In 2010, after losing my job and being unable to find another one for close to a year, I fell into a deep depression. During this time I read dozens (maybe a hundred) books on happiness, purpose and meaning, trying to cheer myself up.
Here are ten of the best habits from my research to help you become happier today – even if your life feels like it’s in the dumps.
1. Create your flow list.
One of the things that most helped me during this time period was to track all my happiest moments during the day – even if there were very few. Even if I could only track the few happy moments each week, I did.
When I tracked all of the best moments during the week, initially I found small things: drinking a coffee in the morning, reading a great book, or taking a shower. Gradually the happy things became bigger and more frequent.
Once I figured out which moments were happy and “flow producing” for me, I scheduled more of them into my routine. For me that usually meant spending time each day to read a book in a great café, or taking the time to go for a long walk with my dog.
Whereas I usually found myself thinking about all the things going horribly in my life, I found that if I actually scheduled happiness activities into my routine, I would do them without fail.
- Stop doing what doesn’t work.
This sounds crazy, but usually if we’re unhappy, we’re feeling stuck in life. Whether that’s due to our relationships or whether that’s due to finances, our job, or just lacking purpose and meaning, something isn’t working.
Whatever aspect of life isn’t working well – let’s say relationships – do an evaluation. Do I keep attracting the same kind of people? Do I keep making the same mistake? Do I keep forgetting to make time for my partner? Whatever isn’t working – stop doing it.
- Cultivate a happiness diet.
We’re so used to changing our physical diet to improve our physical health, but what about changing our mental and psychological diet for our happiness health?
Think about it.
On a diet, we remove things that don’t help us like Oreos or cakes, and then we add things that do help us – like plants and water.
On a happiness diet, we remove things that aren’t making us happy – like certain people, routines, or schedules.
And then we add things that DO help us become happy – an activity every single day we enjoy, being around more people that inspire us, and filling our mind with things that create happiness and inspiration, not fear.
What things can you add or subtract to your happiness diet?
- Eliminate energy leaks.
Throughout the day, there are always certain people, places, or activities that are energy leaks.
You know, there are always people filled with negativity, fear, and the latest gossip they’ve found on the television. And there are other people that are filled with inspiration, happiness, and motivation.
How does each person make you feel after you interact with him or her?
How does each situation make you feel after you’re involved in it?
Do certain places or people make you just feel tired after dealing with them?
Another big thing that we sometimes forget is that fear and anxiety are also energy leaks – the more we let them into our mind, the more they exhaust us and prevent us from doing what we have to do to be happy.
- Replace fear with vision.
Once of the toughest things for me during this rough patch in my life was trying to overcome the constant anxiety and fear that was filling my mind every time I tried to push myself forward.
It seemed like every single time I would take a step forward, one little barrier would get in my way and the massive self doubt would settle in again, “Oh, you’re never going to make it, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t deserve this, you’re not progressing fast enough.”
And if I wasn’t careful, the fear itself would crush me, and it would sometimes take a day or longer to recover from it and begin again.
One of the core practices that helped me during this time was visualizing the future I wanted – any time the feeling of fear cropped up. So once I sensed a little bit of self-doubt creeping into my life, I took the time to pause for five minutes, visualize the life I wanted in full detail, and then continue on my way.
This never failed to keep me focused and inspired.
- Take the first step… even if you can’t see the staircase.
There were so many days, weeks, months and years where I was utterly paralyzed because I couldn’t figure out the exact path that was going to get me to where I wanted to be – all the way there.
And it took me a very long time to realize that we often don’t know step 2 until we take step 1. And the problem is that step 2 doesn’t even reveal itself unless we just start walking.
So sometimes it can be easy to find ourselves overwhelmed and frustrated because we’re living in our mind – trying to figure it all out before we even step.
One of the best kept secrets that a mentor once told me was this: once you take the first step into the dark, enchanted forest, you’ll see exactly where step #2 is.
- Reframe limitations.
I’ll never forget, a few years back when I was working for someone else, I told myself, “I will never be happy as long as I work for someone else.”
And you know what happened? I never was happy working for someone else – even when I had objectively amazing jobs, great bosses, incredible colleagues with good pay and more. I had poisoned my mind by “promising” to myself (or rather, negatively affirming) that I would never be happy “so long as…”
Sometimes this happens in other aspects of life though. We tell ourselves we’ll never be happy if we’re single. Or we’ll never be happy as long as we’re overweight, or as long as we live in this location.
And those become self-fulfilling prophecies more often than not. One thing that really helped me during this time was writing down all negative self-talk – and then I wrote affirmations that were the exact opposite.
So if I told myself “I’ll never be fully happy single” the affirmation was, “I’m always happy, regardless of whether or not I’m in a relationship.”
- Create a life changing morning focus routine.
By far, and I mean by far, one of the biggest things that saved my life when I was in the dumps was a morning routine.
Now I don’t know about you, but for me the morning is often the least focused, and the unhappiest part of the day. My mind wanders. I’m tired. I’m groggy.
There were a few things I started doing that immediately jumpstarted my day and put me on the trajectory I wanted to be on.
Here’s what that looked like:
10 minutes of yoga, which helped me wake up, provided my brain with oxygen, and made the next step easier.
10 minutes of meditation, which helped me start the day with a “clear” head and no negativity in my mind.
10 minutes of visualizing my goals, which allowed me to focus on what I wanted in my life – and made me consider how I could possibly get there.
This three-part morning routine has dramatically impacted my life – and years later I still do this.
- Think about what you want – not what you don’t want.
When life isn’t going well, it’s extremely easy to think about all the stuff that isn’t going well.
“Ugh, I hate my job.”
“Ugh, did my partner just really say that to me?”
“Ugh, I’m so tired of waking up to this routine I hate.”
Unfortunately, when we do this the mind simply filters out all the good stuff, and keeps us looking for the bad stuff.
Have you ever dated someone for a long time (or been married) and found yourself one day picking out a particular “flaw” the person had – and then all you could see was flaws for days or weeks on end?
The mind is funny like that – when we emphasize what’s not working, we keep finding more things that aren’t working.
But the opposite is also true – when we focus on all the awesome things in life, we begin to see and experience more of them.
- Make uncertainty known.
One of the things that really prevented me from taking action was overwhelm with all of the things I felt like I could be doing to improve my life, when I was at rock bottom.
“Do I get a new job?”
“Do I make new friends first?”
“Do I pick up some new hobbies?”
Through all of the overwhelm, one exercise helped me immensely: I just wrote down all the things frustrating or confusing me, and I learned that once they were down on paper, they either weren’t as confusing as I thought, or they were not as scary as I thought.
In fact, they usually weren’t that big of a deal. Just by putting my fears on paper it made everything a lot clearer.
When we’re afraid, just by writing down the problem it can help us distance ourselves from it, and get the clarity we need to move forward.
These ten daily habits dramatically improved my life and helped me get through a long period at the bottom – what has helped you?
About Alex: Alex is the founder of Modern Health Monk – an integrative health site that shows busy professionals how to look and feel amazing using the psychology of habit change. You can grab his free guide here: 5 daily habits to help you get your dream body.