6 changes that improved my happiness by 70%

And some surprising unintended consequences

Recently I decided to make a deliberate effort to improve my happiness. Not that I was deeply depressed to start with, but I’d fallen into some bad habits and my happiness was suffering.

I tried 5 very simple things and I was surprised with how much of an impact they had. What was more surprising was some of the unintended consequences.

Reading 10 minutes a day

In my work as a startup founder, it’s pretty unusual to not be ‘a reader’. But I’ve always struggled reading books. I love learning but I find books boring and there are too many distractions, which end up taking me away from the book.

In the last 5 years or so I’ve only managed to finish 2 business books*. I got to the point where I’d given up on being able to read books.

So this week I forced myself to read 10 minutes a day. I didn’t find it hard at all and a few unexpected things happened:

  • I finished my 3rd book in 5 years (Play it Away by Charlie Hoehn)
  • I ended up reading a lot more than 10 minutes a day because I enjoyed it, and once I started I found it easy to go a bit longer.
  • Because of the content of the book I got a bunch more ideas for improving my happiness. Win, win win!

I think part of the issue before was it just felt too daunting of a task to tackle a whole book. So I didn’t bother trying. It’s easy to read 10 minutes at time though, so that thought never crossed my mind.

Walking on the beach with bare feet every day

This idea came partly from the contents of Play it Away and partly from an episode of The Bulletproof Executive that talked about Earthing.

I’m not into that warm and fuzzy stuff too much but I do know my happiness and overall well being go up considerably when I surf. I can’t surf every day because of the conditions.

Walking on the beach every day has been great and along with the reading, came with a few unintended consequences.

  1. I’ve been limiting my social media to twice a day and since I check it in the morning I’ve been on the beach. This has meant my post has been a nice photo of the waves. No ranty whiny negative shit that no one wants to read.
  2. I saw someone taking photos of the waves and it gave me an idea of one more play activity I could add to my list (I’ll have to buy a Go Pro!).
  3. I realized how warm the water was and I know a friend who goes up every week for a swim so I’ll try to go up and swim with her more often as another play activity.

It seems crazy that we live 300m to one of the world’s best beaches but we never dip our toes in. Sometimes you need a bit of a push to notice the beautiful things around you.

I’m not sure if there’s anything to ‘earthing’, but I know when I’ve been away from the beach for long period it’s had a big impact on my happiness levels. So that alone tells me it’s a good idea to go up there every day.

Reducing social media to twice a day

Before last week I was addicted to social media. Here’s the usage in the week before last.

9% of my time was spent on social media

Over 5 hours in a week which represented 9% of my online time.

But it wasn’t the total time that was the biggest issue, it was the amount of times I would check it. I would literally check it every time I had a spare 5 minutes, distracting me from everything else that was actually important.

By cutting it down to twice daily, I was able to cut it down to 2 hours for the week. That brought with it some very unexpected positive results.

  • My phone battery lasts a lot longer!
  • I haven’t posted a negative status update all week. That makes me happier and makes others happier.*
  • I realized that I was hurting other people’s happiness. After only having positive thoughts most of the week I saw a few negative posts on Facebook once and it started digging the negativity out of me. I realized that’s what I had been doing all these years. I was reminded of a nice quote “People don’t always remember what you say..but they always remember how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou. Making people feel unhappy is no way to help your relationships or make friends.
  • I found out that Facebook isn’t my favorite social network. It’s funny but this week I spent more time on Instagram. Instagram just generally is a lot more positive. It’s kind of hard to whinge about beautiful photos. I never would have known that, but I’m happier spending more time in places that make me happier. Duh!
  • I laughed more, read more and listened to more music. Why? I cleared my home screen of all the social media apps and kept music, buzzfeed and Kindle there instead.

*I was really surprised how this worked. In the past something negative would happen and I’d rush to Facebook to put up a rant. This week since I couldn’t, I just had to move on. It took about 3 seconds to get over any issue I faced instead of prolonging it for the life of the status update. When the time came around for checking social media, the thought had long gone and I had nothing negative to post.

Ditching the news

I don’t have to say a lot about this. I cut out news completely and I was a lot happier for it. I removed the news app from my phone, switched the TV channel every time news came on, skimmed over anything news related in my social networks.

News is horrible full stop. It makes you angry and pulls on all the wrong strings to get your attention. It’s a good way for networks to sell ads but it has very little practical value to you.

Charlie’s book reminded me of this and cited news as a major cause of his own anxiety.

A few good practical habits for ignoring news:

  • Don’t listen to the radio, listen to Spotify instead. The ads are funny and there’s no news.
  • Don’t watch free to air TV. We watch TV series via Apple TV or DVD. No ads and no news.
  • Remove any news apps from your phone.
  • Start to pay attention to the level of negativity in conversations around news. Once you notice it’s overwhelmingly negative you won’t want to be involved anymore

Listening to 10 minutes of music a day

I used to love music but I stopped listening to it. Not reduced. Stopped.

I never listen to the radio, if I’m working I don’t have music on and if I’m out I always listen to business podcasts.

This week I installed Spotify on my mobile and made sure I listened to 10 minute of music a day.

The results were great and unexpected:

  • I had some great moments like singing along to ‘What does the fox say’ on repeat with my kids on the way to school.
  • The music made me happier and I was reminded how much I loved it.
  • I ended up listening to a lot more than 10 minutes a day, because I loved it.
  • The songs that played in my head throughout the day were songs I liked not some crap I heard in a tv show. Big win!

Music makes you happy. Don’t let it slip out of our life.

Being more organized

This week we decided to be a lot more organized with the family. This meant:

  • We wrote out a weekly plan of who was doing what for each day (we don’t usually do this).
  • I went shopping on Sunday so we had food organized for the week (we often skip this which causes much more stress later).
  • We got the kids organized the night before school, so it wasn’t a mad rush every morning.

This seems silly because these are probably things we should do every week. For whatever reason we’d gotten lazy and weren’t doing them.

This reduced stress levels considerably and I’m sure it had positive benefits for all of us in the family. We were much happier in the mornings, the kids were clearer about when things were happening and there was nothing unknown.

I’m always very organized at work but I don’t apply the same organization to home. I suspect if you aren’t organized at work, just spending a few minutes getting organized would have a meaningful impact on your levels of happiness.

Am I actually happier?

Just to be sure I did a before and after quiz of my happiness levels and found a 70% increase in my levels of happiness. Of course I didn’t need the quiz to tell me that, I just like numbers ☺

It’s possible that it’s just the change itself that has resulted in me being more happy. If that’s true I’ll keep doing new things every week. If not I think I’ll stick with the 6 changes above for a bit longer.