What Does Investing in Yourself Actually Look Like?
It sounds so obvious, but I was reminded last week that ‘meh’ days really are unavoidable. They just happen, and nobody's exempt.
Sometimes I forget that it shouldn't be the goal to feel ‘great’ every minute of every day. Not only is that expectation completely unrealistic, but it also comes with lots of unfair pressure. It sets us up to feel like we somehow fell short, or ‘did it wrong’ when a ‘meh’ day comes along – and those days are already enough of a bummer without the added shame of feeling like you somehow failed yourself.
I read this passage a few years ago on Cup of Jo, and it’s really stuck with me:
"I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that—I don’t mind people being happy—but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down three things that made you happy today before you go to sleep” and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position. It’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say, “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness.” Ask yourself, “Is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is."
—Hugh MacKay, author of The Good Life
Every time I come back to that idea of wholeness over happiness, I feel relieved.
It’s such a relief to remember that I have permission to have bad days, to feel negative, and to experience discomfort. They're not signs I've done something wrong; they're part of the human experience.
Not only that, but it’s also not my job to rush to ‘fix’ those things; it’s my job to let them contribute to my wholeness, and to be gentle with myself in the process.
I’ve been sitting with this idea recently, and while it brings me relief, it also raises some interesting questions. Questions like: if we’re willing to let go of the expectation that feeling ‘good’ or ‘happy’ is the default and the perpetual goal, where does self-care fit in?
Does a concept like ‘self-care’ seem obsolete once we’re willing to give ourselves permission to feel all our feelings – even the meh ones – without trying to ‘fix’ them?
In other words – once we’ve stopped aiming to feel ‘great’ all the time and we’ve accepted the idea that we’ll sometimes feel uninspired, cranky, frustrated, sad, or just generally ‘meh’... what’s the point of self-care?
This is where I think it’s helpful to look at this same question, but in the context of our other close relationships.
Think of your favorite person: your best friend, your partner, your mom, whoever. You love them, you care about their well-being, and you willingly (happily!) show up for them. Do we do it because they’ve promised us that in exchange for our generosity and compassion, they’ll never have a bad day or feel generally shitty? Of course not.
Would we call off the whole arrangement if they told us to our face that all our love and care and compassion couldn’t prevent their sadness, depression, grief, frustration, or disappointment from showing up later? … you get the idea.
We show up with energy, kindness, thoughtful gestures, and support for the people we love, on good days and crappy ones, because that’s how we foster strong relationships – not because we expect to 'fix' them or prevent future sadness, but because we care deeply about them.
Imagine if we did the same for ourselves.
Instead of trying desperately to prevent negative emotions, and then shaming ourselves when they inevitably creep in, what if we made the choice to invest in ourselves without expectation?
What I’m learning lately is that intentional rituals – the kind that are rooted in compassion and deep self-understanding of ourselves – are an awesome beginner-friendly tool for learning to show up for ourselves consistently. It takes some of the decision fatigue and overwhelm out of the equation, by making the act of showing up for ourselves into a habit.
All it takes is watching out for those little things that make us feel whole and like ourselves, and then finding small ways to fold them into our everyday routines.
Think of them as the same little “just because” or “thinking of you” gifts and gestures we love giving the people we care about – only these are shaped by the things we’ve learned about ourselves.
My challenge for you is to come up with a shortlist of small, low-effort gifts you can give yourself daily, weekly, or even monthly that pack a meaningful punch.
On a sheet of blank paper, draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left, write, “I enjoy feeling…” and on the right, write, “Things that help me feel this way.”
You can also grab the worksheet below to get started.
Don’t overthink the words that come up as you make these lists – they don’t have to be your be all end all favorite feelings, or even your Core Desired Feelings (if you’re at all familiar with Danielle Laporte). Just let ‘em flow. Then on the right side, see if you can think of some small habits, actions, or just things you can make a little time for that help you feel those feelings more often.
Are there opportunities in your daily routines to incorporate more of those things more regularly? What would it take? Don't be afraid to start small - maybe just one or two at a time.
This is an exercise I mentally come back to ALL. THE. TIME. but I’m probably due to get it on paper, and look at what’s coming up for me these days. I’ll be sharing a little more about my personal process on Instagram later today, if you’re looking for a little something to get your wheels turning.
Also, keep in mind: both these lists you’re making – both the ways you enjoy feeling, and the things you can do to get there – are likely to change. Depending on what you write, they might be things that shift by the day, the hour, or even the year. Don’t worry too much about it. Make a quick promise to yourself that you’ll regularly revisit these questions, and then focus on what bubbles up for you right now.
The more we can connect with ourselves and commit to strengthening that relationship regularly without expectations for a specific return on investment, the more we can start to feel that same love, support, and security we’re so good at providing for the people we care about most.