may i be blessed, may i feel safe (thoughts for 2017)

I’ve written about positivity before.

I’ve written about positivity lot, actually. A quick search of this blog for the topic brings up about twenty entries in one form or another, from the happiness project I did last year (to moderate success?) to assorted musings on self-care, acting with kindness, self-care, making transitions–etc, etc, etc.

Being positive doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s always been something that I’ve had to work at–left to its own devices, my brain trends towards assuming the worst possible outcome in any given situation, or to self-deprecation, or to all sorts of other unpleasant things that I’ll skip over here for the sake of space, time, and a lack of trigger warnings. The point being, positivity, to me, is work.

(Sometimes, because humor is my very favorite coping mechanism, I make a game out of it. Which mental illness is acting up today? Anxiety? Depression? Some super-fun combination of both? Whee!)

(My husband does not find this game as amusing as I do.)

But I like to work at it, because honestly, the alternative sucks. My dad likes to say I’m an idealist, which is a nice way to phrase it, but I think it’s more that if I don’t work at it, then there I am, just kind of sitting in this swirling pool of negativity that might start out as a reflection of reality but will, thanks to my brain chemistry, very quickly devolve into something much darker.

So we work on positivity instead.

You may have noticed that we started a new year recently–2017, woo! (And none for 2016, you absolute shitshow, oh my god.) Last year, I spent some time setting actual resolutions, which I never do, and for a pretty good reason: they stress me out, and then I get overwhelmed when I don’t keep them. Amazingly enough, I managed to not get super anxious about not keeping all of the resolutions I set last year–and I actually probably ended up keeping about half of them in one way or another. Which, for me, is pretty good.

But it’s a new year. And it’s going to be a rough one.

We’re coming into a new political administration in the US, one that’s heightening anxiety for just about everyone I know. It doesn’t feel like a safe time to be a queer person, a Jewish person, a woman, a disabled person. I have the benefit of being white and financially stable, but so many people don’t. My sense of safety is shaken.

It’s hard to think about positivity right now–and even harder to think honestly about self-care when it kind of seems like the world is collapsing around us.

At a recent retreat for work, I participated in a meditation based around Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing. In Jewish communities, this blessing is recited on a number of holy days, as well as on Shabbat, when parents recite it over their children. The prayer goes as follows:

May the Eternal bless you and keep you
May the Eternal’s light shine upon you, and may the Eternal be gracious to you
May the Eternal’s presence be with you, and give you peace.

As we sat together, we focused on the sensations of feeling blessed, and feeling kept. They were warm feelings, I thought: warm like climbing into bed after a long day, warm like an embrace, warm like a guiding hand. And they were cool, too: cool like the dip of your toes into the ocean on the first day of summer, cool like the breeze that comes after a rainstorm, cool like fresh, clean sheets. Focusing on those sensations, we repeated the phrases: May I feel blessed. May I feel safe. 

Tonight I lit Shabbat candles while my social media feeds exploded about Donald Trump’s inauguration. I kept my notifications off.

My blessing practice for this terrifying new world is to surround myself with a resistance that is working to keep justice and safety alive. I’m going to begin with a march for women, alongside some of my closest family members and most loving role models. People who make me feel held, and kept, and safe. I’m going to wrap myself in sensations of warmth. Of coolness. Of calm.

I don’t know if this will be a year of positivity. That might be too much to ask. But it can be a year of practicing blessing.

A year of repeating:

May I be blessed. May I feel safe.

 

happiness project: one year later

A little over a year ago, I started a happiness project.

I started my project because I was realizing that, while there were a lot of good things happening in my life, I wasn’t feeling good about the ways I was spending my time. I was feeling a lack of emotional engagement in the world around me–a combination of mental/emotional burnout from the work I was doing and the world around me, and my own mental health causing me to disengage. Even though I was surrounded by blessings, in my family life, my friends, my clients, I just found myself feeling unhappy more often than not.

My decision to try a happiness project came from reading Gretchen Rubin’s book by the same name. I wasn’t as focused in my approach as she was–I didn’t try to set a new habit or goal each month, or anything like that. But I did–kind of without really thinking about it–follow the basic outline: identifying what brings joy, satisfaction and engagement (and, on the flip side, what brings guilt, anger, and remorse); identifying concrete actions that will boost happiness; and then, the tricky part, following through on those actions.

