Get outside for just five minutes a day
iStock/georgerudyEven if you don’t have time for a full workout, squeezing in a five-minute walk is an easy commitment. That short jaunt during your lunch break or while waiting for soccer practice to end could offer a major boost to your well-being. Not only will you burn some extra calories and break the cycle of sitting, but a study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that a short burst of exercise in the fresh air could have mental health benefits too. The researchers found that just five minutes walking, gardening, or cycling in a green area can give boosts to self-esteem and mood. Don’t worry if you can’t escape to the wilderness, either—even participants who found green spaces in urban areas had benefits. (Related: Here are more ways to make your daily walk happier.)
Turn off your phone before bed
iStock/kizilkayaphotosForcing yourself to bed earlier is a tall order, but you can at least aim for the most restful sleep when you finally do turn in for the night. Your Candy Crush “wind-down” session could be keeping you from getting your best night’s sleep. People who use a light-emitting device instead of reading a book before bed are more alert, take longer to fall asleep, get less deep REM sleep, and take longer to wake up, neuroscientist Anne-Marie Chang has said. “Simply avoid your devices before going to sleep,” she told Scientific American. Quit trying to squeeze in more emails or get a new high score, and put a dent in your reading list instead. (Check out these other ways you're probably sleeping wrong.)
Eat more fruits and veggies
iStock/olha_afanasievaLooking to eat healthier? You've probably found that diets simply don't work. For a long-term solution, make a point of adding fresh produce to your plate, rather than avoiding certain foods. “If it’s an addition instead of a takeaway, you’re more likely to repeat it until the action becomes an automatic habit,” says Art Markman, PhD, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, in Health. You’ll naturally eat fewer unhealthy foods because there will be less room on your plate, but because you’re filling up with satisfying fruits and vegetables, you won’t feel deprived. (And quit falling for this diet advice nutritionists hate.)
Content continues below ad
Look for solutions instead of problems
iStock/shironosovBringing up problems in the workplace can help your company recognize what to improve, but simply complaining could hurt your job performance. Employees who bring up issues are more likely to become less productive and more fatigued, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology. On the flip side, framing your critiques as ideas for improvement could make you a better worker. “The moral of this story is not that we want people to stop raising concerns within the company, because that can be extremely beneficial,” says study author Russell Johnson, PhD, associate professor of management at Michigan State University in a news release. “But constantly focusing on the negative can have a detrimental effect on the individual.” If you prepare some ideas and frame them as positive improvements, your boss will probably be impressed with your proactivity. (Try these other small changes to stand out at work too.)
Say “I love you” more
iStock/peopleimagesDon’t assume your partner knows how happy you are with your relationship—give reminders every day. “Telling your spouse you love him ever day is easy, cheap, and not fattening, but so many people don’t do it,” says relationship expert April Masini in Brides. Say “I love you” every day to keep your relationship strong. And don’t forget the big impact that little gestures, like writing a sweet love note or picking up doughnuts from your partner’s favorite bakery, can make. Find more tiny ways to make your spouse feel loved.
Know when to say “no”
iStock/nicolasmccomberWhen someone asks you to get together for coffee or donate to a charity, take a minute to think about what you really want before automatically agreeing. You might worry that saying “no” will make the other person feel bad, but not knowing how to reject plans and requests could ruin your own happiness in the process. Quit guilt-tripping yourself—the other person probably doesn’t care nearly as much about your answer as you do. “Chances are the consequences of saying ‘no’ are much worse in our heads than they would ever be in reality,” says Vanessa Bohns, PhD, assistant professor at Cornell University, in The Wall Street Journal. If you’re in desperate need of some "me" time or don't have room in the budget to support another cause, just be honest. You'll save yourself the headache and keep the other person from getting false hopes. Don't miss these tips to stop feeling so guilty all the time.
Content continues below ad
Look for the beauty in life
iStock/g-stockstudioMake a point of looking for the beauty in the world, and you could improve your general happiness. A study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that people who wrote down three beautiful human behaviors, three instances of natural beauty, and three other beautiful things they noticed every day were happier after one month than a placebo group who wrote down early memories. Start a journal to keep track of the beautiful things you take for granted in your own life—you might be surprised by how much there is to be grateful for. (Find out how to raise grateful kids here.)
Don’t make your career goals about money
iStock/solstockSure, you want to work hard in the office so you can move up in your job. But when promotion time rolls around, consider asking for more vacation days instead of a bigger salary. About 65 percent of people would pick money over time, according to a study in the journal Social Psychological and Personal Science, but those who did value time over money reported more happiness and life satisfaction. The researchers controlled the experiment to make comparisons between people with similar amounts of time and money. Still, those who said they'd choose wealth tended to be concerned with not having enough money, while those who picked time were brainstorming the enjoyable things they could do with that time. As long as you’re making ends meet, rethink your focus to making happy memories, rather than raking in the dough. (Read this to find out how to stop fighting about money.)
Listen more, talk less
iStock/dolgachovDuring conversations, do you spend all your “listening” time thinking about how to respond to the speaker? Start practicing active listening, which involves learning what the other person really wants to get across, rather than trying to make it about your own agenda. Put your phone down, make eye contact, ask follow-up questions, and use these other habits of great listeners to better your understanding of the speaker’s point of view. When it’s clear you truly care about what the other person is saying, you’ll build your empathy and strengthen your relationships.
Content continues below ad
Keep long-distance friendships strong
iStock/martin-dmIt’s easy to lose touch with people who you don’t see often, but with technology that makes communication easier than ever, there’s no excuse to let those old relationships fall to the wayside. Text or email at least one faraway friend every week to let that person know you’re thinking about him or her, or use these other ways to maintain long-distance friendships. You’ll probably make your friend’s day, and you'll strengthen the relationship by keeping tabs on what’s going on in that person’s life.