You Already Have the Keys to a Better Life
(Here’s How to Use Them)
What would make your life better? A new house or car? A bigger paycheck or bank account?
It’s easy to want more when you think of being happier and living better.1 And there’s little doubt that money can buy some (more) happiness.2 But the happiness we get from money is fundamentally limited.3 It leaves us wanting more, and it’s not enough on its own to enjoy a truly satisfying life. The reality is a lot of the things that can make us happy and enrich our lives have nothing to do with money.4 And some of the things that may bring us the most joy could already be within our reach.4
What are they and how can they improve our lives?
Find out the answer with these simple life upgrades. They can transform the way you experience and enjoy life.
7 Little Upgrades that Can Make Life Better in Big Ways
1. Go Outside
As little as 20 minutes outdoors can make you happier and healthier. Even if you don’t exercise, simply being outside can be good for your mind and body. It can relax you and lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and stress levels. And it doesn’t take long to feel the effects.
That’s why some doctors are even writing “nature prescriptions” these days, prescribing time outdoors for all sorts of conditions.5
Make It a Habit: Set aside at least 20 minutes a few times a week to get outside. If you’re short on time, try bringing parts of your daily routine outdoors, like dining al fresco or exercising outside, weather permitting.
2. Say No to Things That Drain You
How often are you scrambling for time? Most of us say we’re too busy to enjoy life at least sometimes.6 About 1 in 8 folks feel that way most of the time.6
Whenever we get busy and stressed for time, it’s often our own psychology, not the clock, that’s the source of our stress.7 In fact, we tend to feel the most pressed for time when it seems like we don’t have control over our schedules, and we fill our time with activities we don’t really enjoy.7
Saying no to activities that drain us can help put a stop to that. It can open up more time and more opportunities for happiness.
Make It a Habit: Identify the activities in your schedule that are draining your time and energy. Delegate what you can. Say no to any extra favors. Consider setting up some boundaries for your time, like “off limits” days for certain activities.
3. Practice Gratitude Daily
Gratitude is closely linked to happiness and wellbeing.8 When we appreciate the things that bring us joy, we focus on positive words and emotions.8 That positivity can radiate inward and outward, benefiting both the person expressing gratitude and the recipient of it.8
It’s no wonder, then, that gratitude can be a mood and relationship booster.8 It can also strengthen immune systems, promote better sleep, and make us more resilient.8
Make It a Habit: Commit to expressing gratitude at least once a day. Tell someone why you appreciate them or write a Thank You note or email. For a more meditative practice, journal or think about the three things you are thankful for at the beginning or end of each day.
4. Prioritize Self-Care
Nearly half of us put self-care on the back burner because we don’t think we have enough time for it.9 When we do that, we’re just making life harder for ourselves—we’re making it harder to manage our emotions, cope with stress, and stay connected to the things that matter.10 And we’re undermining our self-esteem.10
Investing in some genuine self-care is the antidote to all that.11 It can help you focus on your physical and psychological needs while making room for self-compassion.11 It can also help you accept your imperfections and discover new paths to self-improvement.11
Make It a Habit: Make self-care a habit. Prioritize eating healthily, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.9 Also, recognize that self-care is about nurturing, not shaming, yourself. That means appreciating the value of self-care over getting one more task done by the end of the day.
5. Don’t Let Negativity Take Over
Negativity has a place in our lives, but optimism can do a lot more for our health and happiness.12, 13 Studies show optimists have lower risks of heart disease and higher rates of cancer survival, when compared to pessimists.13 Optimists also tend to be more persistent and better at managing stress. That can give them better chances of achieving their goals.13
Still, that doesn’t mean optimism should go unchecked or blind you to real risks. Finding a balance between staying positive and acknowledging life’s challenges is the healthiest approach.13
Make It a Habit: When you talk about your day, bring up the best parts first, even if you have had a rough day. If certain situations or people bring up negative emotions for you, do your best to minimize or avoid them. And try to turn disappointments into learning lessons.
