One Live Happy writer walks the talk for a day of round-the-clock happiness.
When I wrote the story “Happiness Around the Clock,” which describes 24 hours of mood-boosting habits, I was struck by how much my own typical day deviates from the one I outlined. Sure, on some measures I’m spot on. For example, I talk to strangers every day. Carlos, my very handsome and ebullient golden retriever, makes sure of that since he demands that everyone we pass stop and pet him during our thrice-daily walks. And I can attest that those 30 seconds or so of friendly chatting do, indeed, as studies show, give a little lift to your spirits. And, yes, thanks to Carlos, I’m also covered on getting the recommended three brief doses of daily exercise, a surefire stress buster.
But on many of the other expert recommendations from the article, I fall short. So, I decided to devote one full day to following the ’round-the-clock happiness template so see what 12 hours of well-being truly feels like.
Start from a place of ease
I try to begin my day “from a place of ease,” as mindfulness expert Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., puts it, by doing some arm circles in bed and checking in on how I’m feeling physically (well rested) and emotionally (some low-level anxiety about a story I need to write).
This is a departure from the way I usually start my mornings, which is reaching for the iPad that I’ve stowed on my bedside table and opening my browser to CNN (only to be confronted by some pretty dismaying headlines first thing in the morning).
My morning routine, with intention
I really make my bed. Most days I just give the duvet a quick shake, but today I also tuck in the sheets and rearrange the pillows with so much care they wouldn’t be out of place in a Pottery Barn catalog.
The mindful shower
I slow down my shower. In drought-stricken California, you don’t want to linger in the shower too long, but I’ve prepared for the “mindful shower” that Elisha advocates with a jar of wonderful-smelling brown sugar scrub.
Slow down and take notice
I create transitions. I often move on to a new writing project while I still have papers and notes from the one I’ve just completed scattered across my desk. Today, I want, as yoga teacher Sam Chase suggests, to begin a new task fully present. So I clean my desk between tasks and take a couple of moments to brew a cup of lavender green tea.
A respite in the sunshine
Instead of eating at my desk, I take a break to “cultivate the best me.” I load my healthy salad and a wedge of salmon frittata on a tray and head out to the backyard with Carlos at my heels. I’ve brought along the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence by Berkeley neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
I’d been meaning to start this for weeks now but never found the time. Since I’ve left my phone upstairs, I can devote 15 minutes to focused reading. That’s enough time, it turns out, to get excited about Rick’s belief that we can rewire our brain to overcome its “negativity bias” and “take in the good.” Since I’m in sunny Southern California, I get bonus points for getting the recommended daily hit of sunlight.
A healthy afternoon treat
I’ve banned double chocolate chip cookies from my pantry, so when my sweet tooth bites in the late afternoon, I try a method suggested by nutritionist Karen Wang Diggs. I rub a few drops of an essential oil between my palms (I find a rose and frankincense blend in my bathroom vanity) and, inhaling deeply, take in the scent. It’s very pleasant but I still want a chocolate chip cookie. I brew a cup of caffeine-free chocolate-almond tea instead.
I “prioritize positivity” when I create the next day’s to-do list. I schedule a Pilates class with my favorite teacher for noon and I make a note that I’m going to start a new novel, Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, in the evening.
Make time for connection
I haven’t gotten any friend time in yet so, on the spur of the moment, I call my friend Lulu. I have some whole-wheat pizza dough in the freezer, would she like to come over for dinner? An hour later, we’re in my kitchen together, finding flow and connection in rolling out the dough while we chat about our days. After dinner, Lulu, Carlos and I go for a final dose of daily exercise. I can check off three more tips from “Happiness Around the Clock.”
My new bedtime ritual
I don’t have a bedtime ritual, something that neuroscientist Alex Korb, Ph.D., advises. I improvise, patting a few drops of my rose and frankincense essential oil on my face. And, to make sure I’ve got my “mindfulness moments” covered, I concentrate on the feeling of my fingertips on my skin. As I do, I silently express gratitude—the final step of the daily prescription—for the fresh basil growing in my garden, the company of good friends, the buoyant health of my adored Carlos.
So, here’s what I learned from my experiment. Objectively, this was a pretty ordinary day. There were no hot-air balloon rides or unexpected bouquets of flowers from a secret admirer. But the little tweaks I made from morning until bedtime did lead to a sprinkling of pleasant experiences that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And I imagine that the cumulative effect of those moments, day after day, could lead to a pretty significant happiness bonus. Tomorrow is another day, and I’m going to keep the experiment going.
Shelley Levitt is an editor at large for Live Happy magazine.