This February I’ll be aiming to Connect with Others for my Happiness Project
After several weeks of being pretty much house bound either from being heavily pregnant (seriously, getting in and out of the car was hard enough) and then last month just spending time getting to know my new son, I'm a little nervous to enter February knowing I've set myself the challenge of Connecting with Others for my Happiness Project.
Being self employed means that I'm used to working alone but with that comes occasional, but very intense, loneliness.
I don't have colleagues per say. My work happens a lot online. I can spend weeks working on something completely alone and not even realise. And being the primary carer for my children means I have even less free time to socialise or network with other adults unless they're also mentally stretched parents too- which isn't exactly the type of people I would instinctively choose to hang out with... don't get me wrong, mums & dads are awesome, I just want friendships who I have more in common with then just the fact we have children.
For the most part I prefer living my life this way. I find being around people for too long exhausting (fun, but yeah... EXHAUSTING) and although the idea of going to an event alone or going on stage doesn't bother me on the most part I have a real problem with engaging in small talk and allowing my true humour and personality to shine unless I’m with people I know really, really well. I’m a typical INFJ.
Still, having fulfilling relationships is a fundamental part of human happiness and if I isolate myself for long enough there’s a very good chance my mental health will start to suffer. I feel loneliness very, very deeply if I’m not careful. It takes me to a dark place and despite the unhealthy and over romanticised stereotypes about artists, when my mental health suffers I make crap art... if I make any art at all.
I knew that after having my baby it would be important for me to make sure I was making an effort to maintain contact with others, not just for this stage of my life (it’s well known that new parents can suffer greatly from loneliness) but connecting with others is also vital for my long term happiness. I don’t want to be one of these women who vanishes from society after having children or forgets to see their friends. I want to continue to meet new and interesting people... forever... not just at baby groups or at work.
I’ve been recommended the book ‘How to win friends and influence people’ which I see is considered a classic. So far it makes a lot of sense to me and I’ve made my months quote, ‘You can make more friends in one month by taking an interest in other people then trying to make them interested in you’. Because I admit... I really struggle with this. For two reasons.
The first being my own ego whispering incessantly that others will most definitely, absolutely, find me boring; utterly, painfully boring, or rude, or stupid, so it’s imperative (see ‘life or death matter’) that I tell them all the interesting things about myself before they judge me poorly. Then the second reason, as a result of being bullied and ignored by my peers at school, I’m actually truly petrified of asking people about themselves. There’s this very potent fear that I’ll be rejected for: crossing the line socially, or intruding, or ever considering myself worthy enough to even think I was allowed to talk to someone. To the point where I wonder if I’m allowed to wish you happy birthday. Or if I can compliment your outfit. Or say hello. Or EVEN look at you. I know that sounds crazy but you have no idea how many times I’ve been slammed for saying ‘Hi’ at someone, or even just wanting to sit down at a desk. Stuff like that rots inside of you. 17 years later and I’m still punishing myself and carrying on what a room of bitchy little girls started. Those little girls still have a say on whether I make eye contact. I’m 33.
So this month I’m challenging myself to:
Try small talk
A real weakness. Even though I genuinely find talking about the weather interesting, beyond that, I’m stumped. I can talk about myself but unless you offer a bit of information about yourself I’m screwed. Learning some scripts or conversation techniques is my first port of call I think. If I’m prepared, I can learn how to chit chat comfortably. I’m prepared to try it if it means I come across friendlier but I’ll be honest... I’m VERY sceptical about making friends as an adult now. I promise to remain open minded though.
Smile and make eye contact
I can do this some times, maybe if it’s a lovely sunny morning and the children are in a good mood and I’ve already spoken to a few different people but most of the time there’s a fear that if I make myself warm and approachable someone’s going to come along and try and burst that bubble. There’s always someone looking for a fight isn’t there? Keeping my head down and chanting ‘I’m invisible, leave me alone’ has worked quite well for me but it’s starting to back fire because even though I do avoid confrontation I’ve also become invisible to all the people who might actually like me and support me. Don’t get me started on dating. Nobody ever noticed me. Ever.
It’s so bad now I actually even get stepped on sometimes.
So if I need to smile and make more eye contact to get people to see me, I can try. This will be one of the harder tasks this month but I will try.
This is a fantastic concept (check out the book if you’re interested) which discusses how everyone likes to receive love in different ways. Some of us feel loved when others give us physical affection, other people like gifts, verbal declarations... it’s very interesting. There’s a quiz to find out what your love language is and then when you know what your family and friends prefer, you can focus on demonstrating your affection for them in a way they can truly appreciate and vice versa. Often clashes occur when the wrong language is being spoken between people. This month I’ll be trying to implement love languages more into my interactions with others (since it’s Valentines Day this month) as well as make my own love language clear (I like face to face quality time if you haven’t guessed). Anytime I focus on love languages the people around me seem to really appreciate it.
Open my Home
Due to work I regularly move about and usually my home is in a state of packing, unpacking or renovation. Our house is at the stage where we just need to find a lampshade for the dining room and I think we’re done. As a result I’m feeling ready to welcome people into my home. Until now I’ve been quite wary of inviting people in. My doors have always been shut because I didn’t want people to see the mess, the ugliness (We’re in property development so we live in houses that make financial sense rather then homes that talk to the heart- I didn’t even see our current home until we had the keys and were moving in). But now it’s time to change that. My doors are open. Come in for tea. Wine. A chat. Stay over. Play dates. It’s all good. I want to make my home a sociable, welcoming place to be. Once upon a time I actually wanted to run art groups or classes from my home... what happened to that person? Maybe it's time she came back.
When it comes to love one of the most profound observations I’ve heard is that our greatest need as individuals is to live a life feeling like we’ve been truly witnessed by someone. That’s what love is to me. Knowing that someone had really seen me. All of me. And has behaved in a way that has allowed me to feel safe being seen. Physically, emotionally, intellectually. Does that make sense? I suppose it includes all those ideas about ‘being yourself’, ‘feeling comfortable’, ‘having unconditional support’, ‘knowing that you were heard’. Now I know I can’t change anyone, nor should I expect anyone to witness me just because I've asked for it, so instead I’m going to push myself to lead by example and really witness those around me. I’m going to listen more then talk. Ask questions about them more then share more about myself. And watch people. Especially my children. Because they deserve to be witnessed more then anyone. I'm hoping this will in turn improve my observational skills as a creative. People are interesting right?