As part of our family routine, we went to the local library to borrow some children’s books. Just like the snack shelf around cashier for impulse buyers, the library put a shelf of DVD around the check-out kiosk. I quickly grabbed the first movie that I have heard of – Inside Out (2015). The story is about how emotions inside of the 12-year-old Riley guide her through daily lives and challenges. Although Riley is a happy person, Joy (her emotion) still had to try really hard to make things back to normal. It is true. Self-care is hard.

I recently attended the Self Care is Hard with Gretchen Rubin webinar hosted by the Women in Bio. The webinar was held in Q&A-based conversation. Here are some of my takeaway mixing with some lab infusion.

Being happy is not selfish
Have you ever felt guilty about being happy? Are you too busy to spend time for yourself? Being happy is not selfish. Happiness is a great influence. Happy people are more likely to give, happy people care about what’s going on, and happy people make people happy. In a way, being happy helps other people too.

A happy, vibrant lab environment sparks productivity. When you wake up feeling like “I can’t wait to do the experiment and figure out what’s going on,” you know you love what you are doing. If you don’t feel that, that’s ok. Try to find out what’s bothering you and make some adjustment.

Stress about not working enough?
Right amount of stress helps us to deal with deadlines, decision making, unfamiliar situation, etc. Sometimes, feeling stressed translates into excitement. This is what you can do. When you feel anxious, you can write down your concerns and plan actions. Writing down the concerns may help to relieve the spinning thoughts in your brain. Planning actions can make you feel like you are in control. Sometimes, admitting fear and stress might be a good thing. Check out this podcast episode about the 9-year-old Ella Maners fighting and winning her Obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD.

It is very normal to feel stressed, especially when experiments are not working. You may feel like not working enough because you are not getting solid data. For me, the most crucial thing is to spot the key factors of failed experiment. Did the experiment fail because I missed a step/reagent/information or because of poor execution/planning? Not all experiment is going to work. For example, I spent years trying to isolate certain double mutants but never got them. I have genotyped more than a hundred of potential plants and the genotyping results were clear. There has to be a biological reason for the lethality of the double mutant. I feel curious but not stressed.

Treat yourself like a dog
Gretchen Rubin mentioned the treat yourself like a dog project. Basically, ask yourself “would you treat your dog this way?” This exercise also allows oneself to see from the perspectives of outsiders. It creates an imagination accountability for treating ourselves well.

Another similar project is to treat yourself like a toddler. You probably have seen parents with overly-packed bags and stuffed strollers. We try to bring enough things to meet our toddlers’ needs. I always bring books, cars, extra clothes, snacks for my 3-year-old son. We adults should look into our own personal needs, too. Pack an extra snack for yourself if you can’t eat at regular time or just because. Don’t be too hard on yourself; you can’t be 100% all the time. Give some rewards to yourself sometimes. For example, treat yourself a slice of cake after networking or read the book you always want to read but couldn’t find time to read on business trip. 

Be strategic about making yourself happy
One of Gretchen Rubin’s books is to identify your personal tendency. She describes four tendencies based on inner desire and outer accountability. You can take the short online quiz to see which one you are. For example, if you are an Obliger like me, outer accountability is often being taken more seriously by you. If you want to exercise more, ask a friend to join you, so you will feel obligated to do it.

The tendency is an interesting concept although I find myself treating work and life differently. If you have the Obliger tendency in the lab, and if you procrastinate on a hard experiment or writing a grant, ask a friend to monitor your progress or ask your PI to check on you at the frequency that you want.

Last but not least, the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast provides many projects and positive thinking strategies, if you need more guidance and motivation. I think we can all use a little bit more happiness in our lives. Spending some self-care time on yourself, it will be worth it. Share your motivation, happiness hacks (inside or outside the labs) with us in the comments!