Volunteering can support the causes and communities you care about while being personally rewarding.14 It can strengthen your social connections and give you a greater sense of happiness, purpose, pride, and accomplishment. It can also spark creativity and renew your motivation.15
Beyond mental benefits, volunteering can also improve your physical health.16 It’s been linked to lower risks of hypertension and slower cognitive decline as you age.16
Over time, all of these benefits can add up, making volunteering a deeply enriching and fulfilling experience.17
Make It a Habit: Consider your skills, interests, and time as you choose volunteer opportunities. Try out a few options to find out which organization and opportunities will be a good fit. And, remember, volunteering should be fun instead of draining. So, start small while you figure out what time commitments work for you. Even just a couple of hours a week can benefit you and the cause you volunteer to support.18
7. Nurture Your Relationships
Good, strong relationships benefit our health and wellbeing.19 Beyond making us happy, the emotional support we get from the people we care about can help us through trauma while influencing us to make better choices and adopt better habits.19 Psychologically, that can fulfill our need to belong, give us better coping skills, and improve our quality of life.19
Physically, good relationships can boost our immune systems and even help us live longer.20 In fact, not having strong relationships can increase the risk of early death by about 50%.20 That has roughly the same impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.20
The impact of having positive relationships is also why some say that doubling your group of good friends can benefit you as much as seeing your income go up by 50%.21
Make It a Habit: Connect with at least one person you love every day. If problems arise, try to listen, show understanding, and don’t jump to conclusions. And, be honest. Admit your mistakes and apologize if you’re in the wrong. Remember to find even small ways to show you care, by giving a thoughtful compliment or anticipating a loved one’s needs.
“For most of us, the barriers to being happier come down to a few things—our attitudes, behaviors, expectations, and fears.”
The Things Holding You Back Could Be in Your Power to Change
Living better doesn’t mean we have to make radical changes. And we don’t have to wait for some benchmark or goal post to start enjoying life more. With a few simple upgrades, we can reshape the way we experience life every day. And we’re likely to be happier and healthier for it.
That sounds simple. And it is. So, what stops us from getting there? And why can happiness and a better life feel elusive sometimes? The answer can be different for everyone. For most of us, though, the barriers to being happier come down to a few things—our attitudes, behaviors, expectations, and fears.22-24
We can start to break down those barriers by not trading what we really want in life for what we want right now. And we can stay in touch with what we really need to be happy and live better by staying connected to the people we trust.
1 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/hedonic-treadmill
2 – https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/22/new-wharton-study-people-are-happier-when-they-earn-more-money.html
3 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/social-instincts/202101/money-can-buy-least-one-type-happiness
4 – https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/04/how-increase-happiness-according-research/609619/
5 – https://time.com/5539942/green-space-health-wellness/
6 – https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/02/05/how-americans-feel-about-the-satisfactions-and-stresses-of-modern-life/
8 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/gratitude
9 – https://www.healthline.com/health-news/self-care-is-not-just-treating-yourself
10 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-mentality/201906/the-cost-caring-without-self-care
11 – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-couch/201905/self-care-is-important-why-is-it-so-hard-practice
12 – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_overcome_your_brains_fixation_on_bad_things
13 – https://www.verywellmind.com/the-benefits-of-optimism-3144811
14 – https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm
15 – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_volunteering_can_help_your_mental_health
16 – https://www.nbcnews.com/better/pop-culture/volunteering-has-some-surprising-health-benefits-here-s-how-find-ncna932196
17 – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/does_the_warm_glow_of_giving_ever_get_old
18 – https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm
19 – https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/03/life-saving-relationships
20 – https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships
21 – https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/why-personal-relationships-are-important
22 – https://time.com/5356657/trying-to-be-happy/
23 – https://www.verywellmind.com/science-says-these-3-things-will-make-you-happier-1717532
24 – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321248