There has been a lot of talk about depression, suicide, and mental health over the last couple weeks after Robin Williams’ untimely death. It’s been depressing. Not to mention all the other bad news happening around the world.
So as I was driving from the airport yesterday to the club I’m playing this weekend, I was thinking about ways that I stay happy. And I was thinking about them because I was in a bad mood. I was trying to figure out why and how to get out of it in time for the evening’s show.
And that led me to some ideas that I think can benefit everyone. It’s no substitute for true mental help (of the shrinky or medicinal kind) if that’s what you really need. But I think a lot of regular people sabotage themselves a bit too and that has a big effect on everything else you’re doing.
You’ll notice a couple of things about these tips. A lot of them have to do with what you do first thing in the morning. How you start your day has a huge effect on how the rest of the day goes.
Also, none of this has to do with money. The healthiest mindset is to be appreciative of what you have, but always working to be more. Not HAVE more. BE more. When you can BE more, you don’t rely so much on the HAVE.
My friend Myles Weber also wrote a post, more specifically for comedians, about how to stay happy in the face of a career that seems bent on beating you down regularly. Worth a read for everyone though. Check it out here.
So, without further ado, here are my 8 tips for being happier.
1. Stop watching the news, especially in the morning.
Starting the day with who’s bombing who and which whoever is committing what crime is no way to start your day. The news is depressing. Yes, that includes NPR. The local evening news is just as bad. Plus you probably already heard about everything else online earlier that day. Watch something else.
That’s not to say you need to be uninformed. I generally know most of what’s going on in the world with a quick scan of Google News and Twitter Trends over lunch. By that time, I can take in a little badness without it affecting my state of mind for the rest of the day. And it takes way less time. Read the headlines, read deeper if it’s really something that interests or affects you, make your snarky comments on Facebook, and move on with your day.
2. Find something to do that contributes to the world rather than just consumes.
I follow a ton of people on Twitter and their bios are very educational. Many people talk about what they add to the world, whether that be music, film, paintings, volunteer work, computer code, a great service, blogs, podcasts, whatever.
Other bios simply describe what TV shows, brands, video games, and bands they like. Or they just love to shop. Or their only goal is to make more money. All consumption, no creation. Of course everyone does both. I watch comedy and get inspired to write comedy. I have a whole playlist of songs that inspire me to write songs. But that’s the point. Consumption that inspires creation also creates happiness.
It doesn’t have to be something artistic if that’s not your thing. It could be helping out at your kid’s school or editing Wikipedia pages for your favorite subject. The bottom line is that you are contributing to the world rather than just taking from it.
Whatever you pick, it doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. First, you’ll get better at it if you keep doing it. Second, it’s the joy you derive from the contribution that makes you happy even if no one else gets it.
You don’t have to pick a winner the first time here either. If you start painting and realize you don’t really enjoy it. Stop and pick something else. Do a comedy open mic or write an educational article or volunteer at a homeless shelter. Experiment until you find something that lights your fire.
3. Do something you’re passionate about at least two hours each week.
This is related to the last one. If you’ve got a full time job and a family and have no interest in pursuing your hobby as a job, that’s fine. But you need that regular hit of happy juice in your head to keep you going. Two hours a week, not even all at once, gives you the chance to do that and still keep up with all your other responsibilities.
But remember, you’re going to get a bigger joy hit by spending those two hours adding to the world rather than taking from it.
4. Get up early.
I learned this one when I moved in with my girlfriend. She said, “If you’re not going to have a real job, you still have to get up early with me before I go to work.” I’m not talking crack of dawn here. I’m out of bed by 7 for breakfast and ready to hit the to-do list by 7:30.
Those extra couple of hours that I would have spent sleeping allow me to accomplish a few more things. And accomplishments lead to more accomplishments which leads to … HAPPY!
5. Get enough sleep.
Getting up at 7 won’t do much good if you went to bed at 4. I’ll admit there’s a certain enjoyment and focus to living on a few hours of sleep for a few days in a row. It really makes you feel like you’re in deep with whatever you’re doing.
