I always thought that the top priority in life was to be happy. Most of us do. We’re taught that unhappiness is something we should avoid at all costs — in our careers, personal life, relationships. Then 2020 came in like a wrecking ball, undeniably testing our ability to find happiness within the most uncertain and distressing circumstances. A recent poll by NORC reported that Americans are currently at their unhappiest point in almost 50 years. But as tumultuous of a year, as it was for all of us, it also led to my realization that it’s not happiness I should be seeking, it’s health.
And I don’t only mean that in the most obvious sense of the word during a global pandemic. I believe it in every aspect of our well-being — mentally, physically, socially, and environmentally. Being happy is just a fleeting feeling; not a goal to strive for. In fact, I’ve recently learned it’s actually when things are unpleasant or uncomfortable that you do your best growing; not when you’re happy or content as is.
While I’m not saying being unhappy is a good thing, it is an opportunity. Because investing all our energy into “achieving” happiness is a foolproof way to miss a window of growth; a chance to evolve.
So this year, let’s turn this need to be happy into a motivation to be healthier — one step at a time.
Listen, life is tough for everyone, and it’s ok to talk about the pain points. Share your thoughts — both positive and negative — with friends or family. Even the smallest conversations can lead to joy or even a little inspiration.
I think of the saying: “limitation is the mother of creativity.” Right now, we’re being told a lot of things we can’t do, so challenge yourself to find more things that you can. Discover a new hobby or do something you normally wouldn’t. Take advantage of the extra time at home to learn something new — like a craft or language. I picked up painting and my wife started beading. Focus on the positives and turn them into new opportunities to reconnect with yourself. You never know what you’ll discover you can do.
What you can do now: Go to one of your local shops or Amazon and search for inspiration. Buy a Paint by Numbers kit and set aside time to do it. Try a few teletherapy sessions – it may change your life. Do 15 min of beginner’s yoga. Create a gratitude journal to remind yourself of the things that make you smile. Download an app like “Calm” to clear your head with pleasant stories and relaxing nature sounds. Find a Podcast geared toward meditation or mental wellness.
Sitting at a computer all day is certainly not ideal for your physical health. But that’s a day in the life of many of us in this remote world. Finding little ways to get active throughout the day will help kickstart your metabolism and relieve stress while helping you be more productive. Try setting a time every hour to remind you to get up and do something — anything.
If a structured workout or class isn’t your thing, find little ways throughout the day to give your body its chance to blow off steam. The perk of being at home is that it’s a completely judgment-free zone. Who knows, you may develop some great healthy habits that you’ll never kick.
What you can do now: Stretch it out. Throw on your favorite song and dance. Drop and give yourself 20 — then 20 more. Do a loop of lunges around the house. Drink more water, drink less alcohol. Download a wellness app to track your steps, cut down on unhealthy foods, and monitor your sleep quality.
Our social lives took a big hit this past year and finding ways to make meaningful connections hasn’t been easy. Not too surprisingly, the number of people who reported feelings of isolation more than doubled since 2018 (50% vs. 23%).
Our social wellness relies on our ability to cultivate new relationships, share our talents and skills with others, and communicate our thoughts and feelings. Express gratitude for close friends and distance yourself from toxic people. Meeting new people and engaging with friends is obviously more challenging without in-person activities, but everyone is in the same boat. So instead of getting frustrated, get creative together.
What you can do now: Find a workout buddy and push each other to do new challenges each day (double health win here!). Plan to try a new recipe with a friend – in-person or over FaceTime – then enjoy it together! Join a new group on Facebook with like-minded individuals and common interests. Join a virtual book club or art class.
Staying home more doesn’t mean staying inside more. Finding ways to be closer to nature can offer a real sense of accomplishment and discovery. Make time to catch the sunset or see the stars at night. Even in the winter – the cold air alone is therapeutic. Help the planet by recycling/reusing takeout containers or boxes and composting. Consider your work environment too. If you don’t have a “real” home office, challenge yourself to work from a new room in the house every week. It’s easy to get comfortable in one place, but make sure you allow yourself to experience the benefits of a change of scenery.
What you can do now: Step outside and let the sun hit your face. Find a bench to sit and read a chapter of a book or do a crossword. Play fetch with your dog or take your kids to the park. Create your own ‘commute’ with a brisk walk before starting work or throw in your headphones and take your next call on a walk. Plan a long weekend away to a different city or park. Volunteer to deliver meals or clean up your local community.
Remember, you’re doing the best you can. Taking steps to be healthier can help us find the value in unhappiness and discover where within these moments we can grow the most.