“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver
Well, since you asked, Mary Oliver, I’ll tell you that I’d like to live a life of truly magnificent adventure. A novel worthy expedition with excitement, romance, and inspiration at every turn, and one that sets my heart aglow with the sheer joy of what it means to be human.
In the mean time, however — and in the in-between time — I think I’d just like to be happy. Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of how easy it is to get caught up on the major plot points of life; the promotions, the proposals, the grand gestures, and the even grander celebrations!
Yes, indeed, I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say destination addiction is a very real affliction, and one that all too often results in a tendency to overlook the smaller moments of day-to-day happiness.
In an effort to balance this propensity to look ahead to one’s future with longing eyes, and a wishful mind, I have made a conscious effort, as of late, to create little pockets of happiness for myself — small actions that boost overall positivity, and ones, that when turned to habit, can significantly impact overall life satisfaction. I hope you find some of them helpful!
Here are 12 ways to make your day (almost) instantly better:
1. Drink a glass of water
Go on, go and get that glass of water — down the hatch it goes. If we’re going to be doing this the right way then it’s paramount that we start off with proper hydration.
It’s nothing you haven’t already heard before, but drinking water helps to combat fatigue, electrolyte imbalance, headaches, as well as a general bad mood, or frame of mind. Give yourself the best chance of having a great day by kicking up your water intake by a few notches. Cheers to that!
2. Express gratitude tangibly
Science suggests that it’s impossible to simultaneously experience anxiety and gratitude. In other words, when our brains consciously process and choose to focus on the things we are grateful for, our stressors subsequently become minimized in their capacity to control us. It’s very hard to wallow in self-pity or spend time worrying about things out of our control, when we take time to reflect on how lucky we are to have the life we do.
In order to ramp up the positive effects gratitude can have on your present mood/day/life, take a moment, to express it tangibly (i.e. in a way you can look back on) to another person.
Text your friend, call your mother, thank your boss, bake something for your neighbor (or show up with some beer if that’s more your style)! Always be grateful for the things you have, and you’ll forget to think twice about the things you don’t.
3. Stretch or move your body
I was watching a Ted Talk the other day that emphasized the importance of ‘getting into’ your body each and every day. The notion that we must wiggle our toes, bend our bodies, and stretch our legs once a day seemed to resonate with me.
All too often we spend time in our heads, going about our day in a ‘think-y’ state of interaction and reaction. As peculiar as it may sound, reminding ourselves that our bodies come with physical features — and ones that require being moved fairly often — boasts a wealth of benefits pertaining both to an immediate happiness boost due to the release of endorphins, as well as increased life satisfaction in the long-term.
Walk, run, skip, dance, climb, reach, bend, stretch, MOVE!
4. Eat a piece of ripe, brightly coloured, juicy fruit
Interestingly enough, the colour of fruits and vegetables often directly pertain to the level of antioxidants they contain. This means when faced with deciding between a red and green apple, or a white or purple onion, perhaps, — preference and particular recipe requirements aside — you should opt for the more colourful of the two (the red apple, and purple onion, that is).
Further to this, research shows that individuals who consume more fruit on a daily basis, not only experience a lower risk of disease and mortality in the long-term, but also experience an increase in life satisfaction, happiness, and overall well-being, as far more of an immediate side-effect than one might think!
There’s a reason mother nature created one of the healthiest foods on the planet to exist in a range of vibrant hues, from blood orange to beet red, with the additional quality of tasting sweet. Find some fruit you know you like, or better yet, try a new one and thank me later!
5. Make a list of 5 things you’re proud of yourself for
There might be dozens of hopes you have for the future, and a millions things on your to-do list, but it’s vital to take the time to appreciate how far you’ve already come.
We all have a tendency, from time to time, to be far too harsh on ourselves, failing, in the process, to acknowledge that life itself can be rather tough. Jot down a quick 5-item list of the things you can be proud of yourself for, and reflect on the feeling of accomplishment and contentment.
Here’s mine (and it’s important you include the ‘im proud’ part):
- I’m proud of myself for learning how to cook a greater variety of nutritious meals this year
- I’m proud of myself for having the courage to move to a city by myself, at 17 years old
- I’m proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone this past month
- I’m proud of myself for being more organized academically, as well as around the house
- I’m proud of myself for being able to see the bigger picture when addressing a difference of opinion with certain family members
Now, it’s your turn!
6. Sit in the sunshine, or go for a walk
Not only sitting in the sunshine feel good to the outside of our body, but it actually encourages mood elevation and re-energization of the inside of our body and brains by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Individuals with higher levels of serotonin are shown to experience better moods day-to-day, a lower risk of anxiety and depression, as well as general feelings of calmness and joy.
