Living Without

September 02, 2013

Fujifilm Instax Mini print, Chiang Rai, Thailand, Aug. 2013

September marks the beginning of my Living Without challenge, in which I live without one thing for one month at a time. This program was created by Leo Babauta of zenhabits, a fantastic, open-source blog about simplicity, happiness, and health. I am trying the challenge for 6 months instead of a year because it seems less daunting.

This month, I am living without complaining. As I begin to observe the effects that chronic anxiety has had on my life, I've noticed the development of some destructive habits: jumping to negative (often false) conclusions; letting small frustrations ruin my day; failing to recognize the multitude of things I have to be grateful for. Living in a foreign country with my favorite person in the entire world, for example.

Mr. Babauta's Sea Change Program is a great way to work on life goals like this. For September, the program's emphasis is being grateful, a perfect compliment to my month without complaining.

Here are the 6 things I will be living without (September-February):

September: Complaining.
Research indicates not only that complaining negatively affects mood but also that practicing gratitude on a regular basis makes people happier, regardless of life circumstances. This month, whenever I start complaining, I will stop myself and find something good in what I wanted to complain about.
Replacement habit: Daily gratitude exercises.

October: Junk Food (hamburgers, pizza, fried food).
I love American comfort food: hamburgers, french fries, pizza. In Korea, you can get all of these things and then some. One of my favorite treats is Korean fried chicken. There are many varieties, though the best version is lightly breaded and accompanied by a sweet, spicy sauce and dipping salt. It is delicious with cold beer and radish kimchi. As delicious as they are, comfort foods should be reserved for special occasions, not weekly meals. Instead of eating unhealthy, fatty foods, I will practice eating daily breakfasts - a habit I have yet to master.
Replacement habit: Eat breakfast every day.

November: Buying things (besides groceries).
I am a conscious consumer. I buy nearly all of my clothing second-hand and enjoy the process of finding cheap treasures someone else discarded. I support handmade items and environmentally-sound companies. However, I shop too much. When I was a child welfare case manager in Chicago, I would sometimes end a stressful day by going shopping as a "treat to myself" for getting through it. I used shopping as therapy and sometimes I still do. For one month, all I will buy is what I eat and drink.
Replacement habit: De-clutter.

December: Coffee.
I love good coffee. It was years ago that we began to appreciate what good coffee tastes like (freshly ground, in a french press or chemex set). However, I've become addicted to caffeine. Research demonstrates the many health benefits of coffee, but moderation is important. For one month, I will live without coffee so that I can enjoy it more in the future - for its flavor, not just its stimulating effects.
Replacement habit: Tea.

January: Video entertainment (Netflix/tv shows/movies).
We love catching up on new movies and TV shows. One of my favorite things to do after a long day at work is to enjoy some red wine and watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with Ryan. I chose this for January because I want to test my limits. Instead of mindlessly watching the TV screen, I will use my free time to read more books for pleasure and to educate myself.
Replacement habit: Read more books and world news.

February: Facebook.
I refuse to delete my Facebook account. It is too important to keep in touch with my family and friends around the world. However, I do believe that Facebook has been creating some negative feelings for me as I compare my life to the lives of the hundreds of people I am perpetually following on the Internet. It is my hope that giving up Facebook for a month will break my compulsive need to check the site and will leave more energy to write letters and connect with people in person.
Replacement habit: Write letters to friends and family.

Here is some additional reading on gratitude and why we should work on complaining less:

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  1. Wow. I'm crazy impressed at your willpower, Mal. I know I'd have difficulty giving up any of those things (except for coffee, which I don't drink-- but substitute with another caffeinated beverage, and whoa). I've started noticing how much I complain-- in fact, it sometimes seems like I only call or contact some people to whine. I'm going to try your plan for September, too! :P

    PS- your photo is gorgeous! the colors and lighting is incredible. <3

  2. Jen - first of all, thank you for your constant encouragement! I love the photo, too. It was shot on my instant camera and you know how I love instant film. Regarding the complaining, it has gotten out of hand. Ryan and I realized during our weekend trip that we have been overly negative and it's been not only counter-productive but it's also been making us unhappy. It's easy to slip into this pattern while living in a foreign country, as you know. Can't wait to hear how your month goes!! :)

  3. I l-o-v-e this idea! I'm really excited to hear about each month's adventures. Have you read The Happiness Project? There are some really great tips in there, and it's an easy read to pick up and put down whenever you want. Keep us updated, please!

  4. I love this idea and look forward to reading your other posts :)

  5. I most definitely don't have the courage to give up many of these vices. I tip my cap not only for attempting these, but the honesty to share so many things you don't like so openly.


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