• Diana McLaren

10 Things You Should Do To Live a Happier Life

The Top Ten Things we should all be doing or pehaps not doing in order to live a happier life.

1. Take some time to figure out what makes you happy

We spend a huge amount of time doing stuff. Most of our life we are doing something. And yet often we don’t know what we want. So sit down with a piece of paper and really dedicate some time to figuring out what the hell actually makes you happy.

You can do a value map, journal, or paint a picture. Whatever will help you the most, and just think about the things that you care about. And what’s important to you about the things you care about. For some people this might be family and career, for others, it’s their car or their hobbies.

There is no wrong answer because it’s your life and it’s about what’s important to you. If you don’t care about your career that’s okay, maybe it’s just a means to an end.

2. Play with your diet and your life

What we eat is a topic of great discussion. Are we supposed to eat like cave men or rabbits? Who knows! The opinions on what constitutes a 'good diet' changes so often and so rapidly it’s hard to even keep up with the super foods and what’s good and bad. And then we often spend so much time labouring over what we should or should not be eating we barely enjoy our food.

So here’s the new plan. It’s time to experiment. Eat whatever you want. Try being vegan, try eating nothing but pizza. Try giving up caffeine and seeing how much ice cream you can eat in one sitting. And listen to your body. See how you feel when you eat food, both physically and mentally. If it makes you happy while you’re eating it but makes you feel crappy for a day maybe that’s a worthwhile trade off for you. Maybe not.

Think about why you eat, how you feel about your food. And make that your guide. If you always feel guilty about eating what you enjoy, then you’re not really enjoying it. And if you always eat what you know is good for you but your body is constantly hungry and uncomfortable then maybe that’s not the best plan.

This is easiest explained when talking about your diet but you can do this with literally every rule or guideline in your life. Look at the rules, follow them, break them and just collect data as you go about how you feel. Use that data to decide what you want to do.

3. Find ways of being physical you enjoy

We cannot deny physical movement is important. Do you know why? It’s not actually just about our weight and our long-term health. Our bodies literally need movement to function. Our veins use a system of valves to push the blood back to our heart that doesn't function without physical movement.

This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or become a master yogi. It just means that moving is essential and theoretically it should feel good.

So if that’s dancing around your house to the best 90’ pop songs, long walks on the beach, bench pressing 60 kilograms or playing on the “children’s” play equipment then do it. Find a way of moving you enjoy and do that. And if it’s not what you’re doing currently, stop doing whatever you’re doing.

Our bodies are a part of our current selves that we can enjoy. And I’m not just talking about physical activities you may do in the bedroom… with or without partners ;) Our bodies are just our vessel, sure, but they’re ours for now and we’re in them. So unless you have plans to meditate until you elevate yourself out of your body, my suggestion would be, enjoy the body you’re in.

4. Enjoy the people you’re with

We’ve all sat through an awkward dinner here or there. But it doesn’t need to be a constant. If they people you are spending time with aren’t making you happy, even if they’re good people who are spiritual and you do yoga with, or they’re career orientated and inspiring you to work harder. If you don’t enjoy them it’s time to change.

This can go one of two ways. Either it’s time to cull some people out of your life. Or it’s time to appreciate whatever it is they bring to the table. In the case of your very spiritual yogic friend who is so admirably balanced, if you end up feeling bad around them because you are not so, that could be about them but more likely is it’s about you. So Option A- don’t spend time with that person anymore. Do you think it feels good for them to be around someone that isn’t enjoying them?

Option B- Learn to appreciate whatever they are, whether that’s that they’re always complaining, or they chew with their mouth open or only want to drink and party. Find a way to appreciate their unique whatever and respect what that brings into your life.

But Diana some people are just in your life and there’s nothing you can do?

That is a common assumption, imaginary reader, but not true. There is no one in your life that you can't walk away from emotionally, mentally or physically. And there is no one in your life that or the world that you can’t find a way to embrace and respect.

5. Don’t worry too much about the rules

Brush your hair, clean your teeth, take the trash out, vacuum the house, doubt whether or not you have any idea how to be a person every time you miss one of these things. Sound familiar?

This is not me encouraging you to start driving on the wrong side of the road, some rules are there for our safety and the safety of others. Some rules, like you have to eat your veggies, are actually turning your life into a place or horrid necessity.

You don’t actually have to eat your veggies. You’re picking the lesser of two evils. Aka, It’s better to eat your veggies then get chided by your mother or develop scurvy. It amounts to the same thing; you’re going to eat your veggies, but re-introducing choice can make your life feel a whole lot better.

Choice is magical, choice is empowering. Choice is something we always have. It flatters our egos to say things like ‘sometime we all have to do things we don’t like doing’ because apparently being a martyr is admirable. But we never actually do things we don’t want to do.

