5 Everyday Happiness Hacks
Here's a weird realization I've had lately:
Happiness seems to be underrated.
I know that sounds weird. Everyone's goal is to be happy, right?
I'm not so sure!?!? I've been trying to be more present/aware in recent days, and I've noticed something. Everywhere I look, someone complaining about something. In the elevator. In the Starbucks line. In my social media feed. In my personal life. My chats on Messages.
And in full disclosure, sometimes that person is me. I've been a whiny b*tch the past few weeks, guys, letting myself get into a serious funk and then staying there.
My theory: unhappiness is a habit. We fall into the routine of it, and it's damn hard to get out once it becomes our default because unhappy/stressed feels normal.
The good news? It's really easy to change around--to choose happiness instead of blah.
Here are some tricks I've found that lead to a happier day, and thus a happier life!
(1) Make your bed
To be perfectly honest, and probably a little bit annoying, I didn’t realize until recently that some people didn’t make their bed every day. I’ve made my bed every single day for so long, I can’t even remember the last time I didn't. I even make it in hotel rooms, before housekeeping gets there.
Anecdotal discussions with friends, plus good old internet research tells me this isn’t necessarily the norm.
Now before you write me off as an anal neat freak, hear me out … it’s not about tidiness. Sure, it feels better to get into a crisply made bed at the end of the day rather than a rumbled un-made one, but that satisfaction lasts for about 2 seconds. And yes, it looks better to have made your bed, but really, how much time do any of us spend in our bedroom during non-waking hours to even notice anyway.
So it's not about the made bed, it’s about the process of making it—or rather, the decision to. Making your bed, says “I’m in control of this day,” instead of “this day controls me.” It starts your day on the right note. It’s subtle and probably sounds woo-woo, but taking that brief moment to yourself to make your bed is your first accomplishment of the day and sets the tone for other accomplishments.
Don’t believe me? Read this. Or, I can save you the hassle and summarize:
71 percent of bed makers say they are happy, while 62 percent of non-bed makers consider themselves unhappy.
PS: Before you roll your eyes because you’re just TOO BUSY and have an infant, or four kids, or a demanding job, I’ve been timing myself making the bed for the past week, and it takes … less than 30 seconds. And that’s including the time it takes me to walk around the king bed to make my husband’s side of the bed. You’ve got 30 seconds to spare. I know you do.
(2) Write a to do list … with only one item
For the past couple years, I’ve been a huge proponent of “the top 3.” Meaning, I look at my master to-do list (often has dozens of items of stuff to do SOME DAY).
I pick the “Top 3” for that day, and ignore all the rest until the Top 3 get done.
This ensures I’m getting the most important things done first. Otherwise, I know I have a tendency to tackle the easy things rather than the important things, just for the satisfaction of checking things off. I'm making progress, sure, but in the wrong direction.
For the past month, I’ve been taking this approach to the next level. Every morning, I look at my task list and pick ONE THING that I’m going to accomplish for the day, and write it in my planner.
That’s it. Just ONE THING. Instead of being a to do item, it's a must do. The only one.
Usually it’s writing / wordcount related, since, as an author, that’s generally my most important (and most tempting to avoid) task. Other times it’ll be a home/life task I’ve been putting off, a pesky business dilemma to deal with, or even a “self-care” item for when I’ve been working myself too hard and my ONE THING needs to be break-related.
Having just one thing to get done decreases my stress for the day, and since I can always manage to check off a single task, it means that I always go to bed feeling productive rather than beating myself up for not doing “all the things.” You can always achieve your goal—an instant happiness boost.
And though sometimes that ONE THING is the only thing I’ll accomplish all day, more often than not, it snowballs into other tasks. The satisfaction of checking off the ONE THING inspires me to see what else from my TO DO lis than get checked off for the day!
