“Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” – Buddha
Sometimes life feels especially full of responsibilities, tasks, and stressors that may contribute to an overall source of distress. Life also has the potential to bring about an abundance of joy, realization of goals, and positive life changes. Even positive life events and changes can carry with them a certain amount of tension, which is an inherent part of being alive in this world and experiencing the inevitable ebb and flow of change. It is how we choose to deal with these changes – big and small – positive and negative – that creates a subjective sense of internal distress or peace and relaxation.
It is important to remember that no matter what your current life experience(s) may be, you retain the choice of how you wish to meet those daily challenges and joys. The attitude that you choose to carry with you from the moment that you awaken to the dawn of a brand new day until the moment when your head rests on your pillow at nighttime impacts your overall experience of whether or not your day was experienced as generally positive, negative, or neutral.
Just as you may imagine that it would be quite draining to live in a perpetual state of distress, it may be just as draining (albeit in a different manner) to live out each day in a state of pure bliss. A realistic, balanced life that is driven by your authentic purpose is more likely to often exist somewhere in the emotionally neutral zone. The energy that it takes to experience and express sadness is comparable in many ways to the energy it takes to exude joy and happiness. It is often in your best interest to find an internal place of calm acceptance wherein you can move through the day with an attitude of mindfulness, relaxed focus, and emotional equilibrium.
Does the notion of spending five minutes engaging in a simple activity that just might make your day a little bit better seem worth it to you? Consider what it would really mean to you – personally – if your average day were a bit “better.” For some people, this may mean more alone time, for others it might mean a clearly organized schedule, and for others a better day might mean pausing to savor the pleasures of the present moment more often.
Simple Ways to Have a Better Day
A recent article on WebMD offers 10 simple suggestions for how to create a better day. Each activity takes no more than five minutes. As you read through the following list, build an image in your mind of what it would truly mean to you if your typical day was a little bit better. With this personal image and ideal in mind, consider which of the following simple activities may increase the odds of your day being just a little bit “better.”
(1) Make your bed
Pretty simple, right? The idea behind this brief activity is that it creates a simple daily ritual to create a calm, serene, and organized environment as you begin the day. For people struggling with depression or other mood disorders, it can be quite difficult (and may even seem impossible) to start off the day by making the bed. If you are struggling with depression, remember that each small step in the direction of getting yourself up and moving is a wonderful accomplishment. For those who are not experiencing the difficulties that come along with a mood disorder, try to avoid minimizing the potential benefit of engaging in this simple morning ritual. The idea is to start the day with a sense of peace and order.
(2) Pack a snack/meal in advance
You may be getting the sense that these tips are quite simple in nature, yet are also activities that many of us neglect to engage in with consistency. If you notice that your mood or concentration seems to be significantly impacted when you haven’t set aside a bit of time to plan ahead for what you’ll eat throughout the day, make the choice to do something about it. Depending on your routine, this might mean packing a small snack the night before work or school and placing it in the refrigerator, or setting aside a few minutes in the morning to put some healthy food in your bag for the day. The point is to engage in simple daily activities that enable your day to flow more smoothly, help your mood remain healthy and balanced, and generally make life a little bit easier on yourself.
(3) Clean your workspace
While it may be unrealistic to clean out the basement, the garage, or your closet in just five minutes, it may be more realistic to organize and spruce up your daily workspace for a few minutes each day. Notice your personal tendencies and patterns toward organization of your workspace. If you find that you have an effective system in place, there is no need to create an additional project for yourself. On the other hand, if you find yourself struggling to find papers when you need them, are distracted by clutter on your desk, or generally lose focus from a sense of being disorganized, this may be a habit worth developing. The basic idea is that when you take the time and energy to declutter and organize your external world, there is an accompanying sense of lightness and organization of your inner world. When you actively eliminate unnecessary distractions, you create an environment for yourself wherein concentration, focus, and motivation are more likely to naturally occur.