This year ended up being a lot more of a roller coaster than I expected when I started my project last summer. I got a new job and changed career paths. I moved to a new state. I took up yoga. I struggled a lot with my physical and mental health. There was a lot of change–and we all know how much I love change.

But there were parts of my happiness projects that stuck. I found things that brought me joy: creating things, sharing things with others, spending quality time with people I love, experiencing media in a comfortable way. And I found ways to bring those into my life as habits: I set myself writing goals. I spent more time with friends. I kept a journal. I got a pen pal. I got a library card, and read more books.

I’m going to do a few more posts to be more in-depth about the different habits that have actually stuck with me about my happiness project, but I know the biggest question I have to ask myself after a year of this is: am I happier?

And the answer is:

I don’t know.

It’s hard to measure happiness when you have depression, and harder still when that depression comes in waves that sometimes overshadow everything else. The last few weeks have been especially depressive, and even though I’ve been engaging in a lot of my “happiness practices”–journalling, writing, yoga–I don’t feel as much connection to them, and it’s been difficult to feel my usual warmth. But I still feel a sense of achievement, and that’s a step on the ladder toward happiness–and a sense of achievement is a hard thing to come by in a depressive episode.

But I think that there’s more to it than just being happier. Because I know now what kinds of things move me toward feelings of happiness. Creating something. Writing out what I’m feeling. Quality time with my husband or a friend. Snuggling on the couch with my dog. Doing something that moves my body, whether it’s yoga or going for a walk. Taking the car for a drive so that I can sing at the top of my lungs and not bother anyone else.

The hard thing for me now is to make myself take those steps toward those actions.

Right now we’re in the Jewish month of Elul, and I’m in the middle of participating in a program through the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (because I have the best job ever) focusing on reflective journalling in preparation for the New Year. It’s combining reflection, poetry, introspection, and future-focused thinking–all sorts of things I actually really need right now, as I work through a combination of depression, stress, and trying to sort out how to merge my own happiness goals with my goal for the coming year, which is to focus on strengthening the primary relationships in my life. And that’s a happiness project in and of itself.

So: a year of happiness projects. Am I happier?

Well…

I’m working on it.

on reconnecting (happiness project, part 7)

So let’s just start off by acknowledging that yep, I fell off the face of the earth. My bad, team!

Let’s reconnect.

I’ve been doing a lot of reconnecting lately, in a lot of spheres: physical, emotional, spiritual. It’s been a long, tiring few months: we’ve moved house yet again (though, hopefully, hopefully, for the last time for a long time), I’ve had a few sporadic illnesses that have taken awhile to bounce back from, work has been a whirlwind of activity and new projects…the list goes on. And my moods have been…well.

For someone who really, really doesn’t like change, the number of transitions, relocations, routine adjustments, and sudden changes of plans over the past few months have been challenging, to say the least. I wish i could say I’ve handled all of those challenges gracefully, but that would be a flat-out lie, so I won’t pretend about it. Spouse has been an absolute champ in dealing with me, but I’m absolutely sure that it has been neither fun nor entertaining to spend your down time with a cranky, over-exhausted, stressed-out wife.

So, that whole happiness project thing.

I’ll be honest: it’s fallen by the wayside in a number of ways. I’ve fallen back into a lot of old habits in the last few months–spending most of my downtime on a screen, not seeing friends as much as I’d like to, getting into a very skewed coffee : water intake ratio that generally left me crankier and more tired than I would have been if I was really hydrating well (and/or not drinking absurd amounts of caffeine).

But I’m trying to be better.

Back in May, I bought a three-month yoga membership to a studio near my apartment. I did a lot of yoga in college and some in grad school, and it was really great not just for my fibromyalgia (though it helped a lot with that) but for my mental health and my sense of connection to my mind and my body. The person in your yoga class that starts borderline crying during pigeon/eke pada rajakapotasana? Yeah, that’s me.

IT’S FINE IT’S PART OF THE PRACTICE

Surprisingly–or not–I actually started feeling emotionally better once I started connecting and crying through some of my poses, especially the restorative ones. I started using my savassana to actually just connect to my breathing, instead of letting myself run through my to-do list or stress list or any other list of craziness that tends to rocket around my head. Since starting to work at an amazing organization that teaches, among other things, mindfulness meditation as a spiritual connection practice, I’ve toyed around with the idea of starting a real meditation practice daily, but for now, I generally localize it to my savassana. But it’s been really wonderful, and since being more mindful in my day to day life was one of my new year’s resolutions, I also get to feel like I’m making progress toward a goal.