(3) Write a gratitude list
Even though it gets hailed everywhere a keystone to happiness, I resisted the whole “gratitude practice” for a long time. It tends to get paired with prayer/spirituality language, and as a decidedly non-religious person, this never resonated with me.
Tony Robbins changed my mind on this. He, like so many other self-help gurus, suggests a daily gratitude routine, but his examples made me realize that the gratitude practice didn’t have to necessarily go hand in hand with mediation/prayer/scripture/inspirational quotes. It can be so much simpler than that.
Here’s how I do it … when I sit down to plan my day in the morning, I write down 3 things that I’m grateful for. I don’t get weird and deep about it. For example, one of today's entries said “Fritos.” As in, I’m grateful for Fritos, THE CHIPS, and how much I love their salty goodness.
Other times it’s “early morning coffee date with hub,” or “my cozy bed.”
I know a lot of people do their gratitude list at the end of the day, but I prefer to write the list in the morning, because it gets my mind right for the rest of the day—when I start the day by focusing on the positives, I find that I tend to put a positive spin on everything else that comes my way!
(4) Limit your social media time
I feel like a broken record with this one, but those of you who’ve been following me since the beginning know that I'm wary of social media. I quit Facebook years ago (for personal use, I still have my official page), and it was an instant boost to my happiness. I really can’t put into words what a difference it made in my life.
You probably never think of your Facebook feed as being negative, but next time you’re on, pay attention to the updates in your feed, and think about how they make you feel. That person whining about their latest customer service experience. The one who’s waiting in their doctor’s office, and annoyed about it. The overwhelmed mom who’s frustrated with her kids’ school policies. Harmless? Maybe. Maybe they just need to get something off their chest, but it’s also the exact opposite of the gratitude list above. Instead of filling yourself with positive vibes, you’re inhaling negative ones, even if they’re subtle/joking/casual.
And now you’re like, “Whatever, my feed’s not like that, MY friends are positive/happy/fabulous.” And that can be great, but it can also have a whole other kind of side effect. There's a very real FOMO (Fear of missing out) phenomenon that happens on social media; that pervasive sense that your life isn’t as great as other people’s.
I’m not saying you have to quit social media altogether. Hell, I'm very aware that many of you probably found this blog post through social media! It has its uses. It can be wonderful. I still post to my Facebook page, I check in with my group occasionally. I force myself to do 15 minutes of Twitter time every week, and I genuinely love Instagram.
What I'm suggesting that if you’re feeling less than wonderfully happy, you might want to consider decreasing your social media time--it really made a difference for me! And numerous studies have shown a correlation between unhappiness and large amounts of time on FB. This one from Harvard Business Review is especially interesting.
And yes, I imagine there are counter studies finding the opposite: that engaging on social media can make you more happy, and for you that may be true, for you.
I can only provide my own experience, and that recently, I went through a “rough patch,” where I was unmotivated, discouraged, uninspired, and yes … unhappy. After some self-reflection, I tried to figure out what changed …
I’d gone back on Facebook. As a “personal profile,” not just as an official page, and it felt ... noisy.
I forced myself not to log in for a week, and guess what … my happiness went up. WAY up. Hmm.
(5) Smile … even if you don’t feel like it
Even after I’ve made my bed, written my gratitude list, accomplished my one thing, I’m not always happy. I get stressed, frustrated, angry, anxious from time to time. Whenever one of the icky-feelings comes upon me … I smile. It’s the last thing I want to do. I don’t feel like smiling. But I force it. As in, I fake smile, forcing the corner of my mouth upwards, teeth showing in an all-out grin.
It feels weird as heck, but here’s the trick: it’s really hard to have a negative/anxious thought when you’re smiling. I hold the smile until the bad thought goes away, and honestly? It doesn’t take long. Just a few seconds of it, and whatever I was on the verge of getting all worked up about, I'm no longer even thinking about it.
I used to suffer from pretty bad anxiety, but since learning the “smile trick,” I can nip anxiety in the bud before it blooms into full on panic.