I love reading about the science of happiness. Ever since I saw the TED talk by Shawn Achor or read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project I’ve loved the idea that happiness isn’t something you luck into by having a great life, it’s something you can create for yourself. Which is why my friend, you need a Happy List.
People tend to have a baseline level of happiness. Big life events (both good and bad) sometimes shift this level up or down for a couple of years, but generally, we revert back to our set point. I have always had a lower set point. This doesn’t mean I haven’t had a very good life. But I do have a tendency to get caught up in some anxiety or depression, which often presents itself as extreme exhaustion. It’s incredibly frustrating to know you have a good life and not be able to enjoy it. Fortunately, through research, trial, and error, I have found a few things that definitely have raised my set point.
But sometimes bad days still come. I’m not talking about full-blown depression, just about being in a funk. Especially during the long gray winters we get here in the NorthEast.
And when the blues last for more than a couple of days, I start to forget that it’s temporary and that there are things I can do about it. I have a built in forgetter on so many things. So I created a Happy List. This is a list of things I know for a fact improve my mood time and time again. They are generally not things I want to do in the moment. But I respect the scientific method enough to know that they produce results. Here are my favorites – some are pretty universal. Be sure to make up your own and put it somewhere you can find it. Because on a bad day, you won’t feel like looking.
My Happy List
1. Exercise – But just for ten minutes
I know. But sometimes we have to “Eat the Frog” aka, do worst part first. Getting my shoes on and getting out the door is often the hardest part of working out for me. I have to conquer the inertia of my comfy couch and candy crush. But by telling myself I only have to do ten minutes, it makes it much more doable. I am really aiming for 30-40 minutes, but I set a timer for ten minutes, and if I don’t want to continue, I can stop right there and call it a win. I think I’ve only stopped at that point around five times. But even if you do, getting your blood moving and clearing your mind a little bit helps.
2. Play with my son
I’m talking full on goofball, pretend I’m a dinosaur who likes tickle fights. Acting silly and hearing him laugh is an awesome pick me up and it’s great for bonding.
3. Go to a meeting.
Not something I always have time for, but when I do stop and MAKE the time, I am never sorry. I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of a meeting wishing I had stayed home instead. There is something about being in a room with people who say out loud, “Everything is not fine and perfect. I’m scared a lot of the time” in front of strangers. That’s where I think being a normie must get exhausting. Nobody has it all together, but outside those walls, we all pretend to.
4. Throw the ball for my dog.
Pets are magic. They don’t talk to us and love us no matter what. Now granted my dog will usually run right past the ball because he’s got ADD and forgets what he was doing, but just seeing the joy on his face and his silly galumphing around with excitement is a good pick me up. (Plus, again it gets me off the couch and some fresh air in my lungs.)
This is less about a quick fix and more about a long term survival strategy. Yes, it can be a bit boring, but I’d rather be bored for ten minutes and happy the rest of the time. My brain resents the very idea that it needs a break. Like an overtired toddler, it doesn’t wanna. It tells me, “We don’t have time for this!” “But there’s this thing! This thing I need to worry ab- ahem… figure out!” Again, ten minutes. That’s it. Guided meditations are really helpful. I like headspace but there are tons out there.
6. Call or text a friend and ask them how it’s going.
Keep the conversation totally about them, whether it’s good or bad. Cheer them on. If they have a problem, listen. Don’t try to solve it.
7. Send someone a thank you email or text
I got this from the TED talk I mention at the top. Before you start your day, send someone a two or three line email thanking them for something. It doesn’t have to be flowery. Just a “Hey, that call we had the other day was awesome. It’s always so great to talk to you. ” Or, “Just wanted to let you know, I loved what you had to say at that meeting the other day. Thanks for bringing it up.”
Preferably with someone you know and like. Because, well, duh it’s fun, but it’s also good for your brain chemistry, immunity, and oh yeah, your relationship. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our various screens and gadgets, it’s good for us to take a time out and just be human and focused only on each other.
9. Take a shower/bath
Something about being clean and smelling good always helps my mood a little. Some people swear by finishing with a blast of cold water but I’m too much of a wimp. Yes, it got my heart racing and woke me up, but so would being tasered. So as with this whole list, you choose what’s right for you.
10. To Be Continued
This is a tough one but also the most effective. That said, it requires a little explaining so I will cover it in my next post. (I know, I’m a stinker.) But there is plenty here to get started with, to gear you up for next weeks happiness challenge.
My guess is that you already know what things should be on your own happy list. Gratitude, meditation, exercise and getting outside are cliches for a reason. Because they work. I know sometimes I want to binge-watch Netflix and eat peanut M&Ms and call it self-care. And sometimes it is. I have been known to schedule a day to do just that. But I also know I am going to feel like crap the next day. The items on this list are the things that make my life better. When I do one or two of these things, it helps me feel glad to be alive – good in my body and loved in my relationships. And that’s the point, isn’t it? We can’t be happy all the time, nor should we expect to be. But we can maximize it by authoring our own users manual. And when you need troubleshooting, turn to your happy list.
What’s on your happy list? Tell me in the comments.