Getting your emotional house in order

Got a bathroom issue? Or maybe you think you have a bedroom issue when really it’s about your kitchen.

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Got a bathroom issue? Or maybe you think you have a bedroom issue when really it’s about your kitchen. Bet you didn’t even realize that to get closer to happiness, you need to think about…rooms?  

I love this concept—it’s one found in the new book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness, written Lucy S. Danziger, editor of SELF magazine and psychiatrist Dr. Catherine Birndorf. Here’s how it works: to help you literally sort out the many small problems in your life that weigh you down, hound you, and generally keep you one step further from happiness, imagine or even draw a house on a piece of paper and divide it up into several rooms. From there you can compartmentalize your emotional challenges into each room—the bedroom for example represents your sex life and intimacy with your partner; the living room for family-related challenges; the bathroom for body image and health. Once everything’s sorted out, you follow some of the strategies in the book to work on issues most pressing to you, thereby freeing you up on the road to happiness. Here’s what Danziger and Birndorf had to say.

Q: Are the rooms a way to tackle the areas of our life that need fixing?

Birndorf: People are so overwhelmed by their problems and sometimes don’t know where to start. But if you organize the issues by room you can then tackle them room by room when you’re ready. And the rooms will change, for example: at some points in your life you don’t care about your career or about kids. As some things become more or less important the rooms may grow in size.

Q: How can we get started with this and become happier people?

Birndorf: First you have to identify the problem. You can’t do anything if you can’t identify the problem. Then figure out which room you’re really in because a lot of times people are in the wrong room. Say you’re in the living room at a party and you think the problem is everyone’s looking at you and you’re too fat.  The truth is that’s a bathroom issue–it’s about health and self-esteem. So identify the emotional problem. And then use strategies like these to get at them.

Q: Will our house ever be perfect?

Birndorf: No! And that’s okay. Cut yourself slack—don’t worry about perfect. When you’re in a room at a party with friends, be in that room and don’t worry about how you look. Enjoy it because that’s happiness. Happiness is not everything being perfect. It’s about moments of enjoyment.

Danziger: The great thing about the rooms of our emotional house is that we can shut a door and come back later. So if you have a fight with your daughter but you have to go to work, close the door to that room or fight, go to work and realize that while that room is a mess—you’re fighting with your daughter, you don’t have to deal with it right away and you’re having a great day at work. So you don’t let the one unhappy room bring you down.  You don’t have to have it altogether at once to be a happy, successful person.