Research examining the effects of sun exposure on serotonin levels found that no matter how hot or cold the weather was, people had higher levels of serotonin flowing in their brain on sunny days versus cloudy ones. One Australian study that measured levels of brain chemicals flowing directly out of the brain found that people had higher serotonin levels on bright sunny days than on cloudy ones.
By taking a 15 minute walk outside, or sitting your butt down on a sunny patch of grass, you’ll not only be increasing your serotonin levels, but also ensuring you get enough vitamin D — a nutrient that science says also plays a role in mood regulation.
7. Revisit something that makes you really laugh
This could mean re-reading a chapter in a favourite book, watching a youtube video (fail compilations always do the trick for me), listening to a segment of stand up on the radio, or even just re-hashing an embarrassing moment with an old friend.
You don’t have to get uber-creative and think way outside the box to find a little piece of happiness in your day. In fact, often relying on the tried and trusted methods of lifting our mood will feel just as good as it did the first time. We have favourites for a reason people — don’t forget it! You know you best, so go forth, and find something to make you giggle.
8. Compliment a stranger (or ten)
Now, if the idea of having to compliment complete strangers freaks you, then worry not, you can always start out by complimenting a colleague, family member, or close friend.
The trick is to pay attention to yourself when you notice something you like about them. Are they wearing something particularly eye-catching today? Did you find something they said earlier really insightful or hilarious? Maybe even both! Make a point of mentally appreciating them, and then go the one step further in sharing it with them — it matters far less what it is you choose to compliment these strangers on, and far more that you took a moment to gift these people with a happy dose of words of affirmation.
I’m a firm believer in what goes around comes around, and you should never underestimate the positive power in brightening someone else’s day: an instant dose of happiness, or your money back — guaranteed!
9. Plan something fun and out of the ordinary
Having something — anything — to look forward to in the near future will immediately provide a sense of satisfaction and excitement for what’s to come. This could be as simple as scheduling some time before a busy work day to enjoy a drink at the fancy tea place you always wanted to try, or maybe deciding to re-arrange and re-decorate the living room.
It could also mean something even more thrilling, like planning a spontaneous trip to New Orleans with your best friend (because why not? — life is too short!), or committing to going speed-dating once a month to expand your social circle, or get better at conversing with strangers. Maybe that all sounds like a nightmare to you, but the point is: plan something that gets your heart beating a little faster, and relish in the anticipation of looking forward to it.
10. Listen to a song that always makes you want to dance
It might just be me who feels this way, though, I sincerely hope not. I’m talking about those songs your listen to — whether its walking down the street, or driving in a car — that are just so damn punchy and energetic, that you can’t help but want to dance, or skip, or sing.
Well, I’m giving you permission (not that you asked for it) to fully embrace the ridiculousness of dancing in a public space, and to feel completely amazing while doing so! Trust me when I say that anyone watching will only be envious of your joy — they’ll want exactly what you’re having, and more.
Some current personal favourites to publicly embarrass myself to include:
Comeback Kid by Brett Dennen, Electric Feel by MGMT, In the Arms of a Stranger by Mike Posner, To Noise Making by Hozier, and Double Negative by Dominic Fike.
11. Sit consciously for x amount of minutes
Now, I don’t personally practice meditation, or perhaps I just refer to it as something else, but there is definitely something to be said for taking the time to consciously reflect on the present moment.
Sit somewhere cozy, or have a lay down, and just exist as one with the feelings of happiness and personal fulfilment that arise. Take yourself somewhere peaceful mentally, and do this until you get bored. Nothing magical will happen (at least it doesn’t for me), but I find that I never regret the time I spend having a moment to myself, away from the treacherous grasp of technology and media, just thinking about things.
Introspection is a powerful tool, and there is no doubt it helps to foster happiness when used correctly.
12. Make a check list and complete it
Copy and paste these 12 items into your Notes app and check them off as you go. The physical act of organizing your accomplishments in this visually satisfying way will lend itself to an immediate sense of gratification.
- 1. Drink a glass of water
- 2. Express gratitude tangibly
- 3. Stretch or move your body
- 4. Eat a piece of fruit
- 5. Make a list of 5 things you’re proud of yourself for
- 6. Sit in the sunshine, or go for a walk
- 7. Revisit something that makes you really laugh
- 8. Compliment a stranger
- 9. Plan something fun and out of the ordinary
- 10. Listen to a song that always makes you want to dance
- 11. Sit consciously for x amount of minutes
- 12. Complete checklist
Feel any happier? Me too.
Alexandra Walker-Jones — September 2020