One of the most important parts of yoga has been setting an intention at the beginning of every class. When I first started getting back into yoga, my intentions were basically “get through the class without dying and/or falling over in a super embarrassing way”, but as I’ve kept going, I’ve ended up with two intentions that tend to make it into most of my classes: self-compassion and reconnection.

Living with a chronic pain disorder gives me a weird relationship with my body. Being in constant pain means that I’m always aware of my body–it’s pretty much impossible not to be–but I don’t always feel close to or connected to it. Sometimes, I feel like my body is something heavy that I have to drag around. While I’ve tried to take time to thank my body for what it can do instead of focusing on the ways it limits me, it’s an ongoing challenge to do that on a regular basis. Setting an intention at the beginning of class to reconnect with my body–to feel what it’s feeling without passing judgment; simply recognizing where my body is telling me it’s reached a limit and acknowledging it for going as far as it could–has been eye-opening for me because it’s given me space to sit, willingly and purposefully, with my body several times a week for at least an hour: not judging, not frustrating, not grumbling, just connecting and acknowledging.

And it’s…it’s been good. Not quite life-changing, and not quite automatic yet, but good. Meaningful.

In the spirit of reconnecting, I’ve been trying to spread that intention through the rest of the aspects of my life. For a while at the beginning of the year, and again when we moved to New York, I was doing a pretty good job of seeing friends regularly, keeping in touch with family, reaching out to folks I didn’t see often, etc. In the past few months, a lot of that has fallen by the wayside. It’s hard to know for sure if that’s because my commute is longer and I’m just too tired, if I’m mentally exhausted by all the transitions, if it’s just too darn hot for that kind of nonsense, or some combination of the three, but I’ve definitely lost track of a lot of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

So this month, I’ve been trying to move forward–or go back, I suppose–to the habits that I’ve been trying to build over the course of this year and this happiness project. I’ve been connecting with friends–grabbing a coffee, keeping a monthly breakfast date, doing virtual planner decorating dates, keeping my family group text amused with occasional memes and YouTube videos, even going to a few shows. And even though my inner introvert tends to hate it (kind of a lot, merp), it’s clear–just from my mood and the way I’ve felt at the end of the day–that it’s been worth it.

 

Still–I can’t do it every day. I’m still finding myself running into mental roadblocks with spontaneous plans that throw off my original routine (and things like weather and spontaneous friend/family events have made that a pretty constant reality over the last few weeks, grumble grumble), but the warm fuzzies of spending time with my friends and feeling human connections rather than isolating myself in my apartment has been worth it.

There are some things that I’m still working to reconnect with. My writing time has fallen by quite a bit (hence my very neglected blog), I’ve been journalling less, reading less. But slowly, that’s changing too. I hit the library this week and picked up two new books. I finished the first draft of the novel that I’ve been working on since November (TAKE THAT, WRITER’S BLOCK), and I’m starting some new stories. Slowly, slowly, I’m reconnecting to the the things that bring me joy.

 

When you set an intention for a yoga practice, it’s not meant to be an intention set for the rest of your day or week or life. It’s just that: an intention for your practice, whether that practice is a morning sun salutation, an hour-long class, or a full-day workshop. But you’re setting it for yourself, for the moment you’re in, the body you’re in, the space where you are. So that’s what I’m doing, one moment at a time: setting an intention to reconnect.

One moment at a time.

no choice at all: the subtle feminism of captain america: civil war

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of articles floating around about the politics of Captain America: Civil War. From its US-centric viewpoint on global conflict resolution, to its potential signaling of a conservative swing in Marvel’s messaging, to its friends-turned-enemies similarities to Hamilton (fortunately without any of the emotionally shattering Hamilton-lyrics-imposed-over-Marvel-gifs images that are all over my dashboard on Tumblr), it seems like half the internet has an opinion on the deeper meanings that can be found within the script. As a comics geek and a political junkie, I’m 100% here for it, and hope to see a lot more of the same as more people see and discuss the movie. The Russo brothers did a fantastic job of creating a film that, despite previews suggesting that it might be a too-busy mess, explored a multi-faceted conflict with a complexity and attention to character over witticisms, which isn’t something you see a lot in superhero movies.

There’s one viewing of the film that I haven’t seen discussed, though, and considering how clearly it stood out to me, I’m surprised.

MAJOR SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT

Continue reading

when happiness is work

One of the odd roles I’ve taken on in a lot of my friendships and other relationships has been “the happy one.”