It’s a very big long philosophical debate so let’s skip it for now and just assume, there are no hard and fast rules and you always have a choice. Can you feel how much better it might feel to say, ‘I get to eat my veggies’ instead of ‘I have to’?

6. Try new things

Unfortunately we all kind of stay in a brain state like our 12-year-old selves, that don’t want to try new foods because we know what we like. So now I’m going to be your mum and say ‘How do you know you don’t like it if you’ve never tried it?’

This does not mean you need to go skydiving or learn a new hobby. I’m talking about trying a different dish at your favourite restaurant. Or trying a different restaurant. Or sitting differently on your couch.

So many of us operate in a state of autopilot, which means that we’re barely aware of our own lives. Try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand and you’ll suddenly become very present as you realize what a complicated task brushing your teeth is.

In trying to figure out something small and new to do within our own lives we first train our brain to become aware of what we’re doing. And when we become aware of our own lives again, we open up to a lot of opportunities.

7. Take some time for whatever you want to take time for

Maybe you want to take time for your self. Maybe you want to take time to just sit and enjoy your children, or your dog. Maybe you want to take time to troll people on the internet. Fair enough, whatever you want to do, you should do it (assuming that it does no harm to others).

The point is that when we are doing things we enjoy we often feel guilty for not doing things that we don’t enjoy, that we’re supposed to do.

Another way of looking at this is that we all seem to feel the need to ‘earn’ our relaxation. It’s okay to sit back on the couch with a glass of wine and binge watch TV assuming you’ve done everything you are supposed to do. Says who?

It can be okay to do whatever you enjoy, whenever you enjoy it and just realize that’s what you’re doing. If you want to watch TV instead of doing that assignment, fine, do that! Just enjoy it. If you want to sit outside and read a book instead of doing the housework, awesome go do that.

Start letting go of the concept that you need to earn the pleasure of your life. Because when we worry that we haven’t earned our pleasure we are robbing ourselves of really enjoying what we’re doing. So we never feel the satisfaction of what we’re doing. Which sucks.

8. Stop worrying so much about how others will perceive you

Notice that I did not say, stop caring what you look like. Yeah, that isn’t really possible. It’s an evolutionary thing, we’re all going to do it and we’re all going to make judgments about what the other person looks like. So embrace that!

And instead, realize that what others perceive about you is based on their experience of the world and has very little to do with you. They might assign you a whole life story because of the shoes you’re wearing or that you have a pierced nose. But that’s them; it’s nothing to do with you.

Also to be honest they’re probably so worried about what you’re thinking about them that they’re not thinking about you nearly as much as you are.

So wear whatever the hell you want. Do your hair and your make up or don’t. Shave your chin and your legs or don’t. Maybe you like to do these things, maybe you don’t. Lose 10 kilograms or put 10 on! Maybe you really want to wear fluorescent neon clothing… that’s awesome. Maybe you want to dress a certain way so you can do your best to indicate to others what kind of a person you are and that it’s acceptable, that is also AWESOME. You do you!

9. Stop trying to change yourself

But Diana you just wrote out a long list of things I should be doing that I’m not?

Excellent point imaginary reader, but here’s the thing, there is a huge difference between taking time to explore who you are and embrace what you’re doing in your life and trying to change who you are. At no point did I actually say to change what you’re doing. Just think about what you’re doing, explore alternatives if you want to and focus on what you actually enjoy and take pleasure in.

There are another hundred versions of this list out there. Top 10 whatevers you should be doing and we’re all full of baloney. You don’t have to stop caring what people think. You don’t have to give a shit about your bodily health. You don’t have to try/ do/ succeed/ be anything if you don’t want to. You can also do all of these things if you want to.

The point is there is no correct way to live to be happy. Some people have just been lucky enough to figure out a life style, habits or whatever that made them happy. And they’re very kindly trying to help others by sharing them. That doesn’t mean they will work for you.

And trying to change yourself and do things you don’t really want to just puts you into a war with yourself. You don’t have to be a gluten free vegetarian that wakes up early to do yoga in order to enjoy your life and be happy. But that may be your combo. I don’t know. No one knows. Only you can know and so you need to experiment to find what works for you.

10. There is no ten

Diana, you are so weird why would you write a top ten list but not have a number ten?

Imaginary reader, you make excellent points. Well, there is no ten for two reasons. Firstly because I don’t have all the answers, I’m not even sure I have any of the answers. For all I know this list should be 21 items long or 5. I don’t know.

So number 10 is for you, imaginary reader, to write your first new exploratory guideline for your life. You see you’ve been making up the rules for how to live the whole time. We just forgot to let you in on that secret. But now that you know we don’t want you to get overwhelmed with trying to figure out what all your rules are and whether or not you want to keep them.

So let’s just start with one thing. Find one rule in your life that you live by and decide whether or not you want to keep it.

And the second reason?

Thanks for reminding me, imaginary reader, you’re so smart. The second reason is that Top 10 sounds a lot smoother then Top 9.

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