Habits for a Happier You
I wrote this post last year, a few weeks after the Enhanced Community Quarantine was implemented in our town.
It was a strange time, like a chapter out of the dystopian novels I used to read in high school. Watching the news felt like peeking through the window to see what the world has been experiencing. And honestly, the view behind the curtain was scary and heartbreaking.
From there, I saw two possible ways to react to the situation. To close the curtain, throw the sheets over my head, and wait for the world to heal. Or I could step back, reassess how I’ve been living, do the inner work — all while keeping the curtain slightly open so I can consider how my choices affect the people in my life and ripple to those outside my humble circle.
The first option — the passive life — was tempting, because the former invites us to have a sense of responsibility, which isn’t sexy these days. The thought of living a responsible life seems daunting because we often associate it with grand expressions of virtue and rarely with minute moments of kindness, accountability, and personal growth.
To quote Voltaire’s book Candide, “tending one’s own garden is not only a private activity but also productive.” What I got from it is that taking care of our lot isn’t selfish. Instead, it may even equip and enable us to bear fruits of love, kindness, and support in the community.
But how does taking care of one’s lot look like?
To me, it’s cultivating habits that keep me healthy and happy so I can be a more productive member of the family, workplace, and community. It’s a seemingly tiny part of our every day but our habits add up and impact the quality of our life.
And if you’re worried about how your unhealthy habits can take a toll on your future, press pause on the panic for a while. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg posits that our habits are malleable if we have enough desire to changethem. And this wonderful possibility of remaking our habits is both a freedom and a responsibility, he adds. Below I share the habits that have been helping me become a happier version of myself.
Get enough Zzzs
The original heading of this section was “Wake up early.”
But after some digging of data, I opted to instead highlight the importance of getting enough sleep. To greet the sun as it rises feels great but only if I had enough Zzz’s. Getting less than five hours of sleep makes me grumpy.
What I love about waking up early though is the peace and solitude — the chance to be alone with my thoughts and feelings. It gives me enough quiet time for my daily devotional and journaling sessions. And it allows me to practice more control in my life by giving me the time to breathe and do what brings me joy. I also noticed that waking up early is my keystone habit.
Keystone habits (a concept also found in The Power of Habit) are the “small wins” that automatically open the door for more positive behaviors to come through. Waking up early is my keystone habit because when I do it, more often than not, it allows more room for healthy habits like journaling, praying, meditation, and exercising. When I wake up late, it’s like a domino that falls over — my other healthy habits go down with it too.
Journal like you mean it
Every morning, I dump my thoughts on a page of paper.
I write in longhand and fill a whole page — even when I feel like there’s nothing to say. Chances are, halfway through the page I’m ranting about a slight that I didn’t know has hurt me or recording a dream I didn’t realize I had when I was younger. When I do this, I feel a stronger sense of creativity and clarity.
But don’t take it from me, even researchers say keeping a diary helps us deal with our emotions the healthy way.
On days I’m intimidated by the blank page, I answer the following prompts:
- I will let go of…
- I am grateful for…
- I will focus on…
- I’m the type of person who…
Read like Ray
Thanks to my childhood best friend, I have developed a decent reading habit.
Back in elementary and high school, she introduced me to Blume, Dahl, Rowling, and a couple more awesome authors. If I hadn’t met her, my best guess is I never would’ve met picked up a Wilde nor Steinbeck in the university library when I was in college.
Now that I’m working as a copywriter in a local digital agency, I have fallen more in love with reading and learning. Which reminds me, a good friend of mine wrote why reading is a prerequisite to better writing and you should check it out if writing’s your jam.
Recently, I have enjoyed reading a bit more when I tried R.C Waldun’s technique (inspired by Ray Bradbury). Each day, I read a chapter of fiction/short story, a poem, and a random article or a chapter of nonfiction. This reading format can widen our perspective and further develop the cognitive skill of “associational thinking.”
Move it, move it
If you’re frustrated because you worked out only once this week, cheer up and count it a win.
Study shows 10 minutes of exercise a day can already positively affect your life by boosting your mood. My favorite exercises are pilates, jogging, dancing, and walking the doggos. FitOn is my favorite app for home exercises — and its free version is helpful already. You wouldn’t have to shell out money to have a great experience with it.
Breathe in, breathe out
Meditation clears my mind and keeps me grounded.
It teaches me how to pause, listen without judging, and be more compassionate with myself and others. I used Headspace to get acquainted with the basics of meditation, and Simple Habit for sessions that target more specific areas in my life — may it be my relationship with anxiety or improving my productivity at work. I don’t do this is often as I’d like to but I notice how lighter I feel when I do.
Heaps of research suggest that social connections make people happier. Satisfying relationships not only make people happy, but they also associated with better health and even longer life. — Thomas Oppong
Though I am an introvert, I now intentionally carve out time to spend time with the people I love.
I schedule heart-to-heart talks and coffee dates with my girl friends from time to time, play Monopoly with my family after work, jog with my cousins and our dogs, or catch up with my church friends via Zoom. It still feels uncomfortable sometimes but I know that cultivating meaningful connections is good not only for the people I care about but also for my health and wellbeing.
Now, every journey has its quirks. Until now, I still miss some of these habits and fail to sustain streaks. But I tell myself each night, “Tomorrow, I can try again.”
How about you? What habits help you become a healthier, happier version of you?