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September 16, 2022 • Brooke Siem

Three Weeks

I can’t say I’ve been happy as of late. Any indication otherwise is an illusion, a flick of the wrist and a wave of the hand designed to distract from reality. 

I’m sure I’m not alone. The Russian/Ukrainian war and the unavoidable media salivation over the whole thing is enough to make anyone wish they could press pause on the human experience. Combine that with the drama of day to day life and speed at which we jumped from one worldwide crisis to another has, quite simply, brought me down. So much so that I’m back to tracking my Daily Happiness Average as part of my brief, nighttime journaling routine. (For more on that practice, go back to the HIAS archives and give issue 26 a read.) 

All week, I’ve been hovering in the high 30s and low 40s (on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the best day of my life.) After so many years of happiness practice, I usually hang around a content 70-80 that tends to stick even during times of stress or frustration. Thus, these low numbers—and especially their consecutive nature—stand out to me. 

As Steve Jobs said in his 2005 Stanford commencement address, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Jobs’ never mentioned his criteria for “too many days.” I have come to learn, though, that three weeks is an optimal length of time for observation. Excluding emergency circumstances, it’s long enough to be truly uncomfortable but short enough to muster through. It also allows enough time for meaningful change, creating a sort of personal clinical trial that allows you to recognize patterns within a situation without having to commit long term.

A three week trial period also prevents rash decision making. I know that when I’m suffering, my instinct is to pull the emergency cord and parachute out of the discomfort. In my younger years, this resulted in a variety of amusing and problematic situations ranging from quitting jobs without a plan to cutting people out of my life to the sudden acquisition of a four-legged creature known as the Demon Dog. While I’m lucky that no true tragedy came from these quick decisions, the fallout from all of them could have been mitigated had I simply waited a little while before acting.

Jeff Haden, contributing editor to Inc. put it succinctly in his recent article about two-week goals: “There’s no way to know what it takes to achieve a certain goal until you embark on the path toward that goal; that’s when you find out what you really want. Or in some cases, don’t want.”

My three week countdown started once I noticed the third consecutive day of low Daily Happiness ratings. One low number is part of life. Two is coincidental. Three indicates a pattern is forming. I have a hunch about what’s going on and if I wanted to, could make an appointment and end it tomorrow. And believe me, that is what I want to do.

Instead, I am going to wait. Over the next two weeks, I’ll see how things unfold, track how I’m feeling, and notice what new information comes in. It’s highly unpleasant and I am not happy about it. But two weeks of discomfort in the grand scheme of my life is irrelevant if the patience helps to guarantee clarity and avoid regret. 

(Grumble.)

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