I’m no expert in happiness.
I’m no expert in writing either.
Anything I do write is usually an excited rambling on nature, wildlife, or some other science-y topic, as well as the occasional long and opinionated Facebook post on some sociopolitical issue or current event when I need to vent my frustrations with the world at large (yes, I’m one of those people [it’s okay, I hate me too]).
Yet despite all of that, I’m writing this.
Let’s back up.
A little over a year ago, I decided I wanted to try something new–giving a genuine shot at this whole happiness thing.
I started #500DaysHappier with a whole lot of ambition and far too many parameters than were realistic for my success. The result: I gave up after 122 days.
In the time since then, I’ve given a lot of thought to what went wrong, what I could do differently, my intentions, whether or not I was sharing too much, and if I was ever truly doing it for the reasons I said (to chronicle my journey in a way that may be helpful to others) or if I was being driven be some deep seeded need for validation.
I had pretty much left it all behind me, that is until a particularly insightful session with my therapist a month or so ago.
I’m assuming that you can guess where we landed.
Yet, that was a month or so ago, right? So, why now?
Well, that brings us to last night. I cracked. I finally broke down under the unrelenting pressure of everything that is. I was feeling everything, everywhere, all at once. The guilt of being a parent with mental illness, the unaddressed trauma, the daily stressors compounded by the incomprehensible intangibles, and the realization that I have spent the better part of the past decade + truly depressed, a fact I had all but fully concluded was simply an inevitability of my life. Something was, is, wrong with me and the sooner I accept there is no different fate for me, the sooner I can get on with my life.
At some moment between crying into my hands in the bathtub and doing random Google searches in hopes that I’d find comfort in the mutual sadness of the internet that showed me I was indeed not alone, I did something deeply out of character—I made a decision.
So I did what I do best. I started making a plan.
First things first, I needed a reminder. See, I know what I need to do to feel better, but most of the time I can’t think clearly enough for long enough to actually do those things. I’m always running low on bandwidth, motivation, or both. Like many of us, I spend too much time on my phone. So I decided what better way to remind myself of what I should be doing, or who I want to be.
I made this background in about 2 minutes and set it to both my home and lock screen.
Immediately after, I opened the notes app on my phone and started throwing down everything I could think of that I knew was supportive of my ideal self and my overall health. I was off to a good start.
I got out of the tub, got dressed, went upstairs, and started writing. Here’s what I got.
The Fake it Till you Make it Plan
Start with this Morning Routine (No email or social media allowed)
Wake up at 6 am
Drink a glass of water, wash your face, and put on some sunscreen lotion
Meditate with Headspace
Walk the dog
Yoga or Run
Breakfast and Coffee
Anytime during the Rest of the Day
Do something creative
Learn something new
Sleep by 11
Tidy 2 rooms
Read 10 Pages
Write 1 page or record 1 podcast episode
Start and finish one new thing
This brings us to today.
I did it! All of it! Will I do all of it every day? Absolutely not.
But I will try.
Of course, this all got me thinking, what better time to start anew than when I myself am starting anew?
It’s time to give #500DaysHappier another go.
So, what exactly is this?
Let’s start with who I am.
I’m Devon Bowker (He/They), a 30-year-old father of two, husband to my best friend of 17 years, high school science teacher with a background in wildlife biology, host of The Wild Life and Science People!, naturalist, socially awkward lover of geekery. I’m privileged, without a doubt. I’m fortunate in countless ways. Yet, I also struggle deeply with ADHD, Major Depressive Disorder, Social Anxiety, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—the diagnoses of which are almost undoubtedly a sign of my aforementioned privilege.
I measure my self-worth based on my productivity and accomplishments which is entirely symptomatic of my being a people-pleasing perfectionist with such an intense fear of failure and disappointing others that I’m also a deeply chronic procrastinator.
I do for others and rarely do for myself. I turn everything I love into a job, a requirement, an obligation, a task that needs to be perfected and proven worthy through external validation.
I am filled with self-loathing and lacking in self-compassion. I spend most of my time in my mind which is constantly, obsessively questioning anything and everything, picking myself and my actions apart, telling myself I am not smart enough, strong enough, loving enough, present enough, that I am not enough.