(4) Listen to uplifting music
Multiple studies have indicated that listening to music may have the effect of reducing stress, boosting mood, and lowering blood pressure. Consider the ways in which your mood tends to change depending on the type of music you may be listening to… use this mindful self-awareness to choose music that will result in creating a more positive, calm, or relaxed mood for yourself (as opposed to emotionally provocative music that may intensify anger or sadness). This is just another simple way that you have freedom to choose activities likely to positively impact your mood.
(5) Sniff a lemon or pleasant essential oil
Your sense of smell is another avenue toward impacting your overall mood and moving your day in a better direction. Researchers in Japan have found that linalool (which is found in lemons) contains anti-inflammatory properties that can actually reduce the fight-or-flight response. Basil, lavender, and juniper have also been found to significantly lower levels of stress.
Consider the amount of time that you spend sitting in a typical day. A recent study found that daily time spent sitting was directly associated with higher mortality, regardless of physical activity level. Even if your work requires that you spend a significant amount of time sitting, consider the benefits to be gained from taking more frequent breaks to stand up and stretch, grab a drink of water, or take a short walk. Try look for “excuses” to engage in daily physical activities that will increase overall circulation, flexibility, and ease tense muscles.
Studies are consistently emerging that indicate the multitude of positive benefits of meditation to mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Use the tool of mindfulness to spend as little as five minutes each day to close your eyes, focus your full attention on taking slow deep breaths, and bring your complete awareness to your sensations, thoughts, and emotions in the present moment. Meditation can be especially useful as a way to center yourself to start the day, throughout the day during times of stress, when feeling “zoned out,” and at the end of the day as a way to release stress and cultivate awareness.
(8) Keep a gratitude journal
As I have written about in the past, research supports multiple benefits to overall well-being from actively engaging with a gratitude journal. Try taking just a few minutes each day to write down some things for which you feel grateful. No matter how stressful the present moment may feel, actively choosing to cultivate a mindful attitude of gratitude is a healthier emotional choice than spiraling into a cycle of rumination or complaints. If you find yourself complaining excessively, bring your mindful awareness to this process and ask yourself what emotional needs may be going unacknowledged or unmet. Try giving to yourself the very thing you feel most deprived of in the moment. For example, if you feel a deep unmet need for love or compassion, try actively directing the love and compassion that you so desire toward yourself. When you begin to meet your own needs more consistently and effectively, the result is often having more to offer to others and the world as well as a deepened sense of gratitude for all that you do have.
(9) Turn off electronics
How might your typical day be “better” if you chose to spend less time engaging with media devices (e.g., watching television, playing or working on the computer, talking on the phone, or playing video games)? The simple fact that our world allows for constant connection through electronic means does not mean that it is necessary to stay in constant contact throughout the course of the day. For some people who spend a great deal of time working at their computers, they may feel less connected to the living and breathing world as well as the people living in it. For others, they manage to strike a balance that works for them. Reflect on what is best for you and how your time spent engaging with electronic devices impacts your overall health/well-being and relationships. As with all of these simple activities/habits, the choice to adopt new ones or alter old ones is always your choice.
Who wouldn’t begin to feel somewhat overwhelmed if they had a long list of responsibilities or tasks that all appeared to be equally important? With no sense of what activities or projects are “more” or “less” important, it is quite difficult to effectively begin. The practice of mindfulness is a consistent reminder that we can only devote our true and complete presence to one thing at the time. Sometimes multitasking can be useful or effective, but other times it results in needless mistakes or feeling disconnected from the present moment. Use your own self-knowledge and reflection of your personal tendencies to decide how much “better” your average day would be if you created a new system for prioritizing goals and managing your time more effectively.
Based on your personal vision of what would make your typical day just a little bit “better,” which of these ten simple activities stand out as potentially beneficial to your life? No one is perfect and we all have areas for self-improvement and growth. Greater honesty and self-reflection on your actual habits and true needs are important first steps toward making the choice to have a more fulfilling, peaceful, and meaningful day. Try challenging yourself to practice one new habit each day throughout the next week and mindfully notice any differences in your overall well-being, relationships, and sense of peace.
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Soong, J. (2012). “10 ways to improve your day in just 5 minutes.” Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/improve-your-day
Featured image: The sunshine smile by Jakob Montrasio / CC BY 2.0