Carolyn Hax is on leave. This column originally ran June 17, 2012.
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?
Answer: The question waiting for an answer is, why don't you feel like you're living the right life for you?
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?
Next, 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, and 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?
Then 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 your blahs still persist, it's time to weigh the big, external pieces of your life, like where you live, what you do for a living, whom you befriend, date, and trust.
Even then, start small: Can any of these be tweaked vs. blown up? Can any changes 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.
Question: My fiancé 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. Is it ever OK to just ask for money? If so, how can we do it without sounding tacky?
Answer: Because you need to provide some kind of answer to gift inquiries, you have a 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" may 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. 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: Our most treasured gifts aren't the ones we want, but the ones we get. Please be open to what others have in their hearts.