- Give the gift of time to things you care about. It’s easy to click a link to “like” someone’s statement on Facebook, become a fan of a page endorsing a political position, or hit the retweet button on Twitter. It’s more difficult to haul yourself down to City Hall to testify or show up for thankless committee meetings for a fundraiser to help feed people. Your effort input provides one of the multipliers in the psychic reward calculation: More in means more out. If you’re motivated by payback in the form of a paycheck, consider that you might end up connecting with a job working on whatever it is you care about through establishment of a reputation as a hard-working volunteer.
- Choose to be amused. Life is full of warts, wrinkles and speed bumps, any one of which can trigger grumping and growling. Or it can trigger a wry smile, a shrug, and an “Oh well, things happen.” Entirely up to you. Laughing is a whole lot more fun than sobbing any day of the week.
- Eat vegetarian. You may not want to become a vegetarian the way I did several years ago, but by making room on your plate for more plant fiber and less muscle fiber, you’ll lose weight (if you don’t go crazy on the cheese sauce), lower your fat intake, cholesterol and blood pressure, decrease the size of your carbon footprint, and discover amazing new taste sensations. Your mom will be proud, too.
- While you’re at it, eat real food. I already blogged about this, inspired by Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. If you’re eating meat, buy it from someone you can look in the eye and get meat that doesn’t give you a dose of antibiotics and growth hormones. Shop the outside edge of the grocery store and you’ll cut down (way down) on cost, sodium, weird chemical-ly additives you can’t pronounce and don’t understand, and packaging waste that you pay to have hauled away from your house.
- Ride a bike. Regain the feeling of freedom you had as a kid, when those two wheels meant you could get somewhere under your own power instead of waiting around for an adult with car keys. Even if you don’t make it your primary form of transportation, you’ll probably be amazed to learn how many destinations lie within a mile or two of your home if you live anywhere in or near a town. (If you live in the ‘burbs you might have to go a little farther to find a destination—that’s a choice you made. But little coffee shops and your local library might well make a pleasant loop on a Saturday afternoon.) Sure, you can walk—I’m all for walking—but if you’re the impatient type you’ll appreciate how much farther and faster you can go on a bike.
- Schedule time with friends. That’s right, I said “schedule.” If you leave it to chance your calendar will fill up. So don’t leave it to chance. I had the incredibly sad experience recently of losing a dear friend who was far too young. I literally had her name on a list in my Outlook Tasks (yes, I’m serious) labeled “Set coffee or lunch” because I hadn’t seen her in a while. I was too late. She was inspiration for a girlfriend group I started up years ago that’s still going strong and so many of them have said how much they like having a regular time on the calendar to sit and talk. Make a commitment.
- You love people. Tell them. We tend to reserve “I love you” for our romantic attachments. If you’re like me, there are special people in your life you love for all the gifts they’ve given you: understanding, a sympathetic ear, advice that grounds you in who you are, side-splitting gut-busting laughter, late-night discussions over a glass of something nice. Yes, it took the death of a friend to remind me of how short life is. Don’t pass on chances to tell people you care about how deeply you appreciate having them in your life.
- Sing even if you’re lousy. I’m betting it’s been a while since you sang just because you felt like it. Don’t be shy. Unless you’re regular in attendance at some sort of religious service or you get paid for your awesome pipes, you probably have few occasions to sing. Some people sing along with a radio or iPod—that totally counts since I can never remember all the lyrics to songs I think I know. I live with two daughters who have beautiful voices that leave me in awe when they sing. They did not get this ability from me. Nonetheless I sing (granted, sometimes with apologies for my unplanned key changes).
- Slow down. If you’re eating something delicious don’t fork it in as fast as possible. You’ll get more flavor sensations if you stop between bites. If you’re driving, time the difference in one of your usual trips between driving over the speed limit (you know you do it) and observing the speed limit all the way there. Bet you’re not cutting as many minutes off as you think you are. If you’re reading an amazing book (I’m really guilty of devouring books rapidly), stop a minute to reflect on how the author managed to create such vivid scenes. If you’re about to send an angry email—this one’s a biggie—stop, reread it, and think about how you’d feel if you were the recipient instead of the sender. Savor the flavor.
- Smile. At people you don’t know, neighbors out in their yards, the guy who holds the door for you on your way into the store, the person behind the customer service counter who’s going to sort out this whole gnarly warranty mess you’re holding. Smile when you’re on the phone—it makes a difference in your voice. I already said you can choose your response to life's hiccups, but this is about the physical act of smiling. It appears that our brains actually "listen" to our bodies to develop our mood and emotion, so smiling when you’re not cheerful will help you cheer up. (Seriously—there’s research on this.)
- Be kind. As I've said before, this is a lesson I learned from my mother. There is too little kindness in the world. Add to the supply.
- (Bonus item!) Create your own version of “what I did on my summer vacation” that does not involve electronic communication. Do it. I took a long blogging hiatus last year. The list of things I did instead of hanging out excessively online reflects my idea of the good life. You have your own. Live it.
Yet another 11 little secrets
Read this post by Christopher Penn (@cspenn) and this post by Olivier Blanchard (@thebrandbuilder), then come back. With one exception noted below, these are right in line with what I do to feel happier and healthier. In fact, they were so good it was hard to come up with 11 new points here….