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You Can Choose to be Happy

In all honesty this is something that I never believed.  Self help literature will tell you this.  My parents told me this (they phrased it as ” PMA or Positive Mental Attitude”), but when you’re bummed this advice can seem anywhere from asinine to downright malicious.  Well since it’s Valentine’s Day –  a day that traditionally breaks to either Way Too High Expectations or Total Misery depending on whether or not you’re in a relationship – I figured we could all use some PMA.

But first let me get to the origin of this post.  I work at a massive corporate book store (you can probably guess which one since as far as I know, it’s the only one still around).  We on the sales floor have a quota that we have to meet for signing up new customers for the company’s Membership program. It costs $25.00 per year, offers a 10% discount, and if we don’t consistently make our quota we get fired.  Naturally this can be a hard sell. When people do the math they realize they would need to spend $250.00 per year at our company just to break even. While it’s a very good deal for very specific types of people, our average customer would lose money by getting one.  As such, small transactions (anything under $50) are bad news for the cashiers because they make for a very tough sell.  Very small transactions ($2-5.00) are the bane of our existence because the sale is all but impossible.

Normally I’m a pretty good salesman. I almost always exceed my quota. However this month I’ve been doing very poorly. Getting a talking-to from my managers kind of poorly. The kind of poorly that I thought would not happen at a job ever again.  So I really, really need to sell some Memberships.  On top of all that, it’s the day before Valentine’s day – a time of year that I typically hate and get depressed about – and I’m feeling pretty lonely. T

he only sales that I make all day are Valentine’s Day cards. Hundreds of them. Destroying my already meager quota numbers and making me feel worse and worse as the day goes on. Finally I clock out and  go home feeling about as dark and dismal as I can. I spend the rest of the day like that.  But then I watched this very inspiring video, a TED talk from Alain de Botton

That got me thinking about what I was doing with my life, and more importantly how I felt about it. I decided it was time for some PMA. So I wrote in my journal about things that I wanted to change. I also wrote about how I wanted to feel.  I was in such a dark place the day before Valentine’s day. But what if I decided that on February 14th I was going to be happy? How nice would it be to wake up on a day that is typically the worst one of the year, and actually enjoy it? I made the decision that Today, I am going to be Happy.

I went to bed with that thought. I woke up with that thought. It’s cold and gray and snowing outside. I am alone on the day of love. And you know what? I’m actually happy. I really am enjoying what I have been given – one more day being alive. The fact that I chose to be happy and actually feel happy makes me even happier.  I think that this is a big pivot point in my life.  The knowledge that being a bummer is completely my choice makes it much less appealing than if it were something that just happened to me. The choice is mine. Just like the choice is yours.

What do you think of this idea? Is it something you have tried in your own life? Leave a comment and let me know.

Check in with your New Years Goals

It’s mid-February. How are you doing with your Resolutions for the new year? Take the time today to check in and assess your progress.  If you’re charging along full-steam ahead, good for you! If not, it isn’t too late to correct course.  Where did you think you would be by this point, and where are you? Where do you want to be one month from now? Don’t give up if things haven’t been going as planned. They never do. Audit your results and change plans accordingly.

Remember, the people that succeed are the ones that keep showing up.

Get your Booty Movin’

We all know about the benefits of exercise. But do you actually do it?  When was the last time you had a good workout? It’s one of the many things that you can do regularly that will make you feel a million times better.  If you don’t have time or space to get a normal routine going (and I highly suggest you find both of these things) you can always stretch.  Stretching is awesome. It calms you, it feels great, and it gets your blood flowing.  I like to take stretch breaks every hour or so when I’m doing computer work, or even when I’m not.  Go stretch right now!

Never Settle

The temptation will be great.  You’ve worked hard for years to get yourself some stable footing.  You can pay your bills, you have a little money tucked away, you go out with your sweetheart on Fridays for dinner and drinks.  Sounds great, except you’re miserable.  Why? You hate your stable job, you and your honey have nothing to talk about, and you’re bored out of your skull.  You got somewhere comfortable and settled in to it.  Fantasies got put on the back-burner and replaced with safe predictability.  This isn’t how you pictured your life.

But it isn’t too late.

Chances are your dream job isn’t so easy to find in the current economy.  You probably don’t have enough money saved up to strike out on your own.  I bet you have student loans that you’re still paying down. Don’t give up hope.  The most important thing you can do now is actively pursue that crazy dream of yours, while also putting in hours at the stupid job you hate so that you can pay your bills.  It will be a lot of work. You will take side gigs after a long and grueling work day just for the experience. You will do free favors for friends and family to further your goals.  It’s exhausting, but it’s worth it.  Even if you never get your dream job, even if you never work for yourself (the best boss there is), even if you spend the rest of your life grinding it out at the job that you hate because you couldn’t cut it, at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you tried.  Your dreams are the most important thing that you have.  Cherish them, and let them flourish.

How to Scam Credit Card Companies

Ok, so maybe “scam” isn’t the right word.  More like “gaming” them.  What we’re doing is perfectly legal, but they’ll hate you for it.

You know how a lot of credit cards have sign-up bonuses?  Things like gift cards or cash back to entice you along with their 0% introductory APR.  Usually these are store cards that will offer a gift card to their particular business. Sometimes banks do it too, and they offer cash.  In fact you can get up to $100 from various card issuers completely for free when you sign up for a new card.  Now that doesn’t mean you don’t have to do some work here too.  Usually they contain stipulations such as “make a purchase within 1 month of receiving your card” or “spend $500 in your first three months.”  These are designed to get you to actually use the card in the hopes that you will be hooked on a large credit line and low rates.  Then in a year they crank up the interest rate to 22% and suddenly your savings have run dry.  And of course the better rewards usually have a bigger catch.

So how do you get the reward without paying out the nose? Simply meet the minimum standards for the reward, pay off your balance, and never touch the card again. Put it in an envelope, cut it up, or even freeze it in a block of ice so that you only have it for emergencies.  But don’t cancel the card.  If you keep the card active with no standing balance, your credit score actually goes up!  This is because your score is partially based on your debt-to-credit ratio, so if you have a lot of credit and carry no debt, your score starts to look pretty good.  Just read the fine print and make sure there are no annual fees.  Those cards are a bad deal anyway.

This will backfire if you apply for 6 cards at once. You probably can’t handle the necessary spending and card companies will get wise to you.  Instead wait 3-6 months in between each one.  That’s generally how long it takes to actually earn the reward anyway.  The real trick here is willpower.  Say you have a card that gives you $100 after you spend $500 in three months.  The easiest way to rack this up without overspending is to put your fixed monthly costs on the card for 1-2 months, but pay them off immediately rather than keeping a balance.  I’m talking about things like utility bills and groceries.  Things you already have money set aside for and can afford to pay off.  Generally you just have to make $500 worth of purchases, you don’t have to keep that balance on there the whole time.  Read the fine print on that one as well.

If you do this right and are responsible about your spending, it’s entirely possible to get upwards of $300-500 in gift cards, cash back, or bonus miles over the course of the year just by playing the credit game.  Just keep your spending in check and lock away the cards with bad rates and fees, and you’ll be in the clear.  If you get more than 6 cards this way, feel free to cancel some once you pay down the balances. Otherwise sit back and reap some rewards.