To cure the blahs, look inside yourself first

Carolyn Hax
Columnist June 17, 2012

Hi, Carolyn: I have a bit of an open-ended question. When I’m unhappy, I tend to want to change everything — job, relationships, etc. — at once. It’s hard for me to decipher where I’m unhappy and what the best ways are to change things, rather than blow up my whole life. Are there ways to start to unpack all of this? — Time to Leave?

When you have the urge to blow up everything, the most prominent common denominator is you, right? So, the question waiting for an answer is, why don’t you feel like you’re living the right life for you?

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Big stuff. That’s why, absent an epiphany, the best place to start is with small steps toward getting healthy. Are you getting enough sleep, being conscientious about any health issues, eating well, making an effort not to be sedentary?

If you’re maintaining your physical health, then move on to your emotional health: Are you putting effort into the people who are good for you, and distancing yourself from takers, criticizers, enablers or those who otherwise bring out your worst? Are you saying yes when you should, and no when you should? Are you showing up when you say you will? Are you using time productively? Are you playing to your own strengths?

If your physical and emotional habits are solid, then move on to temporary rut-busting: vacation. Or, a weekend road trip, or even a day trip, or just lunch with a friend you haven’t seen lately. Give your eyes a new place to rest. Familiarity can limit your thinking.


If you have an antibiotic-resistant strain of the blahs, then it’s time to weigh the big, external pieces of your life, such as where you live, what you do for a living, whom you befriend, date and trust.

But even then, start small: Can any of these be tweaked, vs. blown up? If tweaks don’t work, are there any changes that can be easily made or reversed? Can you walk away from anything temporarily, via sabbatical, temporary reassignment, trial separation, “a break”?

Should you get this far without relief, you’ll still have information toward understanding why demolition is your first impulse when you’re unhappy. After all, the blow-up solution pretty much assures that you can avoid facing that thing, whatever it is, you so badly want to avoid — whereas a methodical approach, honestly executed, will take you right to its door.

Dear Carolyn: My fiance is European. I am from the United States, and after our fall wedding, we will be living in a different country altogether.

Our wedding guests would like to know if we are registered anywhere for gifts. Because where we live next depends on where both of us get our next jobs, we can only specify two continents with any certainty. That is why I would like people to make a donation to our relocation fund. We don’t need crystal bowls and cake knives as much as money to get started in our new home.

My fiance says he feels uncomfortable asking for money, but I feel like that would be the best use of our friends’ and family’s generosity. Is it ever okay to just ask for money? If so, how can we do it without sounding tacky? — International Affairs of the Heart

The Holy Grail, cold fusion, Bigfoot, Atlantis, the cure for the common cold, a tasteful way to request cash gifts: What do these things have in common?

If the mythic quest for the polite shakedown ever has a happy conclusion, then I’ll be sure to publish an update in this space. In the meantime, those who have no use for what others purchase for them, for whatever reason, will have to make use of the options that good manners always permit.

The first and best option is to remind yourself that getting started in your new home is entirely your financial responsibility, and that your guests’ sole purpose is to provide emotional support. If they provide more, then that’s just a pleasant bonus. Mantra-fy as needed.

Because you need some kind of answer to gift inquiries, you have an additional, more practical option: “Thanks so much for asking. We didn’t register, because we’ve got an international move (or several) coming soon.” In this case, saying “4” might be rude, but saying “2 + 2” is perfectly appropriate.

You can also ask your close relatives and friends — i.e., those whom guests traditionally approach for gift ideas — to convey that no-registry message. That is, if they even need to. An international crowd is more likely than a strictly American one to equate “wedding gift” with “cash.”

And, finally if a bit obviously: All our most treasured gifts aren’t the ones we want but the ones we actually get. Please be open to what others have in their hearts.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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