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November 5, 2015

How to Feel Better

When Matt and I put our 9-month-old son Carter to bed, we have a consistent routine. I think we read somewhere that having a predictable nighttime routine cues the baby to know it’s time to go to sleep. Carter is...

How to Feel Better

When Matt and I put our 9-month-old son Carter to bed, we have a consistent routine. I think we read somewhere that having a predictable nighttime routine cues the baby to know it’s time to go to sleep. Carter is right in the middle of the “toddler sleep regression.” Every time we look in the monitor, instead of seeing a peaceful, sleeping baby, we see a wildly creative gymnast as he tests out his new skills of crawling, pulling up and cruising around. So the nighttime routine is more important now than ever.

Our routine goes like this: We put him in his little long-sleeve onesie and sleep sack, and then we all snuggle on our big bed to read a few storybooks under the dim glow of one soft-light lamp.

As we read the stories with soft voices, our little wiggle worm settles down and snuggles in with heavy eyes and lots of yawns. Matt and I start to whisper and close our eyes while acting very sleepy ourselves to encourage him even more. Before long, Carter’s ready to be put to bed. It works like a charm.

The only problem is this routine works like a charm on me too!

By the time we get Carter transferred to his crib, I’m almost completely asleep myself and ready to call it a night—and it’s just 7 p.m.!

This situation actually illustrates something that can help us be happier. We think that we have to feel a certain way in order to act a certain way, right? When we feel happy, we act happy. When we feel sad, we act sad. When we feel grumpy, we act grumpy.

But what’s interesting is that the opposite is also true. When we act a certain way, our feelings actually follow. I started feeling tired for one reason: because I was acting tired.

Gretchen Rubin points this out in her book, The Happiness Project. One of her lessons is “Act the way you want to feel.”

So if you want to feel happy, you start by acting like it. When you act like it first, the feelings actually follow. It sounds crazy, but it really does work.

And the great news is that while we can’t always control how we feel, we can control how we act!

As I’ve learned this in my own life through reading The Happiness Project (and also seeing how effective it is when I put my son to sleep), I’ve started practicing it more and more.

If I leave work in a bad mood about how the day went, instead of walking in the door and spreading my grumpiness to my family, I decide before I walk in the door to act really happy. It’s amazing, because before I even realize it, I actually am happy! I laugh and play with my son and talk and spend time with my husband. I act the way I want to feel, and the feelings follow.

Or if Matt makes me mad for some reason, instead of freaking out on him like I’ve been known to do, I just decide in the moment to let it go and act happy anyway. Within minutes, I’ve forgotten what I was mad about, and the situation doesn’t ruin my day or his. Again, I just act the way I want to feel, and the feelings follow.

So whether you are trying to stop thinking about something that’s worrying you, or you’re just trying to bounce back from a tough blow at work, you can change your feelings by changing your actions. Think about what you’d like to feel, and then act like it. Before you even realize it, your feelings will follow.

Now I just need to figure out how to get my toddler to bed without falling asleep myself!

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  1. I really enjoy your articles, they always make me look at a situation a little differently and not take myself so seriously. Thank you for that. K

  2. Karen says:

    This is absolutely true! Thank you for posting this. The late Rev Norman Vincent Peale wrote about this in his “positive thinking” publications. He stressed “act as if” and feelings will follow.