Me at the age of 3, having a good day: sitting in a box (fun), wearing a hat (fun), relaxing with my cousin (fun) while watching a TV show (fun). Also, a cat is nearby.

Me at the age of 2, at the end of a good day: sitting in a box (fun), wearing a hat (fun), relaxing with my cousin (fun) while watching a TV show (fun). Also, a cat is nearby.

So today’s my birthday. (No need to wish me a happy day, I’m well past the age where I get excited about these things!) But I wanted to share with you what I’m giving myself for my birthday this year:

I’m giving myself the gift of good days.

I’m pretty psyched about it.

But I think I need to put this gift into context. Let’s file this one under “mental fitness.” A few years ago I decided to give myself the gift of happiness. It was a very big deal when I decided to do this. It was a life-changer, in fact.

For several years I had been miserable — I was doing my best to hide it and get by, but it was bad. I don’t even like thinking about it, and I am not gonna get into the specifics. Fortunately at the time, I didn’t know how miserable I was. It was like the title of the book, Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me. When you’re living it, it just seems normal. Crappy, but normal.

I remember everything about the moment I gave myself happiness. It was nighttime and it was in the middle of a snowstorm, and I was really hungry. I was driving up State Street in Brewer toward Hannaford. I was furious with myself because I let myself get so hungry — I had a physique show coming up, and I screwed up my eating for the day, not to mention the fact I let myself get talked into doing something I didn’t want to do, plus I had failed to do XY and Z, my car was a piece of shit in the snow, and I was also failing this person/that person/in all areas of my life: personal, business, everything. And, I was trapped: always tired, always broke, always feeling against it. I felt taken advantage of and as if I had no clear allies. I couldn’t trust or rely on anyone. I saw no way out of the mess I’d gotten into, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it even up to baseline level (whatever that was).

And then … I realized that even when (if?) I got to baseline, when I theoretically could rest, relax and enjoy myself a little, it wouldn’t be enough.

I realized I was screwed.

Then I thought, well, I might as well decide to go ahead and be happy here, because here’s all I’ve got.

It was a liberating moment: I could be happy! Even if things sucked. Imagine that! (Little did I know that it’s impossible to get to the perceived baseline without being happy first.)

And a lot has changed over the past few years. It’s not like I’m dancing around and doing cartwheels all the time (although I do dance more). But I’ve dumped a lot of things that no longer work. People who were not in my corner are now out of my life (that happened all on its own with no action on my part). Things are streamlined and I’ve gotten rid of a lot of clutter.

With the feeling of “less” I’ve been wondering if it’s time to add to my life, because now there is space for new things. And, importantly, I’m less closed off. That’s a good feeling.

So as my birthday approached this year, I considered what I wanted to do for myself. Do I want a new computer? A spa day? Both sound nice, but what I really want is something I can’t buy.

I want that feeling you get when you go to bed at night and think, “Today was a good day.”

It doesn’t take a lot to create one of those days, it turns out. I’ve given it a lot of consideration and I’ve found a pattern. It only takes a few specific actions, and on most days, those actions are really easy to take.

Here’s my list of things I have to do to get that “today was a good day” feeling. On my good days, I always:

  • write, create or otherwise connect on a deep level with others. Or I have a real two-way conversation that has nothing to do with triceps, booties or thighs. (Not surprisingly, it never involves acknowledging the “hey you” Facebook messages I get when my profile picture shows me wearing a competition posing suit.)
  • treat my body well. That means exercising and feeding it healthy food in the proper amounts.
  • spend time on self-development. That could be reading (I’m working on a list of my favorite books) or it could be listening to a podcast/audiobook.
  • make sure my home feels “settled.” I’m no neatnik but I rest easier when my shelter — my home — feels more like a sanctuary that a mass of chaos.
  • have a just-busy-enough schedule: someone once told me my system works like a high-performance engine. At the time I thought they were silly but turns out they were right. I can fire at a very high level but I need to be careful not to overheat. When I overschedule or overcommit, I get sick or hurt.
  • have my money handled: don’t spend more than I make and don’t buy things I don’t need.

Your list might look different, but I’m guessing there will be some overlap. What’s on your list?

Here’s to a year of as many good days as possible! Salut!