Happiness is relative, and fake positivity is harmful. Let’s start there. This is not a guide to how to achieve happiness, but instead a few steps I’ve taken in the last few years to keep my mental health in good shape. If these help do the same for you: wonderful!
Spend time outside. When I’m feeling off, it is often because I’ve been trapped inside for too long. Whether it is due to the heat, or other commitments, spending too much time indoors is bad for my wellbeing. With the weather cooling, we are taking longer dog walks, eating dinner on the patio, and this past weekend we had the chance to get away to Flagstaff. Sitting outside just to sit outside is such a pleasure. Listening to the birds and the wind, smelling bacon cooking first thing in the morning from other campsites, and seeing the array of stars come out in the dark night sky — all a true delight. Our lives are frantic with work and commitments; spending this bit of downtime enjoying nature is a great reset.
Read real books. I’ve never gotten on board with e-books. As an avid reader, I’m always lugging some book around and having someone say to me, “Haven’t you heard of the Kindle?” Of course e-books are more convenient, but like exercise: I’m all about finding the form that works for you. I love good old hard copy books, and even more so if they have that baked-in musty library smell. I also love audio books and am thankful to the Libby app. Time to sit and read (hey, even outside!) feels like a treat.
Side note: I need to sort through our books and do a little library/thrift dump. Even though we are both in the habit of passing off books once we’ve read them, they seem to show up faster than we can read and move along. My cookbooks, I swear, have been mating.
Check in with your senses. We went for a hike this weekend in the aspen groves on the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona. Walking below the towering trees, with their white bark and yellow leaves, felt magical because the air was sweet. It made me happy to see so many families out enjoying the trail, including two young Amish couples with their children.
Savor what you eat. This comes from a place of great privilege. Food isn’t so abundant for many that there is an option to “savor.” That said, getting in the habit of eating and drinking less, but making it the best quality can change the day. This doesn’t have to be an exercise in expense; we have a favorite local fast food bean burrito. The line is a bit longer at Señor Taco, but the food is worth it. I read once about how French women only eat three bites of dessert because by the fourth bite, you aren’t really taking in all the flavors anymore. You’re satiated, if you’ll listen to your hunger rather than your eyes. I think this is likely a bunch of nonsense, but I do appreciate really taking your time with food. Also, I’m terrible at this. Slowing down to enjoy each bite is a spiritual practice.
Write a note of thanks. I write a lot of thank you cards professionally and personally. It feels good to get mail. It’s nice to know you are appreciated. And it today’s digital world, I think most people are pleasantly surprised someone took the time to find paper, stamp, and time to send a note. I’ll also die on the hill that the happiest people are those who are the most grateful. They can always find something to be thankful for.
Prioritize sleep. If you know me, you know I live by this rule. I have always prioritized sleep because it makes me feel good. I think clearer. I can get more done during the day, and I do tasks with more precision and care. I’m nicer and more patient. I sleep 8-10 hours a night, 12 on vacation. I have zero shame in my sleep game.
Be vulnerable. This one is tough, but I do think my personal happiness is boosted when I can have frank conversations with others about vulnerable topics. Showing someone else what you are ashamed of, what you’re scared of, what you hold dear can be crippling. The same can be said for being able to say you’re sorry. Checking in with your emotions and being able to share these in a healthy way can only promote a happier life.
Celebrate your tribe. Check in with your close friends. Be there to celebrate their joys, even when they aren’t your joys. Tell people you love them when you have the chance.
That’s it. That’s my happiness list. What’s on yours?