Have you ever walked past someone smiling on the street and thought, “What are *you* so happy about?” Or thought “whoop dee freakin’ doo” when a friend brags about how happy running a 10K made her feel? Well, you’re not alone, and it’s OK! According to the internet, happiness is a skill that can be learned. And when has the internet been wrong? (Don’t answer that.) I googled the best happiness “hacks” and was a bit overwhelmed; however when I mentioned this plan to my therapist, she recommended The New York Times’s “How to Be Happy” tips, and so I decided to work from that list. It’s filled with little actionable hacks, and I’m ready to tackle them. I’m as naturally grumpy as they come, so if these things work for me, you’re definitely about to find a one-way ticket to happiness town. All aboard!
Day 1: The One-Minute Rule
What it is, exactly: Do any task that can be finished in one minute. The idea is that you’ll get a shot of happiness by accomplishing something in such a short amount of time.
How it worked: I started with what seemed like a very manageable hack — and one that could be accomplished while listening to true crime podcasts. Score. I fired up “My Favorite Murder” and looked around the living room for my first task. There was a pile of old magazines on a coffee table that I’d been meaning to read since, like, 2007. Those back issues of The New Yorker hung around my neck like a choker made of cinderblocks— always making me feel bad because I wouldn’t take the time to read 193 “Shouts & Murmurs” columns. Well, no more! In 30 seconds, I picked up the pile and dumped them straight into the recycling bin. I’m being very real when I say that it felt AMAZING. Gone was this invisible pressure to read a stack of things I was never going to read. With my first one-minute task out of the way, I became a one-minute task monster — I recycled piles of junk mail, collected tote bags from around the house and put them under the sink, and properly hung the myriad of coats, jackets, cardigans, and hoodies that legit covered every surface in the house. Then, I went through and deleted a backlog of voicemails. I answered a text I’d been avoiding. I learned how to deposit checks via my phone — something I’d been avoiding but was actually simple to figure out. All in all, I accomplished about 45 one-minute tasks in roughly an hour. I WAS THE KING OF THE WORLD.
Hack rating: 8/10
Day 2: Declutter!
What it is, exactly: Throw out all your stuff! (Well, except for the things you really love!)
How it worked: I’m a collector, but not, like, an organized one. I guess some people might call that hoarding, but I’m not on that level. Yet. I’m not gonna lie, trying to do the entire The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in one day was a little overwhelming to me, so I decided to tackle my linen closet. I started by pulling all the clean linens from the shelves. I had piles and piles of towels, sheets, duvet covers, pillow cases, rags, and also the warranty for the stove I bought in 2015? I immediately tossed the warranty (I took a picture of the important info, first) and then went through each remaining item. Did I really need the sheets that felt like a tattered shirt just because Oprah recommended them? Or how about the 10 beach towels when I go to the water like four times a year, max? I considered each item before tossing a bunch of them in the donation pile. And you know what I discovered at the back? My favorite satin sheets that I thought I’d lost! (How does one lose sheets you might be asking yourself? Please see above about me potentially being a hoarder.)
When all was said and done, I was left with about half of the stuff I started with and was able to neatly fold and stack the things I really wanted to keep. And I ordered them by color, too! The effect was no longer a jammed-in hodgepodge of random linens, but rather a neat, pleasing arrangement of my best stuff. I stepped back and surveyed it, and you want to know what I felt? HAPPY. Miracles!
Hack rating: 7/10
Day 3: Make sure you’ve got the right lighting
What it is, exactly: Natural light exposure — either from time spent outside or from natural light in the house — is huge for happiness. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, trying to sleep in a place with light pollution is not good for you and leads to poor quality of sleep, which leads to major unhappiness.
How it worked: It turns out that my house is totally backwards when it comes to proper lighting. The home office is blocked by our neighbor’s ridiculously large house, but our bedroom is basically inside of a sunbeam. Meaning, I’m awoken by the sun crazy early, and when I head into the office, I want to fall asleep because it’s essentially a cocoon. First, I bought some daylight-toned LED light bulbs for the office, and the entire place just lit up! It felt like stepping outside on a warm summer day. I immediately felt more productive. Next, I did the exactly opposite for my bedroom windows by hanging blackout curtains. Let me tell you, I slept like a baby that night and didn’t wake up until 8am the next day, which is when I wanted to. I’m really getting into this happiness thing!
Hack rating: 8/10
Day 4: Practice generosity
What it is, exactly: Being generous with your time, money, spirit, and skills makes you happy.
How it worked: According to the New York Times article, just thinking about being generous and kind triggers a happiness reaction in our brains. I’m into it! I spent the day volunteering at 826LA, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, as well as helping kids with their college applications. Not only did I get to employ some of the skills I’m most proud of, but I got to do it for awesome students who deserve every opportunity in the world. I can honestly say I felt the best I had in a long time. It gave me an endorphin rush I’ll be chasing for a while.
Hack rating: 9/10
Day 5: Be amongst nature!
What it is, exactly: Spending time in nature makes you happy.
How it worked: I live and work in a concrete jungle. Or, at least that’s what I thought. In anticipation of this hack, I ordered a book about hiking in Los Angeles, and to my surprise, there were about a dozen hikes within 20 miles of my house. I’ll admit, getting ready for the hike did NOT make me happy: I had to put on hiking shoes, fill water bottles, cover myself in bug spray and sunscreen, and alert about 50 people that I was going on a hike and if I didn’t make it back, to empty my bedside table and also burn my search history before my mom saw it.
Well, as it turns out, I’ve been missing out because the hike was so super chill! It was basically a flat loop through woods and streams and holy guacamole, nature is BOMB. So beautiful! And even though the exercise component wasn’t huge, I did get a slight rush of endorphins from some jogging I did mid-hike when I thought I heard a rattle snake. I felt so alive!
Hack rating: 8/10
As cheesy as trying a happiness hack each day might sound, even my grumpy self has to admit that this experiment made me feel happier. And not just happy, but content, and more comfortable in my life. I feel better when my house is clean, I spend time in nature, and I practice generosity. It’s probably impossible for me to do each of these things every day, or even every week, but I’m going to make an effort. And hey! Even if I fail sometimes, I’m gonna *be generous* with myself, and try again tomorrow. To happiness!