5 Scary Changes That Will Make You Happier

Self on 10.10.12
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Photo: Jason Scragz/Creative Commons

October is all about scaring the pants off each other. Haunted houses and scary movies are popular entertainment options this time of year.  Some of the most terrifying things in life, however, have nothing to do with monsters. More frightening than creatures that go bump in the night are the simple steps we could take towards living a better life. Don't believe me? Check out these five scary things you could do this month to be happier.

1. Pick up the phone.

scary phone
Photo: Britt Reints

Anyone who has worked in sales will tell you that a fear of the phone is one of the hardest things to get over. It's not just sales calls that are intimidating; I had a girlfriend in high school who would beg me to make her hair appointments for her because making the call caused her so much anxiety. And what about dialing up someone you don't know very well to invite them for dinner or coffee? Something about initiating contact with another person has the potential to paralyze even the most capable adults.

Thanks to the Internet, it's easier than ever to avoid making the tough calls. We can send a friend request to connect, and severing relationships requires little more than another click of the mouse. Apologizing by email has replaced the awkward pause, allowing us to pick the perfect words and avoid the embarrassing blush of a face-to-face encounter.

But what would happen if we pushed through our fears and picked up the phone this month? Could we form a new friendship or heal an old relationship? Maybe we'd finally close that deal or make the doctor appointment we've been putting off.

2. Ask for help.

help wanted signPhoto: Brenda Gottsabend/Creative Commons

Children have no problem asking for help, but somewhere along the road to adulthood many of us pick up a fear of this basic survival skill. I hate asking for help. I imagine it makes me pathetic and that the person I'm asking is secretly annoyed and resenting me. I assume that people who do agree to assist me are too polite to tell me how inconvenienced they are. Asking for help makes me feel small and vulnerable.

When I don't ask for help, I often end up resenting the people who don't volunteer (or read my mind). I get overwhelmed from taking on too much, and sometimes I simply fail to do what's needed because I lack the time, talent or resources. The reality is that we all need help at some point. It's not a sign of weakness so much as a condition of our humanity.

Asking for help makes us feel vulnerable because the possibility exists for rejection. Ask and you can be told no. And then what? Then we're exactly where we started before, no better and no worse. And maybe we don't get rejected, but get precisely what we need to move forward.

3. Stop trying to be a good person.

a good personPhoto: Luigi Torreggiani/Creative Commons

I was sitting in a therapist's office in 2009 when I discovered I had a severe phobia of being a bad person. Every time the educated woman in the chair across from me would ask me to explain my actions, I would start with, "Well, I don't want to be a bad person." One day she asked me to define A Good Person. The best clarification I could offer was that A Good Person was not A Bad Person.

I hear people talk about being a good person or "doing the right thing" all the time, but it's more often a source of fear than inspiration. We're afraid of being bad or mean or wrong, and so we aspire to be good and nice and right - with very little thought given to what those ambiguous words mean to us. We do what we think we should and avoid what we suspect we should not. We say yes and no based on the assumed rulings of an invisible panel of judges, and we don't even bother to ask if they have jurisdiction in our lives.

What if we no longer cared about being good? What if we spent a few hours determining what values were important to us as individuals and resolved to let those words be our guide? Maybe we'd feel something deeper than good.

4. Take an exercise class.

exercise classPhoto: Simon Schoeters/Creative Commons

How many of us would rather be considered a jerk than show up to Zumba alone? I'm not afraid of exercise; I'm afraid of walking into a room full of strangers and passing out in my Lycra. I'm afraid of looking stupid. I'm afraid of failing. I'm afraid of not being able to touch my toes or run as fast as the person on the treadmill beside me. I'm afraid of feeling like a loser when I can't do what I set out to.

Doing something new, even something as simple and natural as running, often means lugging along our baggage. There's no easy way to unpack it first; facing all those what ifs is the only way to conquer them. You have to do the thing that scares you to beat it.

The choice is between assuming we'll fail and giving ourselves the chance to be proud when we don't. Of course, there is also the possibility that we will fail - at first - but there are worse things in life than trying and not succeeding.

5. Be weird.

be weirdPhoto: Shannon Kringen/Creative Commons

Perhaps just as powerful as our fear of being bad is our fear of being weird. We instinctively crave the title of normal, and yet some of the decisions that have made me the happiest were things I once considered weird.

It was weird to blog in 2005. It was weird to give away our second car. It was definitely weird to move into an RV and drive around the country for a year. I suppose some people might think it's weird to rent a duplex in the city instead of buying a house in the suburbs. I'm sure it's a little weird that neither my husband nor I have "normal" jobs - but it's all this weirdness that makes us the most happy.

It's scary to step outside the lines, but sometimes it's out there that you find your joy.

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