December 31, 2012

Can Making a List Change Your Life?

In the spirit of the New Year, I've completely gutted my desk. Threw out dead pens, empty tape rolls, crumpled receipts, and tattered notebooks. What should have taken an hour, took several because I got all swept up reading through some of these old notebooks. 

I've discovered I have a serious list-making addiction. Grocery lists, party-planning lists, gifts to get BoyChild lists. And then I stumbled upon another list, a little different from the rest. In fact, it was a series of 4 lists: "How to Get Happy Starting Now - 2011".

"Colours" by Camdiluv via

Like everyone, I've had some good years and some bad ones. 2010 and 2011 were tough years for me. I learned what to "eat crow" really means. I'd said it a hundred times; that our happiness is our own responsibility, and that it is our highest, most noble endeavor. I thought I believed it. But I wasn't living it. 

In the Fall of 2011, I reached a point at which I realized that things wouldn't change all on their own. The secret truth about people is that no one cares about your happiness as much as you do, so YOU have to take it on, or no one will. Because they can't. We all instinctively know this.

So, me being me, I sat down to make a list: What Would Make Me Happy?

I stared at the page for a long time. I lost months on this question. And never came up with an answer. So, I thought I'd ask a more basic, less amorphous question. 

What Makes Me Feel Good, What do I Like/Enjoy?

Can you believe I was unable to answer this, most basic, question? (Keep in mind, I wasn't thinking about self-indulgence, like "I feel good when I eat chocolate". I was going for something with longer lasting results.) Several more weeks drudged by, with no answers. So, I went way back to when I was a kid, before I had any idea how hard happiness might someday become. I asked myself what things had I wanted then that I never stopped wanting. I made a new list:

Clearly, I didn't hold anything back. As I looked over my list, keeping in mind my overriding "How to Get Happy Starting Now" theme, a new question presented itself:

If you read my last post (also a list), you know that I learn largely by a process of elimination. This list was revealing some to-be-crossed-off items already. But, I'm also cripplingly methodical, so I asked myself another question:

Sorry it's so untidy, I wrote it without thinking I might someday post it ONLINE! (The 'c' key on my laptop is still broken)

So 2011 was a difficult year, financially. I had few options. But this list was showing me that though my options may have been limited, they existed. Things weren't as hopeless as I had felt. Again, the pragmatist in me prompted one last list to really hammer it home:

Check out this great post about goal-making via Writer Unboxed

So here is the process of elimination at work. Welcome to the inside view of my brain at problem-solving (wink). Did my subconscious have the answers to these questions before I'd started the tedious list-making exercise? Undoubtedly. But accessing the subconscious is hard work, at least for me. So I make lists.

Did this list profoundly change my life? Have I been Happy ever since? 

Yes, and no. I'm happier. Self-directed change never happens as quickly or as completely as we'd like. And there are some Things Beyond My Control. But I did start reading blogs on writing craft and even bought Larry Brooks' book Story Engineering. I made an outline for a story idea that had sparked a year and a half earlier, in 2009. This story spark was the genesis of my WIP, A Bird's Eye View. 

Then I started this blog in February of 2012, which has been my most effective writing tool to date. And, well, I just won NaNoWriMo.

As though in reward for taking on the task of Being Happy, Things Beyond My Control started rolling in my favour. As a result, we moved out of my oh-don't-worry-that's-just-the-police apartment to my old hometown, close to my best friend and my family. Into a house, with a yard. And in April, 2013 we're going on a month-long 6 country tour of Central-Eastern Europe (eeeeeeee!).

Yes. I'm happier now than I'd been in way too long. And that, my friends, is important. 

It's important to be happy, and if you aren't, you need to figure out why and make some changes. If you are as lost as I was, if you don't even know what makes you happy, what you like, ask yourself some serious questions. And answer them. Your happiness is worth the effort. And it does take effort. I think our children need to learn that, to see that happiness takes work, that they their happiness is worth that effort. And we all know that they learn by example. So, it isn't selfish to pursue your Happy. It's selfish not to. When you're happy, you share it, it glows around you and lands on everyone that you touch. Unfortunately, it's the same when you're unhappy

It is our highest, most noble endeavor, our pursuit of happiness. Imagine the world without it.

to be

You'll make the world a better place. - AJ


  1. That is a great way to start the year! The thing about having dreams... we have to make them come true. A great exercise. :)

    1. Thanks, Amber! It's amazing how much harder that whole make-your-dreams-come-true thing is than I'd thought as a child. Back then it was all about the *dreams*. Now, it's all about the *make*.

      Thanks for popping by and commenting, means a lot. :)

  2. Hi AJ - I loved this post. It made me laugh. I didn't know you wanted a horse. My daughter wants a Gypsy Vanner so we visited a farm over the holidays and found Gyspy Gold, the farm where the breed of Gypsy Vanner's were named here in America. The history was so cool that I've started my second chapter book in the series using Gyspy Gold, and her history, as one of the characters. Anyway, I'm rambling. (TMI?) What kind of horse would you want? Just curious.
    Thanks for your comments and tweets. I love your "voice." Keep writing. You have talent.

    1. Aww, thanks Michelle (blush!).

      To be honest, I would take any horse I could ride! I've always had a thing for Appaloosas because they are so beautiful. I've recently become enamoured with the horses of Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. So much so, that I put them in a scene in my WIP!

      I did a little google search and, wow!, Gypsy Vanners are GORGEOUS! They totally have that unicorn look to them, I can see why your daughter wants one.

      It's crazy and amazing where our inspiration comes from, eh?

      Thanks for popping by and commenting Michelle, it means a lot!

  3. I love to see folks gettin happy and this is why I like you! Great post, AJ!

    1. Thanks Cat!!! I take my example from you. It's all about spreadin' the good vibes, right?! xo


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