habits have stuck; they’re not expensive or particularly difficult but they affect everything else in my life. When I’m (relatively) well-rested, well-fed, and well-hydrated, everything goes better.
When we create a few, easy non-negotiable habits now we’ll be better prepared when the seas inevitably get choppy.
Strengthen your friendships
Have you ever done that horrible thing where you finally meet somebody awesome, become completely consumed by your romantic relationship, and stop hanging out with your friends? And then life gets rough and you realize you have no one to talk to? Yeah, me too. Let’s not do that!
Let’s put the time in now to strengthen our friendships. Let’s show our friends we love them; let’s do things other than meet for coffee and cocktails. Let’s help them through their own rough times.
Save a nest egg
Or as this post awesomely calls it: A F*ck Off Fund.
Tough Times are often Expensive Times. You get an upsetting health diagnosis paired with huge medical bills; your landlord sells your rental out from under you; your car gets totaled. Money does not equal happiness, but being broke can certainly equal stress, anxiety, and frustration.
Saving and budgeting aren’t particularly fun or sexy, but having an emergency fund set aside for trying times can be the difference between a week of eating ramen or a year of credit card debt. (Here’s how I paid off $50,000 of school debt five years ahead of time.)
Do lovely, memory-making things now
Do you remember that Shel Silverstein poem, Frozen Dream?
“I’ll take the dream I had last night
And put it in my freezer,
So someday long and far away
When I’m an old grey geezer,
I’ll take it out and thaw it out,
This lovely dream I’ve frozen,
And boil it up and sit me down
And dip my old cold toes in.”
When we do brave, kind, fun things now we can lean on those memories when times get tough. When your BFF has THE NERVE to move to New Mexico, you can remember your road trip adventures and house walks and hundreds of lunches at Trieu Chau.
When you change careers, you can remember the sweet field trips and projects you did with your students. When you’re feeling unsure of yourself, you can remember that time you backpacked around Southeast Asia all by your lonesome.
Document the memories of awesome times
Think of this as your emotional nest egg. It’s a lot easier to take comfort in those great memories if you’ve documented them somewhere. And you don’t have to start a scrapbook if you don’t want to!
I love ending trips by writing a ‘100 memories’ list. You can snap one photo a day with your phone or take one-second videos with this app. You can use a One Line A Day journal or just send a friend or parent weekly update emails. When you want to lean on those memories, you can just look through your ‘sent’ folder.
Diversify your identity
Some of the most challenging times of my life were moments when my identity shifted. For years, my identity was wrapped up in being an American expat; when I moved home I spent four months questioning every choice that lead to that apartment in Minneapolis. The same thing happened when I went from Teacher to Blogger, Live-In Girlfriend to Singleton, and (somewhat ridiculously) Saint Paulian to Minneapolitan.
I imagine the same thing happens when you’re a devoted mom and your kids leave home, when you get laid off from the job you love, or your income dramatically changes.
Changes like this will always, always be challenging but we can make them slightly less terrifying if we put our eggs in more than one basket. If I’m a traveler, a dancer, a wife, and a writer, I won’t be so gutted when I get a rejection letter. If you’re a dog foster-er, an amateur photographer, a devoted aunt, and marathoner you’ll be able to handle a torn ACL a lot better.
Of course, no matter what we do tough times are going to be just that – tough. No savings account or scrapbook can fully prepare you for a divorce or a death. But maybe they can make those heartbreaking experiences just a tiny bit easier.
What do you think? Do you think you can bank happiness?
P.P.S. Did you know I have a (free) private Facebook group dedicated solely to the topics of money and happiness? And the stuff we talk about has helped members change jobs, save thousands of dollars, and fight less with their partners? Join us!