But doing that on a regular basis will run you down and take away your ability to focus. Get 7-8 hours every night. You may want to weigh this against the wake up early suggestion. For me, I’m way less productive in the evening. That’s either playtime on stage or relax time at home for me. However, my brother is super productive at night and not so hot in the morning. He’ll go to bed at 3am and get up at 11.
But getting enough sleep is definitely an important key to being happy.
6. Sleep in one day a week.
Yay, contradictions! Yes, take one day of the week and sleep until you can sleep no more. Sundays are that day for me, unless I’m traveling or something. It’s an opportunity to put away all the responsibilities and mental distractions. Permission to myself to not be productive for a couple hours.
Don’t watch TV or grab your iPad while you’re in bed. Otherwise you’ll never get up. The idea to do a full recharge on your mental batteries once a week and then get on with your life.
7. Do morning pages.
This is a new one from me. If you’re not familiar with the concept from the book “The Artist’s Way”, it’s simple. As soon as you wake up, write 3 pages of anything in a notebook. Literally anything as long as you keep your pen on the page. Write any thought that comes into your head. Even if you have to start with “There’s nothing in my head.” and write that 15 times.
It takes me about 20 minutes to write three pages. Do it longhand in a notebook. It’s more visceral and keeps you from having to grab something with a screen the second you wake up.
I’ve been doing this for a couple weeks now and it has a few benefits. First, by the end of those 3 pages you’re fully awake without the need for a cup of coffee. It helps you grab those quirky ideas that pop into your head in the twilight between sleep and waking. Some of you best ideas are there. And it helps you sort through problems you’re dealing with and things that need to be done that day. It’s a written internal discussion with your brain that helps you focus the second your feet hit the floor.
While you can go back and read them, you don’t have to. I don’t. I don’t think I could because my writing in them would keep archeologists busy for hundreds of years trying to decipher it. If there are any good ideas, they usually stick out from the muck and I’ll make a note of them when I get up to follow up on later that day.
Don’t shortcut. Not 2 pages. 3 pages. It’s that last page where the ideas come because you’ve cleaned out all the other garbage in your head on the first couple pages. And if nothing good happens? No big deal. Most likely it won’t. I find myself rehashing the same thoughts on the first couple pages a lot. But every once in awhile something good pops out.
By the way, I don’t do morning pages on Sundays when I sleep in. The sleep in absolves me of any and all responsibilities for those extra couple of hours. I don’t want to lay there dozing and thinking I should be writing.
8. Experiment with life.
I’m a creature of habit for sure. Even in a business where nearly every day hands me something I’ve never dealt with before, I like my habits. But staying in those habits makes your brain bored. Your brain thrives on new challenges.
I’m not talking climbing Mt Kilimanjaro here. Small changes make for big happiness. Try eating at a place you’ve never been to before. (I hit Yelp in every new city I visit to find the best cheap eats around.) Watch a movie you wouldn’t normally watch. Visit that tourist destination in your town that you’ve never bothered to go to. Cook a meal you’ve never tried cooking. Build a model airplane or a bird house. Take a different driving route to work.
You may not be good at or like what you end up trying. That’s ok. Your brain still has to kick into a different gear to deal with whatever it is and getting those brain chemicals stirred up will give you a little spring in your step.
Right now, you’re thinking “How can I cram all that into my already busy life? I don’t have time for extra sleep, hobbies, and 20 minutes of writing in the morning.” You may not right now. You don’t have to implement all these things at once.
Try one thing and do it for 30 days. It’s a small commitment and you’ll see what the results are. Those results may be subtle so you might even want to make a quick note of how you felt each day before you go to bed. You’re not going to wake up on day 2 and be happy go lucky. It takes a bit of time to make that mind shift.
As you get used to having the one new thing in your schedule, add another. Over time you’ll find you’re able to design your life to incorporate the things you want.
Here’s your assignment:
– Pick one of these things to do for 30 days.
– Bookmark this page to come back to next month and add another thing
PS… There are lots more things that could be added here. I don’t want this to be too overwhelming. If you think of something that you can alter to make you happier (and doesn’t involve just consuming more…really…) then try it out and see how it works for you.
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