An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

Earnest blogging

I got the kindest email from a reader after I wrote about trying to come up with a list of things that bring me joy, and can I just say how surprised I am that my inbox wasn’t flooded with, “Seriously? Gross.”

You most certainly do NOT come here to hear me talk about self-help nonsense like that. If you wanted to endure any of that shit you’d just follow your Aunt Donna on Facebook. She lives in Santa Fe and makes her own wind chimes when she isn’t meditating in the nude on a giant rock in her backyard.

Listen. I’m not going to go skipping through any fields in my bare feet and suddenly start crafting headbands out of wildflowers. But even if I did I’d pause every few feet to sing a song about my butt. I promise.

You know what I will do, though? Post a picture of a flickering candle. It’s a total fucking metaphor.


So much of what this reader said resonated with me, mostly about the hard work required to create a new mindset. ATTACK OF A GROSS WORD. Sorry. I know. Authors of self-help books are legally obligated to use that word in every chapter. But what can I say? I’m trying to create a new mindset. I’m tired of being a slave to my anxiety, and instead of just complaining again and again and again that I hate feeling anxious I decided to do something about it. The first step was realizing that I’ve become disengaged from joyous activities. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I’ve avoided joyous activities because I could better use that time getting things in order.


I recently read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown and I will say here in front of all of you that it will have totally transformed my life once I fully absorb and practice what she’s researched. I highlighted a paragraph on almost every page, and this one in particular speaks to why I have for so long eschewed free time:

In today’s culture—where our self-worth is tied to our net worth, and we base our worthiness on our level of productivity—spending time doing purposeless actives is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.

We’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time.

Oh, hello, Brené. What are you doing inside my brain and how did you get here?

Here are just a few of the hundreds of passages I highlighted:

The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.

Yeah. I had to set down the book, get up and walk around the room after that paragraph. Close friends of mine will be all, is Brené Brown totally fucking with Heather? Did she steal a copy of her therapist’s notes?

Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.

She broke into my therapist’s office and wired the room, obviously.

The problem is that when we don’t care at all what people think and we’re immune to hurt, we’re also ineffective at connecting. Courage is telling our story, not being immune to criticism. Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.

People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Go to her website and watch her TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability. Then we can be gross together!

This reader who emailed me shared with me the list that she had come up with of things that keep her grounded, and even though she and I do not know each other a few bullet points were exactly the same. Like, word for word. So I thought I’d go ahead and share with you my list in case you’d like to replicate this activity for yourself and want to compare notes. Before I do, you might read it and think, that’s it? She could have written down anything, like zip lining through the Amazon or snorkeling with talking dolphins. Dream bigger, ARMSTRONG.

But that’s just it. This isn’t about dreaming. This isn’t a bucket list. It’s a collection of small things that I can do frequently to add some much needed levity to my everyday life:

1. Laughing with my kids
2. Listening to and sharing new music
3. Visiting new places
4. Photographing new places
5. Catching up with friends in person
6. A great meal with friends
7. Warm weather, loud music with the windows rolled down in my car
8. Long phone calls with my mother

What brings you joy?

  • Jana Griffis

    I love this. This post is just as wonderful as the hilarious crass ones that make me spit on my computer. People that can’t enjoy every side of a person.. I imagine are very lonely people. I’ve also been learning about how to find joy and hold onto it lately & have learned that it makes it so much better & more obtainable to make yourself find it in the little things. My joy comes from 1. All 3 of my children – okay fine, they’re dogs. 2. After my first alarm goes off & my husband rolls over to hold me for the next 10 minutes. 3. Honest, filthy & embarrassing texts with my best girl friend. 4. Hearing my mother laugh 5. My budget spreadsheet (I know, so weird)

  • elephantsoap

    Many years ago, I was reading past blog entries of mine and they all seemed so negative. I had nothing good to say, my life looked kind of crappy. I started keeping a weekly list of things that made me happy during the week and then I’d post them on the blog. It was a way to rearrange the way I see the things around me in my life. Turns out my life wasn’t (isn’t) so crappy. There’s no such thing as perfect and you can’t be happy every single moment of the day, but you can be grateful for those little things of good in between all the crap. Things that make me happy: this guy that I’ve fallen in love with (I just cringed at writing that sentence), my yoga mat, the internet, my job….I’m sure there’s more.

