It’s wild but true: we already know how to have great lives. Most of us know all the tips and tricks to lead a fulfilling, joyous existence and we just ignore them.
Think of this article as a self-help palate cleanser. There’s nothing surprising, weird, or unachievable on this list. You don’t need another bizarre productivity hack. You don’t need to achieve perfect mindfulness. You don’t need to find that perfect job that will give you riches and ideal satisfaction.
You’ve probably heard of most of these rules. But for whatever reason, most people ignore them. So, this is your friendly reminder to drink water — both literally and metaphorically.
1. Eat lunch away from your desk.
I’m not the first person to suggest this by far, but it’s surprising how often I have to repeat it to myself. Getting away from work to eat is a really nice break and can make you happier and more productive.
When you leave your desk to eat, you increase your enjoyment of the food you eat. You move around a bit, which feels nice and has health benefits. You give your brain and eyes a break from staring at a screen.
Maybe you’re staying because you really think that extra 20 minutes of work makes you more productive. Maybe you think it’ll make your boss take you more seriously. Maybe you like to browse Twitter when you eat lunch. Whatever the reason, recognize that you’ll be happier, healthier, and more productive if you leave. (And if you need to hear it from someone other than me, there’s a Wired article all about it that quotes researchers on the myriad benefits.)
2. Call your mom.
Replace “mom” with any person that you love and yet whom you neglect calling. For me, it’s my mom. I knew my mom was always there for me, so I never used to prioritize time with her. When I got my head out of my butt and started picking up the phone, I was happier. It’s that simple.
We have a tendency to take the people closest to us for granted and research from the University of Berkeley tells us we undervalue the bonding and enjoyment benefits we get from hearing other people’s voices.
Stop doing that, take stock of the wonderful network you have, and make an effort to reach out. Pick up the phone right now and call that person you’ve been meaning to chat with. You’ll be surprised how nice it is to catch up.
3. Drink more water
I warned you I’d tell you to hydrate, didn’t I? While you won’t fix all life’s problems with some H20, most people don’t drink enough even though 80% of Americans believe they don’t drink enough water.
This is such a basic recommendation and yet it’s so frequently ignored that the CDC has a whole webpage dedicated to the benefits of hydration. It lubricates your joints, helps you digest, literally detoxes you, and helps you regulate your temperature.
Buy a water bottle, invest in flavored water, or just down a pint every morning. Water helps.
4. Do something you love — for yourself.
In our late-stage capitalistic existence, we are motivated to turn everything we have to profit, whether it’s a talent, a joy, or just some spare time. But when you attach a price tag to something, it ironically loses value.
I love writing, but it’s not a self-care thing for me anymore because it’s my business. I can’t write articles like this just for myself because I’m excruciatingly aware that I have an audience who pays my bills. To find that joy, I have to find other non-profitable creative outlets like painting. I suck at it, so they’ll never be sold, but I love it.
Doing stuff just for fun reduces stress, according to science. You did not hear it here first, but you probably need reminding.
5. Seriously, get off Twitter.
Surprising nobody, researchers found that social media makes people angry. Turns out talking to avatars instead of people makes you less likely to see them as… people. That, combined with Twitter’s horrible penchant for incentivizing dunk tweets (which share horrible, enraging tweets just for the sake of “dunking” or mocking them) makes social media a nasty place to be.
Anger is the most present emotion on social media. If you want to be less angry, spend less time there.
6. Move around.
You don’t have to run a 10k every morning, but getting up and moving around will make you feel better in body and mind.
“When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid — these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress and even less physical pain,” health psychologist Dr. Kelly McGonigal says to CNET.
Exercise is fraught with rampant fatphobia and ableism (read Genevieve Richardson’s excellent post on the subject for more information), so I want to be crystal clear: I’m not talking about doing half an hour of circuits, or specifically losing weight, or “just going for a run” if you’re depressed.
Walk if you can, roll your wrists, move away from your desk — any kind of movement within your limits can help make you feel better.
7. Learn how to deal with your emotions.
This one isn’t so prevalent in self-help writing as it is in preschool, but it’s worth saying again: you’ll be happier if you learn to deal with your emotions.
From Very Well Family, a parenting website, comes the following sage advice: “Kids need to learn that just because they feel angry doesn’t mean they can hit someone…Often, kids don’t know what to do when they feel sad so they become aggressive or exhibit attention-seeking behaviors.”
This is true of a lot of people I know, even as adults! Learning to deal with your emotions in a healthy way — journaling, going to therapy, or just taking ownership of your emotions — will make you a happier, more well-adjusted adult.
I’ll finish this section with another absolute gem of wisdom from Very Well Family: “When you catch [your child] moping, for example, try saying, ‘I think moping around today may make you stay stuck in a bad mood. I wonder what you could do to help your mood?’”
8. Help other people.
It’s been said so often that it’s going to sound trite as I type it now: helping other people is a great way to feel better. TIME magazine goes so far as to call helping others “the secret of happiness.”
Well, it’s a secret no more: find something you care about and find a way to contribute. If you’re like me and leery of donating to bigger organizations that have a bad reputation of really messing up, like the Red Cross, find smaller ones. Every month, I donate $20 to a charity that gives phone credit to refugees. I know it’s not world-changing, but it feels incredible to be part of something and to make a small difference.
It can be big. It can be small. It can be money, time, or organizational resources. Just know that helping other people is a “powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness,” according to TIME magazine contributor Jenny Santi.
9. Clean your room.
When I was fifteen, I decided I had a creative brain which meant I was happier in untidy environments. Then my mom forced me to clean my room and I discovered, like literally everyone else, that I’m happier in tidier, cleaner environments.
Research from Princeton found that tidiness improves productivity; Big Clean sponsored a survey and found that basically, people were happier in cleaner rooms. Quelle surprise!
It’ll take less time than you think and it’ll make you happier. Make the effort to get your room, desk, kitchen, etc, in order and looking tidy.
10. Be grateful for what you have.
Another classic from the self-help genre: practice gratitude! But seriously, you should. Humans have a nifty survival mechanism called psychological homeostasis: we get used to our circumstances very quickly. This means a heartbreak won’t kill us, but it also means that promotion won’t make us happy for long.
Ancient gratitude research (from 2003!) suggests that happiness can come as easily as counting your blessings instead of your burdens.
To keep your sense of perspective, literally say thanks. Remember you have a lot of really cool stuff in your life: friends, family, life, a cute teacup, the opportunity to read self-help articles on the internet. We’re all fortunate for some reason or another.
11. Try new things.
I’ll finish off this list of classic advice by suggesting you try something new. (To clarify, the advice to try something new is old. But it’s still ignored and highly relevant.)
At this point, you’ve probably seen 100 iterations of this suggestion from 100 different experts, but I’ll give you one more: Psychologist Rich Walker of Winston-Salem State University found that people who engage in a variety of experiences are more likely to retain positive emotions and minimize negative ones than people who have fewer experiences.
We are creatures of habit and resent trying new things, but the faster you stop ignoring this advice, the faster you’ll be happier.
This is a simple list with oft-repeated advice, but so often the simplest advice is the best. These 11 unpopular rules will grant you a happier, more fulfilling life. All you have to do is follow them.
Zulie Rane is a reader and a writer who believes in the power to change the world through the written word. You can find her writing on ZulieRane.com, posting selfies and art on Instagram at @zulierane and tweeting bad puns on Twitter at @zulierane.
Image courtesy of Stephan Seeber.