The first time someone told me that I was the “happy one” in our particular group of friends, I was…well, let’s say “confused,” rather than “offended,” because it sounds nicer. It wasn’t that being happy is a bad thing–it’s obviously not, and the work I’ve been doing on my happiness project is part of my effort to move toward the whole happiness thing–but that I’ve just never thought of myself as an especially happy person. I didn’t (and often still don’t) think of myself as unhappy, either, just not super happy.

At the time, I asked my friend what she meant by that, and she shrugged. “You look on the bright side of things,” she said. “You find good things in people. You smile a lot. You just come off as a happy person.”

Okay. All fairly true things–I will totally admit to being the sort of warm and fuzzy person who hopes that the person tailgating me on the highway is speeding to deliver a baby and not just being a dick, I have one of those weird smiles that seems to prompt people to talk to me and tell me about their feelings (basically the opposite of resting bitch face. Resting therapist face?), I don’t like cutting people off when what they’re saying seems important. But does that really make me seem like a happy person?

Apparently yes, because over the course of the next several years, more people in various walks of life–coworkers, friends, clients, relatives–commented on my positivity, my bright mood, my smile, my idealism, all that jazz. Meanwhile, there I am, looking around in confusion, because my head feels like a jumble of depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and brain fog, and all the happiness that everyone else seems to see coming off me just doesn’t feel visible to me. In fact, I usually feel like I have to force it to show up.

Spending most of my working years in various “helping” fields, from childcare to higher education to mental health, means that I’ve rather inadvertently put myself in professions that require me to be more emotionally “on” than, say…I don’t know, working in accounting or something (sorry, accountants. I just assume that spreadsheets don’t bring that many feelings to the game). For most of my day, whatever my actual mood might be, I needed to be plugged in to the feelings of the people around me to offer support, advice, problem-solving, insight, etc. I’ve been lucky to work at places where I can be a little more “off” when not interacting with whoever the client base happened to be (students, campers, mental health clients, etc), but it still involves a significant amount of emotional labor on a day to day level that can get incredibly draining, especially when the positive emotions you’re expected to display might not be entirely reflective of your genuine feelings. But when people start taking your manufactured happiness as real, they start to expect it, and then you start to assume that you have to project that happiness at all times.

Being and looking happy, then, turns into a job. This is a problem that other women have talked about all over the internet and I won’t repeat their very good points, mostly because this is more about my personal experience than about my feminism, but then, it can be hard to separate the two. Would I be feeling so nervous about not feeling the happiness I project if gender norms didn’t expect me to be smiling and cheerful to every person I meet? I don’t know.

The big question I’ve always had for myself, though, is whether there’s a difference in my mood when I’m not making the effort to act positive compared to when I am. There is something to be said for the “fake it till you make it” effect, and I found that out the hard way over the past few weeks.

I haven’t been shy on this blog about my struggles with chronic pain and depression. Living with chronic physical and mental health issues isn’t a walk in the park, but they’re my everyday existence, and I find myself generally able, for the most part, take a bunch of meds, put some product in my hair, smack a smile onto my face (HELLO HAPPINESS IT’S SHELLY HOW ARE YOU TODAY) and get out the door. But that’s the thing about chronic issues–they’re chronic. You get used to them. You know what to expect, you know what they feel like, you get a feel for your bodies aches and pains and occasional-oh-hey-it-feels-like-there’s-acid-on-my-skin moments. But when you get something else on top of your usual chronic illness (for example, the ass-kicker of a flu I came down with two and a half weeks ago and am still getting over), all bets are off. The things that usually work stop working. All the energy you’ve saved up to get you over the hump of compensating for crummy joints or nerves or serotonin receptors is suddenly gone, and the spoons you’re used to having to get through your day promptly disappear.

Over the last two weeks, all of the positive energy I usually try to summon up to project my happy attitude–to be “the happy one”–went out the window. No more Shelly happy face. I was stuffy and cranky and sleepless and exhausted; I was coughing constantly and couldn’t breathe through my nose (my nose! the only part of my body that I can usually rely on to work! wtf??), I was, in conclusion, a mess. I meandered from my bed to my couch to my bathtub, I slept constantly, I mustered a few smiles for my nephews and family but overall didn’t really even try to be sociable during our Passover seders with my in-laws. I was cranky toward my husband and often asked to just be left alone, and didn’t take much of time to ask how he was doing (except for the occasional thank-you for the many, many sweet things that he did for me while I was being a brat toward him).

