One night, as my kids and I played out our tired but tried-and-trusted routine of winding down for bed with some — increasingly mediocre, I'll say — YouTube videos, we bumped into one in which someone from a popular channel supposedly said "yes" to everything for a week. He ended up, among other things, attending a murder mystery party he didn't want to go to and even participating in a protest about a topic he couldn't care less about.
"Ooooh," my teen daughter said. "Let's do that, too!"
That was my first "yes".
I'm fairly risk-averse and introverted — the kind of person who declines a last-minute concert invitation because I'd planned to write stuff that night, the kind of person who avoids get-togethers with acquaintances because I just can't be bothered, and the kind of person who often says no because I just don't like disrupting my established behavioral patterns.
So, I was curious to see what kind of impact saying yes more often would have on my mood and mental health, and on my whole family's, too. I also wanted to find out, frankly, whether this kind of thing could make my life more exciting.
Bad idea? Well, maybe. When I told a friend about what I was doing, his immediate response was one of "oh no, don't do that!" My coworker was, on the other hand, interested in finding out how the fact that my kids and I were all doing this together would steer the week — if Gwen, who is 13, and Miles, who is 11, knew I committed to this affirmation bonanza, wouldn't they try to exploit that by making all sorts of unusual and unreasonable requests?
Yes! We did it. Kind of. Here's what actually happened.
So, here are the highlights.
On the first day of "yes", I invited my kids to do something we hadn't done in a while — start the day off with board games. When Miles asked Gwen to team up against me, I reminded her that we'd committed to this challenge so she should really give that a go. I bought some groceries I wouldn't normally necessarily have agreed to, like cake and Coca Cola, after my kids wanted them. My daughter went over budget by getting her brother the birthday present he said he really wanted (for the month after). At night, we watched Wallace & Grommit's The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, even though only Miles wanted to. I ended up enjoying it, and my daughter didn't complain once even though she decidedly didn't feel like seeing this movie.
The second day of "yes" featured more board games. A bit boring, yes? My kids apparently thought we should up the stakes a bit. A YouTube video got us into this whole mess, so why not emulate some more?
Miles tried to sneak coffee and matchboxes into random folks' carts and baskets, while Gwen thought it would be fun to force giant lollipops on people. They weren't very subtle about it, so got caught. A lady approached me asking if the kid who'd just stuck matches into her basket was with me. When I said yes, she handed me the box with the message that it had apparently been misplaced. Gwen got told to knock her "very bad behavior" off. It was embarrassing, and definitely not the kind of thing I'd usually have agreed to. The public-space hide and seek was fun, though.
On the third day of "yes", I told my kids I'd be thrilled to grab a bite at a restaurant and let them pick anything they wanted. I also planned to tell the aggressive charity workers who usually converge on town at this time of year that indeed, I really, really wanted to make a donation. But nope. Even though they were very much there and I passed them at least five times with a friendly smile on my face, they gave me a wide berth and didn't once ask me for a contribution.
We did run into a family we used to be friends with that we hadn't seen for a while at the restaurant. They invited us to join them at their table. Well yes, of course we wanted to! My conversation with the dad, who still ows me a considerable amount of money he'll never repay, was awkward, but I tried to keep it fun. Gwen discovered she no longer enjoyed hanging out with the daughter, her once close friend, though I did end up saying "yes" to buying them numerous air hockey tokens later that day.
On the fourth day of "yes", my daughter's language tutor got kind of "in your face" about the fact that Gwen skipped an assignment that involved working with larger numbers. She has dyscalculia, a learning disability that messes with numeric and math skills, so the task really stressed her out. The tutor misinterpreted this as laziness — despite the fact that she was already aware of the dyscalculia — and thought it was OK to lecture my daughter about how "not everything in life can be super fun all the time" and we also have to do "things we find a bit boring".
Gwen is a committed language learner who works hard, so the assumption fest made me angry. At this point, the "yes" challenge went out the window. I said "no" to the tutor — no, don't assign motivations to people before you try to understand. I did say "yes" to my daughter. Yes, she can work on her conversational skills even if she skips tasks that are difficult for her, and yes, we can find another tutor if this kind of issue continues to arise. But also "yes", we'll try to work things out before we get to that point.
Days five and six were boring. Nobody asked me for anything special and while Gwen said yes to helping me out with some extra chores, she didn't do them. Miles reported that he said "yes" to reading extra books and playing soccer with some neighborhood kids he usually avoids. He also tried the spicy curry Gwen requested and that I said "yes" to, but gave up after one mouthful.
By day seven, I was ready for this challenge to be over. Nothing much happened. I kind of lost focus and said "no" to things. I did agree that Miles could have a skateboard for his birthday, even though I'm a bit concerned that it will give him broken bones.
Here's what I learned from the 'yes' challenge.
I was honestly hoping for slightly more exciting experiences — and this challenge taught me, above all, that my life pretty boring right now. Even when I was very open to saying yes, nobody invited me to go skydiving or bungee jumping or get a random tattoo. Disappointing, even though I might not actually said "yes" to those things.
I'm going to continue to ask myself whether that automatic "no" could really be a "yes" now that this challenge has come to an end. Nope, I'm not going to be on board with shameful pranks or having dinner with people I don't enjoy, but I can certainly take five minutes to iron a shirt, help a coworker with proofreading, make a cake, or go jogging with a friend on a Wednesday afternoon. Yes, even if it's a little inconvenient or I'd rather be doing something else.