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Byron’s Secrets to Happiness and Feeling Good

Secrets to Happiness and Feeling Good

First published 11:26am PST, 4 Dec 2006

Over the years I’ve discovered a few secrets for maintaining happiness through stress and life’s challenges.

A lot of it is about remembering to do the things that you would normally do if you were already happy and relaxed. So here’s my checklist. If there’s even one thing on the list that you’re not doing, you could probably feel a lot better just by making that change!

  1. Eat. Well. Eat regular meals. Drink enough WATER. Eat fruit, vegetables and protein.
  2. Sleep. I think that we actually need less sleep than we think… BUT we also GET less sleep than we think we get. It varies from person to person, but if you go to sleep relaxed, and get a full seven hours of sleep every single night, waking up at the same time every morning, you’ll feel much more rested than if you get nine hours of sometimes interrupted sleep most days.
    • Relax before you go to sleep. Don’t do anything too stimulating before trying to go to sleep. If you watch an action movie or finish a report before turning in, change gears by doing something relaxing. Things like meditating, listening to calming music, reading poetry, stretching or doing yoga, help to prepare you for good sleep.
    • Wake up at the same time. Research suggests that since your brain prepares its sleep cycle based on when it’s used to waking up, by keeping your alarm set to the same time every day you’ll feel more rested than if you actually got more sleep but woke up at different times.
  3. Clean. Living in a messy environment can stress you out. While some people are more fastidious than others, messiness can be a vicious circle. Under stress, you stop paying attention to keeping things tidy. But when this persists, the messiness actually adds to the stress.
    • Make your bed – I never used to do this, but now I do religiously. It contributes enormously to my feeling of relaxation when I go to sleep.
    • Do the dishes – So that meal times are more relaxing. If you’re in a hurry to make something to eat and you’re running out of dishes, it makes it that much more stressful.
  4. Clothing. What you wear has an effect on how you feel.
    • Buy new clothes. Probably not a new idea for many women, I’ve found that making sure that I buy new clothing once in a while helps my sense of well-being.
    • Do your laundry. Don’t let yourself get stressed out by having nothing left to wear but your oldest shirt and least favourite pair of pants.
    • Prune your wardrobe. If there is clothing you really don’t like, get rid of it. Just having it around means either you’re still wearing clothing that makes you feel dorky, or you’re feeling guilty every time you see that pair of pants you bought and never wear. You’ll feel much better when you give them to charity and buy something you actually like.
  5. Take some “ME time” off. Make sure you book off time in your agenda, alongside your appointments and to-do lists, for relaxation and personal development. Time to read that book, play badminton, or go for a walk. Often this has a better effect on your productivity than if you spent the time working on a project.
  6. Use an agenda. Speaking of booking off time, you do have an agenda, don’t you? I prefer to use a paper agenda for most things, but whether it’s a big calendar, an online calendar, or a PDA, make sure you keep track of your life. I use a week-at-a-glance agenda because it’s not so much about remembering what time you have that meeting tomorrow, it’s about being able to glance at your week and see whether or not you can really afford to add anything to your obligations. And it’s about making sure you schedule in the fun things, too.
    • Use “chunking.” Chunking is allocating chunks of time to working on a specific project, or a group of related tasks. If you need to phone people, you might as well make all your phone calls in a row. And if you need to brainstorm names for your product’s new feature, make sure you prepare yourself at least an hour of uninterrupted time. Anyone who calls while you’re brainstorming… can be called back when you’re in phone mode.
    • Put everything in your agenda. Don’t omit the things you do every week because “you’ll never forget about those.” Having absolutely everything in your agenda enables you to have an immediate visual idea of how your time is allocated. It enables you to answer instantly to people who ask if there’s a time you can meet for coffee, or if you have time to update the web page next week.
  7. Do one thing on your To-Do list. This is especially useful if you’re working on a task or project that is proving more challenging than expected. You can combat frustration by doing an important but more straight-forward task from your To-Do list. The sense of accomplishment is worth Prozac.
  8. Talk to Family and friends. If you can, meet with your friends and family on a regular basis. If you’re far away from the people close to you, use the phone. Hearing a friendly, encouraging voice can do a lot for your stressful day. Along the same lines, surround yourself with friendly, supportive people. Try to spend as much time with the people who are really on your “team” as the people who “challenge” you and your ability not to commit justifiable homicide. Put reminders to talk to friends and family into your agenda; even schedule phone calls if you need to.
  9. Natural Drugs Many foods have great effects on our moods.
    • Orange juice – try drinking a glass in the morning: it gets your spirits up and wakes you up better than caffeine.
    • Black chocolate. In extreme cases of discouragement, black chocolate at least 70% strong can help raise your mood. It contains chemicals that can actually make you happier.
    • Caffeine. A cup of coffee will improve alertness. Just be aware that caffeine also disrupts your sleeping patterns, and will make you feel tired when the effects wear off.
  10. Sunlight. At times my work has kept me indoors for so much of the day, that I would go for days, even weeks hardly ever seeing the sun. After a week or more, I found that my mood would significantly darken and I’d lose energy. By incorporating walks outside into my daily routine, the sunlight and fresh air dramatically improved my concentration and energy levels.
  11. Sanctuary. Here I’m referring in particular to everything that makes your home a sanctuary, a place of peace. It can be moving the computer where you work into a separate office, instead of the bedroom or kitchen. It can be about keeping the place clean; it can be about buying furniture you like. It might just be about inviting great people into your home. The important thing is feeling that when you return home, you’re in a peaceful, comforting environment.
  12. Sabbath. The bible had it right: giving yourself a day of rest periodically is essential. I find it far more beneficial to have one day a week of COMPLETE rest, without any appointments, obligations or work, than to rest partially on both Saturday and Sunday.
  13. Breathe. When we’re stressed, we tend to breathe very shallowly. I’ve found that the effects of periodically doing deep breathing are phenomenal for relaxing and increasing energy.
  14. Exercise and meditation. The physical state of stress is just the body preparing for fight-or-flight that never comes. Exercising is a great way to burn off that nervous energy and relax the body, as well as get the circulation going. For some people, exercise itself functions as a form of meditation, improving focus and relaxing the mind. However I’ve found that using some form of meditation in the morning or at night before going to bed, has great benefits.
  15. Establish Goals, and Decide. The wrong destination makes even the most pleasant trip depressing. And it’s amazing how simply making strong decisions can be better than Prozac. Are you having trouble deciding between different options? Or are you wimping out on pursuing what you really want? Either way, making a clear decision to pursue an important goal will make you much happier.
  16. And finally… Go Easy On Yourself. Sure, success comes from having high standards, but it’s no surprise that when you’re too hard on yourself it has the opposite effect! Learn to forgive yourself for mistakes and imperfections. Focus on what you’ve already done well at, and how you’ll be able to improve in the future.

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  1. Byron,
    This is so helpful. It embodies many good points, even if simply reminders, which we all need.
    Also, you have great tips like ‘chunking’ time.
    And a paper agenda which used to be my working/ creative ‘bible’ and now the iPhone is, not as helpful.

  2. Also, I would love a poster on my wall of this, with a weekly agenda calendar to wipe off.
    This is the type of practical advise that people need, more so often than counselling.