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Byron’s Secrets to Happiness and Feeling Good

Secrets to Happiness and Feeling Good

Updated March 30, 2020

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. It sounds obvious, right? But it’s the advice that, if you lead a busy or stressful life, you need to actively remind yourself to do.
    • Eat regular meals. Your body learns to adapt to an eating schedule so you’ll feel healthier and more energized when you stick to it.
    • Drink enough WATER. It can be as powerful as drinking coffee! Drinking water has helped me get through times when I wasn’t able to sleep enough.
    • Eat fruit, vegetables and protein. Those are the ones we tend to forget.
    • Starting your day with protein and fat often gives steadier energy. This doesn’t work for everyone, but if you feel low energy in the morning, avoiding the sugar high and crash of carbs can help a lot. Another option that’s worked for me too, is eating a lot of fruit in the morning. Experiment and see what works. You’ll probably find it changes over time.
    • Track what you eat. If you’re experiencing low energy, try tracking what you eat and how you feel, and you might discover unusual trends. People react differently to different foods.
  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.
    • Stretch, meditate, read. This is my more opinionated version of the above point. Stretching or yoga with breath focus works really well. Meditation really helps to change your mind’s gears. Reading anything seems to work better than watching TV, but I’d recommend in particular comedy, or light-hearted books that you’ve read before. I’ve also found that audiobooks work well since you can turn off the lights and still enjoy them.
    • 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. It establishes a sense that the bed and bedroom are a place of comfort and relaxation rather than work and chaos. Some people also argue the benefits of starting your day with an easily completed task.
    • 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. I was never particularly fashion-obsessed, so it took me a while to learn the importance of this.
    • Buy new clothes. I realize this is a stereotypical tactic for women, but for those of us who aren’t fashion-obsessed, it can be easy to not realize your wardrobe could use a refresh. Wearing clothes you don’t like can affect your mood in ways you’re not aware of, whereas wearing new clothes that look and feel good can boost your happiness and self-confidence. It’s not exactly about the clothes, but about what self-care signals to you, and how the awareness that you look good affects your self-perception.
    • 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.
    • Book it or lose it. Make sure you actually book off time in your calendar, 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. If you don’t put it in your calendar, you’ll find reasons not to do it, and more importantly, it changes how you feel about it. You’ll feel less guilty about using time that you’ve booked off in your calendar than simply saying “I don’t feel like working now.”
    • Book hours AND days. You need to book hours for some things, but also entire days where you have big blocks of time to yourself. Look through your calendar: are there days booked off? If not, find a day and make up something to do on that day.
  6. Use a calendar. Speaking of booking off time, you do have a calendar, don’t you? I use an online calendar now, but for years I preferred a paper calendar because the act of writing things physically helped to orient me in time and improve my memory of what was coming up. I’ve found that for some people, such as artists, the physical calendar works best. But whether it’s an agenda book, a big calendar, an online calendar, or a PDA, make sure you keep track of your life. For agenda books, 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 calendar. This was my big discovery! 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’s amazing when you can glance at your week and see immediately exactly how much time you have available each day. 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. Some people recommend avoiding coffee in the morning when stress hormones are already high, and you should also avoid caffeine for 6 hours before you go to sleep, so that often means the early afternoon is best. But if you’re finding you’re very sleepy in the afternoon, maybe try eating a lower-carb meal with more protein and colourful vegetables.
  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 while also doing chores or working from home.
  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. Habits matter more than goals. The weakness of goals is that if you overestimate what you can do, or mess up, or get interrupted with life events, missing a goal just makes you feel bad. Timelines matter, but for most goals in life, it’s more important to set up habits that lead to goals, than to obsess over a specific timeline for accomplishing them.
    • Do establish timelines for goals, because it’s not a goal without a deadline. Deadlines help you realize what you need to do to achieve the goal, and when.
    • Plan and revise. Start with an estimate of when you think is reasonable to achieve your goal, and then work through planning out the timeline,  with multiple milestones rather than just one big finish. The more you plan, the more you’ll probably realize that your deadline is too optimistic.
    • Reduce scope. Both when planning and as you’re working towards your goal, you’ll often realize that you won’t make your milestones. The best thing is to revise your scope: that is, how much you aim to achieve by that milestone, rather than moving the milestone. Dig down and ask yourself: do I need to do all this? What’s the minimum amount of work and success that I’ll be happy about?
    • Next, establish habits. Figure out what you need to do every day to get to your goal. This is what really matters. If you miss a goal by the deadline, sometimes it can stop you from ever achieving that goal. But if you establish the right daily habits for getting there, the deadlines stop mattering so much because eventually you’ll make it.
  17. 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.