  • Sara

    I’m in the midst of “the unraveling,” as Brene so AMAZINGLY puts it. I’m torn day by day between embracing it and letting it break me. That’s how I know it’s important. I can’t wait to embrace who I truly am as wholly, as fully as I can. And finding joy in all the little things that bring me joy is a great way to do that. My list looks a lot like yours, Heather! It involves a lot of music and laughter and being silly with my two little people.

  • Heidi

    Brene Brown is brilliant and has opened doors to an emotional world no one has ever wanted to discuss. In doing so, she has helped me to learn about myself and others… Brilliant, I say!

  • Heidi

    Also, kudos to you, Heather, for bring attention to her work. I think a lot of people who deal with depression and anxiety, like you and I, might benefit from her work!

  • Name

    1. When my 11 year old son and I share a laugh so hard one or both of us are running to the bathroom screaming stop I HAVE TO PEE.
    2. Sunday afternoon naps in the spring with a light blanket and a soft breeze
    3. Finding a connection with a perfect stranger while waiting in a long line – for one moment we are friends and then the line moves to fast versus too slow
    4. Hearing a song so perfect for the moment you are in that time stops – and every time thereafter that you hear that song you can recall that exact moment
    5. Feeling enough – good enough, pretty enough, solid enough, just enough
    6. A good book in a quite house – where you stay up way to late to finish “just one more page”
    7. The joy of having a house full with my son, step daughter, nieces and friends, and then the ability to really enjoy the peace when they leave
    8. My husbands call every day to just see “whats up”
    9. Hearing amazing grace, god bless america, the star spangled bannor, or how great thou art, song at any time by anyone – such peace, pride and power
    10. Sitting on the balcony at the beach hotel we rent every year with a cup of coffe, before everyone gets up, enjoying the sound of the waves, the honking of the seagulls, and the perfectness of vacation.

  • Jen Moore

    I love Brene’s work…I remember it when I need to be give myself “permission” to read a magazine, a book, dance in my kitchen or heaven forbid, take a bath!!!!!!!!

  • KristenfromMA

    Yes, The Power of Vulnerability woman! That’s who I thought of when I started reading this post and couldn’t remember her name and BAM! there it is. I watched that TED talk of hers. She’s awesome!

    I usually avoid self-help stuff like the plague, because there are a lot of snake oil salesmen in that section, but I may have to buy this book.

  • KristenfromMA

    Aren’t all kids different? Heather has 2 girls and their personalities couldn’t be more different.

  • Well, I think many people think there’s a difference in the way parents relate to sons and daughters. It’s just a ‘What if’ question.

  • Becky

    thank You.

  • Jen Wilson

    1. Melting snow
    2. Seeing little splotches of grass
    3. Dry roads
    4. Watching as spots of earth appear in my garden
    5. Walking outside in just a hoodie (or, as they’re called here, bunnyhug)
    6. Above-freezing temperatures
    7. Flipping the calendar to the month that promises “spring”
    8. Finding a seed catalogue in my mailbox

    I know, mine have a theme, but I just cannot wait to be in the season of Not Winter.

    (Also, I now need to read that Brené Brown book.)

  • Heather Armstrong

    Thank you. You know, several of my friends who have children of both sexes have said to me that they were sad that I wouldn’t ever get to experience the mother/son relationship. They say that while they love their children all the same, there is something different about moms and their boys. This may not be true for everyone, but it’s been consistently true among my friends and has made me wonder.