And to that, I’m saying “enough.”
Which brings me to what this is.
I’ve been on a journey of awakening and self-discovery for a while now, part of which is finding my happy. I’m not sure I know what it looks or feels like though which has made this whole quest thing all the more difficult. I hit a real low point back in March of 2020, like a lot of us did. I went to the doctor and was prescribed 2 medications. It helped some, but one of the first things they tell you is that medication isn’t a cure-all. It’s a booster. It’s meant to help even out brain chemistry and make the real work of getting better easier to bare, to take on, to manage.
What is the real work?
That’s just the thing. Anyone who has ever struggled with mental health—which is 1 in 5 US adults, by the way (no, you’re not alone…)—has heard it all before.
“Oh, you’re depressed? You just need to exercise/eat healthy/choose happy/focus on the positive.”
“Oh, you’re anxious? I’m stressed, too. You just need to be more mindful/sleep more/eat healthier/exercise/stop worrying/let it go.”
If you are one of those 1 in 5, you already know what I’m thinking and feeling.
But, the thing is…they’re right. I mean, kind of.
Screw toxic positivity. That’s just a bunch of capitalistic gaslighting meant to keep you economically productive.
What they are right about is that so much of being unhappy is a result of unhappy perspective and an insistence on persisting in unhappy conditions when we know deep down that we do in fact have a choice.
And that sucks to say because that means accepting that I have some semblance of control in all this, and if that’s the case, then what the hell am I wasting my life for being miserable?
That’s a hard pill to swallow.
Part of the issue, I recognize, is that I’ve been trying to do too much at one time too perfectly, which….yeah, duh. Of course, I would be.
Part of it is I don’t know exactly what feeling I’m chasing. What is happy? How does it feel? How will I know? Is it a destination or a journey? I’m inclined to think the latter.
About 2 years ago, I watched this TED Talk about something called the Happiness Advantage. At the end of it, Shawn Achor provides a list of ways to create lasting positive change in your life, and it’s mostly what you’d expect and borderline infuriating in their simplicity. It feels like an attack on experienced struggles to suggest that the solution is “just that easy!”
The research-supported solutions are as follows:
3 Gratitudes (Emmons & McCullough, 2003)
Journaling (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006)
Exercise (Babyak et al., 2000)
Meditation (Dwek, 2007)
Random Acts of Kindness (Lyubomirsky, 2005)
None of these things require a lot of time either.
The catch? You’ve got to pick one and do it 21 days straight.
“Because what that question assumes is that our external world is predictive of our happiness levels, when in reality, if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict about 10 percent of your long-term happiness.”Shawn Achor
I also happened to just finish listening to a book by a man named Neil Pasricha called ‘The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything”
In the book, Neil cites some of the very same research as Achor, but also highlights some other very good points and insightful tidbits, one of which was the 5 biggest regrets of the dying which I promptly rephrased into a List of Ways to Live a Regret Free Life.
All of this is to provide you with some context as to where I’m at and what my train of thought is as I begin this personal-made-public 500 day journey I’m embarking on.
Will I share every little detail about every little thing? Absolutely not. There are some things I’m comfortable sharing and others that I’m not—at least not yet. I’m doing this entirely out of self-interest and as a self-accountability measure for myself. I’m not doing this for likes, clicks, downloads, or anything like that. Another way to put it is, I’m doing this for me and because I want to.
I make no promises. I have no guarantees. I barely even have a plan.
The plan I do have is this:
Over the next 500 days, I will be implementing each of the above happiness strategies into my life, as well as some others, and periodically sharing honest updates and reflections on this blog and my TikTok. I’ll try each one for 21 days straight and try my best to keep them incorporated into my daily routines as I slowly add more and more.
Why? Well, mostly because I’m sick of being miserable, but also because I’m sick of reading the same tips and tricks over and over and having no practical frame of reference or real life examples of how to implement them, or what it looks like, or what the reality and struggles are in actually building these habits and rewiring your brain.
So, I’m making my own.
Here’s to change. Wish me luck.
Only 499 days to go.