My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Feeling unappreciated? Taken for granted? Happiness and the desire for praise, appreciation, and gold stars.

One of my most challenging resolutions has been my resolution, “Don’t expect praise or appreciation.” I crave praise and appreciation; I really want to win my gold stars.

Since I’ve tried to give up those gold stars, however, I’ve come to understand how much this desire was costing me.

I recognized that I was prone to quick bursts of anger and resentment. Only recently, however, have I understood that a major source of this irritability is my belief that I deserve to be praised and appreciated for what I do.

When I don’t get that praise, I feel furious and hurt. I feel ignored and taken for granted.

To try to combat this expectation, I keep reminding myself of a line from one of my favorite happiness works, St. Therese of Lisieux’s memoir, Story of a Soul. St. Therese wrote, “When one loves, one does not calculate.”

That’s why I added “No calculation” to my Twelve Commandments (see left column). I don’t want to keep score, I don’t want to feel grudging, I don’t want to feel cheated if I don’t get a gold star stuck to the top of my spelling homework. I want to act out of love, without calculation.

I used to have a self-congratulatory habit, when I did something nice for our household, of telling myself, “I’m doing this for the Big Man,” or “I’m doing this for the team.” Like I was so generous and thoughtful and giving. Then I’d be angry if no one oohed and aahed over what I’d done.

Now, however, I tell myself, “I’m doing this for myself. This is what I want.” I want to send out Valentine’s cards. I want to clean out the kitchen cabinets. I want to make homemade Mother’s Day presents.

This sounds selfish, but in fact, it’s less selfish, because it means I don’t expect praise or appreciation from anyone else. No one else even has to notice what I’ve done.

I’ve also started giving myself more gold stars. I allow myself to revel in my accomplishments and pat myself on the back. “Wow, you really resisted eating that chocolate-chip cookie batter, great job, Gretchen!” “Zoikes, look at how nice and tidy the girls’ rooms look, you really worked hard!” It’s silly, but it actually works.

I don’t think I will ever be able to relinquish my desire for gold stars. It’s part of my personality. It’s probably a major motivator behind my actions. But I want to be able to harness that characteristic, instead of letting disappointment and resentment sour my relationships.

It’s funny — as a result of my happiness-project work, I’ve been talking more about the gold-star issue with the Big Man, and now that I can discuss it in a more humorous way, by saying, “Please give me my gold star,” instead of being demanding and grasping and enraged, he’s been better about saying, “Thank you for doing that, Gretchen.” He says it in kind of a joking way, but still, I eat it up.

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I love anything to do with de-cluttering, so my new favorite blog to visit is Unclutterer. Every time I read it, I get fired up to tackle some unsuspecting closet or shelf.