  • Carin Sweerman

    I do love how you combine thought-provoking topics with humor; makes it more fun to read.
    1) Taking the Gizmeister to a park, any park (I’m lucky to live in a gorgeous area) and going for a walk with him and my spouse. When it gets warmer and the evenings longer lighter later, add a picnic basket in there with our supper.
    2) Nighttimes; dinner’s done. Dishes are done – all chores are finished and I’m either sitting by myself in the computer room with K in the back of the house at her desk/TV or with her in the lazyboy in the computer room; got my coffee/brandy or a glass of wine – dog in one of our laps; TVs on; just enjoying being. I love going out, but I love our evenings at home best.
    3) Road trips! Either for the day or for a vacation; love loading Giz in the back and off we go. And if I go by myself, I’m in the “crank the radio and sing at the top of your lungs” category.
    4) Cooking, especially when K tells me “best dinner ever, honey” – such a great feeling!
    5) Spending time on FB with relatives half-way around the world; when it’s night for me, they’re just getting up – love hittng that chat button when it lights up and we can talk as if they were right here with me. The internet truly is a wonderful place.
    6) Flowers and plants in my kitchen windows. Such a black thumb I have, so when I can get something to work or when something’s still new enough not to be dead yet, brings me much joy!

  • I am childless, but as a man, if I had children I think I’d prefer daughters. But I simply wonder if there’s a difference.

  • Lynn Bossange

    I just realized that since I sold my car and moved to Boston a few years ago, I have not done #7. That needs to change.

  • Desiree myob

    So weird you wrote this. I too have been trying to accept my anxiety instead of complaining and wishing it away. That is when my psychiatrist told me about this book. I ordered it from the library and I am waiting for it to come in. Wish I could buy it. Flat broke..Now I want to read it even more. You have helped me more than you know with your writing..Thank you

  • tmb

    watching flowers bloom and leaves change color. I love summer, but the COLOR of spring and fall really get me. Every year. And I purposely do the majority of my running outdoors those times of year because the scenery and the smells plus ENDORPHIN HIGH yeah. That keeps me sane through the winters here.

  • Twitter. I’m serious.

    I have over a 1,000 followers, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Most of the time no one sees my tweets in the huge lineup of tweets that flood their rolling feed.

    But there I am, quietly laying down some moose tracks, kind of proud of myself that I just squished some thought or experience or dummy moment into 140 characters or less.

    It’s my own little thing, and every time I shove a tweetage out into the universe, I get warm fuzzballs and then get on with my day.

  • REK981

    Seeing my daughter sing, dance, or laugh.
    Snuggles with my husband or cat. If I could snuggle them both at the same time, well, I can’t even imagine!!
    Cooking something really good and having others enjoy it.
    Warm, sunny weather. Nice enough to have the windows open!
    Sister time!
    Tending my garden.
    Reading a good book.

  • Heather, I haven’t read the other comments, because I’m at work…reading your blog instead of working so I don’t have much time! If this is a repeat of other’s comments, oops. Brene Brown is the best, have you read “Daring Greatly” yet? Do it, immediately. I’m happy you’re looking to make a change in your mindset, you deserve all the joy. Love ya!

    PS My pedicure on Saturday will give me totally selfish joy.

  • CN

    1. Sunbathing
    2. Growing stuff
    3. Chickens
    4. Cranking the music & dancing in the kitchen
    5. Not having anything to prove anymore

  • Kelly

    Heather, I live in Santa Fe. Any time you’d like to visit to meditate nude on a rock, you let me know. Because seeing you do that, here, would bring me joy.

  • Heather

    I freakin love Brené Brown. She just might be my hero.

  • Leah Gough

    Yes! Joy list! I started doing this a couple years ago and it has really brought me more into focus with what makes me happy: the little bitty things. Also, I pay more attention now to the little bitty things (like an amazing cup of coffee or wandering in used book stores) than I used to, which makes me enjoy these things all the more. AND! I allow myself to revel in these things because I know they bring me joy, even in tiny doses, so they are worthy of my time and attention. Woot for the Joy List!
    I was going put a link to my blog in which I focus on those tiny things, but, alas, I just remembered I made it private.
    A few other things from my list:
    – lake swimming
    – going out for breakfast whilst travelling
    – archiving my memories
    – listening to my favourite radio show, Q
    – etc.

  • Jay

    Brene Brown is the best – I have gobbled up her books. She did some travelling and talks last year and got to Australia but New Zealand is that bit further. Would have been great to see her in person. Have you found this?

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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