What will you focus on in 2022? Whatever your other plans and ambitions may be, one of them should be this: to be happier this coming year. The pandemic years of 2020 and 2021 have been tough, and just when things were starting to look better, the highly contagious Omicron variant appeared to interrupt our holiday plans, as Bill Gates tweeted yesterday.
With all this going on, and especially if you've lost a loved one, or a relationship, or a job this year, trying to be happy may be the last thing on your mind. It shouldn't be. For my book Career Self-Care coming out this summer, I interviewed Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and other bestsellers, who's studied the whole question of happiness more than anyone I know. She reminded me that even back in the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, "There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy."
He had a point because, as Rubin has noted, research shows that happy people are more responsible, more successful, and less likely to commit crimes. They maintain relationships better, are more likely to volunteer, and more likely to give to charity. In other words, if you're happy, you're probably both more successful and more liable to make the world a better place.
I hope I've convinced you that whatever your priorities are for 2022, your own happiness should be high on that list. How do you become happier? There are many, many answers to that question. For now, I'd like to focus on one way we don't often talk about: changing our daily lives and daily routines. Obviously, on any given day, most of us do things because we have to. We brush our teeth so we won't get cavities. We do our jobs so that we will get paid. We clean house at least a little, prepare or purchase meals, and so on.
Mixed in with all these obligations should be lots of things we do for pleasure, things that make us happy just by doing them, small joys that may be insignificant by themselves, but that in the aggregate can lift our spirits, help us function better, and ultimately make us happier. Here are some things that I believe fill that bill. I invite you to try them out, or to make a happiness list of your own.
1. Savor your favorite morning beverage.
Something like 80 percent of the world imbibes some form of caffeine every day. Maybe that's you, or maybe you prefer herbal tea or even just water. Whatever it is, that first drink of a hot (or cold) beverage each day is a small but definite pleasure for most of us. Take just a few moments and just be in the moment--don't rush through that small pleasure. Even if it's just for a few seconds, pause, sip, and ease yourself into the day. Of course, if you can take a few minutes to sit down and really enjoy your drink, that's even better.
2. Get outdoors.
Not all climates or all kinds of weather are conducive to spending time outside, but if you can spend a little time outdoors each day, try to do that. Getting outdoors, whether you're walking, running, biking, or just sitting on your own porch, is a small joy for most people. That can be true even if you only do it for a few minutes before going back inside out of the cold. Going outside literally widens our perspective, too, helping us take things more in stride. It works even better if you can visit a park or anyplace else where there's nature.
3. Talk with someone you care about.
Research shows that loneliness and isolation are so bad for you they can literally take years off your life. And that spending time with someone you care about, or at least communicating with someone you care about, is one of the most powerful methods there is for feeling better. So even if you live alone, or are so busy that you and the others in your household barely see each other, make sure to reach out to someone you care about at least once a day. It could be by text or phone or video chat or some other method. It doesn't have to be in person. But the more you can make a real connection, the more joy you may feel.
4. Take a nap.
Napping isn't for everyone. And a lengthy nap can leave you with sleep inertia, a.k.a. grogginess. But a brief nap of 10 to 30 minutes can improve your mental function, memory, and problem-solving ability as well as improve your mood. It's absolutely worth building in those few minutes of naptime into the day if you can.
5. Read a good book.
There's evidence that reading books provides an amazing host of health and brain benefits, including possibly increased longevity. That's a really good reason to do it. The important thing is to pick a book that may or may not be what others consider a good book. Pick something you yourself will enjoy reading. The kind of book you look forward to diving into and hate to set down. It might be a mystery novel, a romance, science fiction, true crime, or something entirely other. Whatever it is, make sure it brings you joy and if it doesn't, give yourself permission to set it aside and choose a different book.
Laughing is really good for you. So, every day, try to find something to at least make you chuckle. If you don't know of anything, ask your friends to send you funny YouTubes and jokes, or invest in a subscription to the Funny Times. Or try laughing yoga, in which people get together and just start laughing, until the strangeness of doing so catches up with them, and they start guffawing for real.
7. Spend a little time doing nothing.
All of us live super busy, overscheduled lives. But, increasingly, research tells us there are big benefits to being a little less busy and spending a little more time doing nothing, or at least nothing more productive than staring out a window. For one thing, even if it feels like you're doing nothing, your brain will leap into action, working out your most important problems and making connections in ways that it can't when you're busy doing something.
Maybe even more important, you need these do-nothing breaks to recharge your batteries, which is why people report increased clarity and productivity after such breaks. So find a way to be lazy that works for you and sink into the pleasure of inactivity, at least for a little while. It may make you more productive later on. Most important, you deserve it.