It sucked.

But now that I’m finally on the mend and had a bit of my spark back yesterday and today, I’ve started to realize that what sucked about it wasn’t that I felt like crap, but that I was wallowing in feeling like crap. Don’t get me wrong, the flu is miserable, and I think everyone’s entitled to a few “woe is me” days through the worst of it. And in all honesty, throwing a crappy flu on top of an already messed-up body should probably earn me a few extra days. I didn’t bother with any of the usual self-care I took on even on my worst fibro flare days, and losing that probably made things worse. I took baths, but spent them just staring at the wall instead of lighting something that smelled nice and putting on an audiobook or some music. I put the same pajamas on again and again. I didn’t brush my teeth. I didn’t eat and barely drank any water. It felt a lot more like a bad depressive episode than a physical illness, and I think that my total lack of attempt to do anything to take care of myself because I was just in such a bad mood could have very nearly turned it into one.

It’s still strange to think of myself as the “happy one,” as I continue to struggle with the same health issues (both physical and mental), but the past few weeks gave me some insight into just how much I miss that positivity, mostly manufactured or not, when it’s not there. I don’t know if the positive attitude and forward-focused mindset I project are becoming parts of my personality that I like more than I resent, but my time spent feeling miserable and sorry for myself certainly didn’t help me with my healing process.

When we’re kids, no one really tells us that happiness can feel like work, and that sometimes you have to make your own, and that sometimes it sort of feels forced. But I think that I’ll take a little bit of manufactured happiness over my self-sustained misery bubble any day.

It might be faking it until I make it, but I think the faking it helps.

#readingwednesday: small wonder

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For someone who reads and writes as much as I do, it’s a little embarrassing to admit that most of the time, when someone asks me who my favorite author is, I don’t have an immediate answer.

There are lots of authors I enjoy, even some whose works I run out to buy as soon as a new one hits the shelves–Jhumpa Lahiri, Lynn Flewelling, Margaret Atwood. And then there are the authors who are no longer with us or no longer writing–Octavia E. Butler, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett. But it’s hard for me to pick a favorite.

Barbara Kingsolver is the favorite author I always forget I have.

“What you hold in your hands right now, beneath these words, is consecrated air and time and sunlight and, first of all, a place.”

I read my first Kingsolver novel, The Bean Trees–which was also Kingsolver’s first novel, written in 1988–my sophomore year of high school, when it was assigned reading for my honors English class. It was one of the more enjoyable books we read that year, a spark of rough-spun, heartland humanity in a class full of Edith Wharton and Earnest Hemingway. I liked just about the whole thing, from the characters to the themes to the earnest relationships between the characters, but I was a busy overachiever in high school, so I wrote the requisite essays, gave my school-issued copy of the book back to my teacher, and moved on to the next project. The Bean Trees was fun, but I didn’t have time to mull over it.

I didn’t read more Kingsolver until college, when I picked up a copy of Prodigal Summer at a library book sale with my mother. I read it outside on the great lawn when I got back to school, and as I read, realized that Kingsolver novels are meant to be read outside–Kingsolver is a biologist by education, and her books hum and vibrate with an organic, natural energy that sounds like rustling trees and the flutter of wings. Since that reading, out on the lawn with the buzz of college energy around me and the smell of new grass clinging to my skin, I’ve made it a point to re-read Prodigal Summer each year, sometime between spring and summer, while the world is bright with life and birth. I’ve added a few more of her novels to my shelf, too–Poisonwood BiblePigs in Heaven, and my very on copy of that first foray into her writing, The Bean Trees.

“Sometimes I’ve survived anger only one minute at a time, by saying to myself again and again that the best kind of revenge is some kind of life beyond this, some kind of goodness. And I can lay no claim to goodness until I can prove that mean people have not made me mean.”

This was my first full reading of Small Wonder, a collection of essays Kingsolver published in 2002. I gave it a try last year, but life was busy and overwhelming, and I put it away in favor of easier, more relaxing reads. This time around, I read it mornings and evenings during my commute, with nature sounds playing through my earbuds, and was actually able to enjoy it.

Kingsolver includes over twenty essays in this book, with topics ranging from gardening to motherhood to sexuality to writing to patriotism to environmentalism, and just about anything in between. She writes with an organic sort of energy that makes the words vibrate on the page, but her words are heartfelt, too, simultaneously heavy with the weight of her experiences and light with the strength of her idealism. Her essays range from exploratory to persuasive to almost open letter formats, and their target audiences almost seem to vary. But even though they can be a bit self-indulgent at times–and what writer doesn’t get a little self-indulgent at times? not this one, that’s for sure–they have a warmth that, at least for me, overcomes the occasional eye-rolling moment. Small Wonder will, almost certainly, join Prodigal Summer for an annual re-read.

