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Happiness Is A Skill - Issue #36 - What are your non-negotiables?

Happiness Is A Skill - Issue #36 - What are your non-negotiables?
By Brooke Siem  • Issue #36 • View online
At the beginning of 2021, I moved back home to my hometown of Reno, Nevada. The decision was prompted by finally accepting that I wasn’t happy in Vancouver and that after three years of trying to make it work, it just wasn’t going to happen under the circumstances.
At the time of my move, I thought I knew precisely why Vancouver made me feel bad: the gloomy weather bummed me out, the apartment felt tight and dark, I was bored with my day to day. I couldn’t change the weather, but I could find another apartment and fill my day with new activities. But even after looking for new apartments and actively trying to do more, a sense of agitation and melancholy remained. No matter what changes I made, I couldn’t figure out what made me feel good.
As soon as I got home (after a grief-filled travel day, in which I learned that crying in front of border control makes them nicer), I noticed the agitation and melancholy lift. There was a general feeling of goodness that seemed baked into the place. Yet my day to day life in Reno wasn’t all that dissimilar to my life in Vancouver, so why did I feel so much better?
Curious, I sat down with my journal and decided to free write about what in my life created the feeling of goodness. It was an exercise less about what was good in my life and more about the components that created the foundation for goodness. If I understood the components, I could make them non-negotiable and recreate them in the future.
I used the prompt, “I feel good when…” and wrote, without judgment, the next thing that came to mind. Here’s what I discovered:
“I feel good when…I have the mornings to myself…in sunlight…when I’m watering plants…when I spend time in quiet…when I’m on a deadline…after a fresh vacuum…when my schedule lets me be in bed by 10 and up at 7…when I can see nature from my windows…when I don’t drink coffee…when I have a long-term project to complete…when I don’t see people unless I want to…when I limit alcohol consumption to only 2x/week…when I am curious…when I move my body in a circular flow instead of just up and down…when my house is clean and organized.”
Note that there isn’t anything here about career, specific relationships, money, or things. The idea is that if I can create a life where I integrate all these non-negotiable components, then my career, relationships, money, and things are supported. And when my life isn’t going as well, I can look back at this list and see what’s missing.
Now, it’s clear why Vancouver wasn’t working for me. Some aspects of the list were constant in both places—not drinking coffee, tending to plants, vacuuming—but in Vancouver, I didn’t get mornings to myself, the apartment didn’t get any sunlight, I couldn’t see nature from my window, and I was forced into a 12am - 9am sleep schedule. Missing those four components contributed to more frequent drinking, a general lull in curiosity, and a lack of motivation to engage in long-term projects. It was a house of cards all along.
What are the non-negotiables in your life? Are you even aware of when you feel good? What are the components that support that feeling of goodness? And what needs to change in your life in order to bring those components into your every day?

Hullo happy camel!
Hullo happy camel!
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Brooke Siem

After 15 years of depression and antidepressants, my mission is to help people find hope in the name of healing. HAPPINESS IS A SKILL a newsletter for people who are ready to dig deep and do the self-work required to create a beautiful life. You can learn more about my story at

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