“Maybe life doesn’t get any better than this, or any worse, and what we get is just what we’re willing to find: small wonders, where they grow.”

settling in (happiness project, part 6)

Remember all those posts I made over the last few months about my upcoming move, and all the related feelings and freakouts and meltdowns?

Well, it happened!

In the past few weeks, Husband and I have completed the first leg of our move from the boonies of Western Massachusetts to the suburbs of New York City. Needless to say, it’s been a pretty big adjustment–we’ve gone from a single-family house on a quiet dead-end street to a small apartment in a large complex on a busy road. My commute has gone from a five-minute drive to a forty-minute train followed by a twenty-five minute walk, which, for obvious reasons, means I’ve had to make some drastic changes to my morning and evening routines to accommodate a much longer journey to and from work. That means, to my sadness, less time for writing and internet-ing in both the morning and evening, and, since I’m now held to a train schedule, much less flexibility in that routine from day to day. The last few weeks have been a pretty constant jumble of adjusting to new routines, unpacking, organizing, hanging, decorating, and rearranging. It’s been an adventure.

And the best part? In just over two months, we’re going to do it all again when we move into the housing that Husband’s job provides for us starting in June. Woo!

A few people–okay, a lot of people–have asked us why we’ve bothered to put as much time and energy into settling into our current apartment, given that we’ll only be there about three months. And honestly, it’s a fair question. Unpacking clothes and kitchenware is one thing; hanging artwork and arranging books feels like creating a much more “permanent” space.

For me, though, creating something that feels like a permanent home is what makes this process doable. Husband and I have moved approximately a bajillion times since we’ve been living together (okay, so maybe it’s more like seven, but still!), and one of the things that I’ve realized in the process of all these moves is that I need to feel like I’m home, not in a temporary or uncertain space. The extent to which I’ve been able to do that over our different moves has varied, from having only a few of our books and pictures to being able fully furnish and settle into a home for over a year, and I’m fully aware that it’s been a privilege to be able to make each place we’ve lived feel at least slightly like ours for the time that we’ve been there.

As nice as it is to stay in a hotel for a few nights, most of us wouldn’t want to live in one if we can avoid it, and the reason why is the same reason that college students decorate rooms they’ll only inhabit for four months at a time and kids at overnight summer camps set up their bunks with pictures of home and bring along a favorite pillow or stuffed animal. There’s just something about being surrounded by familiar things that brings a sense of peace and serenity that we just don’t have in temporary spaces, and those feelings of serenity are crucial to our brains’ ability to adjust after a major transition. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on studying transitional and resettlement traumas–a number I suspect will go up over the next few years, as millions of refugees are resettled across the globe–as sociologists and psychologists and other social scientists examine the ways in which people create homes in new places and work to find familiarity in the unfamiliarity. From a less academic and extreme perspective, online outlets from Buzzfeed to Reader’s Digest have put together articles (listicles, whatever) about adjusting to a new place and making a new location feel like “home.” Clearly, this is a pretty common phenomenon, which shouldn’t be surprising: the average American can expect to move 11.4 times in their adult lifetime. No wonder we’re looking for as many ways as possible to make the process smoother.

I’m a confident enough person to be able to admit that I don’t, and will probably never, have the temperament needed to enjoy moving. And I’m okay with that. This happiness project has never been about changing my core personality, but rather understanding the ways I can change my perspectives and needs to increase the amount of happiness I feel on a day to day basis. I’ve made my peace with the fact that my moves will require more work because I’m determined to make my space–however temporary–feel like home as quickly as possible. This particular time, this has worked out in our favor: Husband and I went from “no unpacked boxes” to “everything unpacked, art on the walls, internet installed, fresh-baked bread cooling on the counter” in a week and a half. It helps that by this point we’re pretty much a relocation dream team, but in all honesty? Knowing that we’re getting damn good at this makes the fact that we’ve got yet another move coming up in June feel a little less scary.

But for now, at least, I have an unpacked apartment that feels like home.

And at the end of the day, even if we didn’t set everything up right away, I know that sometimes, happiness isn’t the stuff you have in your home, but who you share it with.