What’s been making me happier lately

I was going to do a round up of some of my favorites purchases I’ve made for working/staying at home (and probably still will) but I realized what’s much more helpful is this: what have I been doing to make myself a little happier? Most of these are free (or close!), and I hope these suggestions will help someone out there who needs a bit of joy in their day!

Reading:
This hilarious, amazing book and all of Samantha Irby’s other books
The Anna Edit‘s tips on kitchen organization, working from home, and what books to read next
Half Baked Harvest’s Nine Favorite Things because there are so many fun and interesting links and recipes every week
M.M. LaFleur’s newsletter which has fun things to do, make, read, and watch (just like this! I like these kinds of lists a lot) – you can subscribe here.

Working out with:
My favorite dance/cardio workout from when I lived in NYC (305 Fitness) is live streaming multiple classes a day – they are so fun and effective!
My normal powerlifting program (which isn’t free, but is only $8/month), Stronger by the Day, now has a 4x a week bodyweight/at-home workout program which has been keeping my strength up with the gym closed

Still getting a pump even at home!

Listening to:
My favorite podcast of all time (Forever 35) has a full length and mini-episode every week
The hosts of Forever 35 also launched a fantastic daily podcast, Here For You, which I love listening to every morning

Watching:
I recently discovered Kackie Reviews Beauty, and she is so informative, relaxing, uplifting, and more – very much recommend her videos
Cate the Great Beauty is now doing livestreams 3 times a week! So many hot takes and skincare and makeup advice, and lots of the same people come every time, so you get to enjoy plenty of inside jokes
My usual YouTube list – Allana, Meg, Michele, The Try Guys, Amanda, Natacha, Kayley, Anna, Sam, Kristi, and Jamie
The entirety of the Office because my husband hadn’t seen it before, and clearly we needed to fix that

Did using a weighted blanket make me happier?

I’ve always had a lot of trouble falling and staying asleep. I’ve been trying lots of different things to solve my sleeping problems, and one that’s supposed to help a ton is a weighted blanket. My husband bought me one in September last year, and I wanted to wait to review it here until I had a few months to use it.

I have’t used it every night because I toss and turn while I sleep, and the blanket can end up on my husband and wake him up. That said, this blanket has been a life saver when I can’t sleep or wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Even just last night, I woke up around 2:30am and couldn’t fall back asleep. After a couple hours of trying to fall asleep with no luck, I finally went and got the blanket and immediately fell asleep. I know I can do the same thing if I’m having trouble falling asleep at night, and it’ll work super quickly.

It’s also been really nice to have on our couch to help us relax when we’re reading or watching a show. It’s hard to explain the feeling of 15 pounds on top of you, but it essentially feels like a breath of relief washes over you. The one we have is a really good size for laying over two people while sitting and as a blanket for one person lying down, which has helped make it more versatile instead of only being used in a “sleep emergency”

Did a weighted blanket make me happier? Absolutely, yes. I’m so happy that we have this blanket, especially when I can’t sleep. It’s meant that I don’t have to rely on medication or supplements to help me sleep as well, which I’m hoping will be healthier and cheaper in the long term.

Did tracking my habits make me happier?

I’m starting back up my trying internet trends posts in between favorites round-ups (but there are more of those coming!). The first thing I tried in 2020 was tracking my habits in my bullet journal. I tracked 9 changes I wanted to try and change this month.

I can definitely say that habit tracking has helped me, but not in the way I expected. It didn’t motivate me to do things just to check the box every day or even any of the days for some of these habits. What it turned out to be great for was making me realize what was already becoming a habit (yoga, following my RP template, lifting, and reading) and what I really needed to put more effort into (drinking more water, meditating, blogging, and walking). It also made me realize that I was trying to do too much at once.

The 2020 challenge turned out to be something that really didn’t fit in with all my other goals. Between lifting, yoga, and our twice-weekly dance classes, I didn’t need another fitness challenge. Tracking my habits made me see how much I was already doing and how I wasn’t making the 2020 challenge happening, which is totally fine!

Now that I have more information about what’s working and what’s not, I’m planning on spending the rest of January working on the 4 kind-of sort-of there habits and finding what that 9th thing will be for February.

Did tracking my habits make me happier? Not yet, but I’m confident that knowing this information will definitely make me happier as the year goes on!

Did writing in the Five Minute Journal make me happier?

The full name of this journal is “The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day,” so this felt like the perfect thing to try; “a happier you” is promised up front for this product. The premise of this journal is that it helps you focus on the good in your life and cultivate gratitude, which has been shown to decrease stress and improve mental resilience, among other benefits. Each day you start with what you’re grateful for and what you want to focus on for the day and end the day with what went well and how it could have been better. Some pages have inspirational quotes and others have a weekly challenge.

I bought this product in August last year and have been writing in it off and on since then. This week, I attempted to write every single morning and night, and while I was able to write every morning, I missed a couple of nights. I have had a very consistent nighttime routine for a long time now, and it was more difficult than I realized to add something to it. Reflecting back on the week, it would have made a huge difference if I had put the journal and a pen on my bedside table so I could have written when I woke up and right before I went to sleep.

My favorite aspect about the journal is writing the three things that would make today great. I noticed that I would remind myself to do whatever it was when I was in the situation I had written it down for. For example, I wrote down “listen more than you speak” for an event I had to go to, and I reminded myself of that during the event when I felt like I wasn’t listening enough or asking enough questions. This made a huge difference in how that went.

I didn’t really notice any differences from the gratitude/amazing things sections of the journal. It was definitely nice in the moment to reflect but they didn’t seem to have a lasting impression on my day or mood in the same way that setting an intention for the day did. Once I finish this journal, my plan is to add a section in my bullet journal for a daily intention so I can carry that through rather than forcing myself to do all the steps in the journal, which felt repetitive over time.

Did writing in the Five Minute Journal make me happier? A little bit. There are aspects that made a difference for me that I will definitely keep doing, but I don’t think it’s necessary to spend the money on this journal, and it didn’t make a huge difference for me like it seems to have done for those who reviewed the journal on Amazon.

Did reading every day make me happier?

This week, I decided to read a book every day without any distractions. Like everything else I’ve tried, reading promises to lots of amazing things, like reducing stress and anxiety and improving memory and focus. I used to religiously read 10 pages every day and loved both the quiet time and actually reading all of the books we have in our apartment. I’m not sure when it happened, but I slowly started reading only every once in awhile and then only on weekends when I really felt like I had time. So, this week, I forced myself to sit and read every single day.



Over the weekend, as expected, it was really easy to carve out time to read, as it’s something I’ve already been doing fairly consistently. We went to coffee shops, where I now order something decaf, and read quietly with our coffee until we felt like we’re ready to do something else. It was relaxing, felt like such a nice break, and was much more satisfying than scrolling through the internet.

On weekdays, this was harder than I expected given that I used to read every day. There never felt like a good time, and when I tried reading before bed, I either fell asleep or got distracted really quickly, even though the books I finished (Algorithms to Live By) and started (Furiously Happy) are both incredibly interesting and great reads. This reminded me a lot of mediation; when it was working well, it was great, but it was hard to fit in to my life.

We also spent some time walking around bookstores looking for new books to buy, and I realized how much I missed the experience of shopping for books in an actual bookstore. This made me realize that there are probably other things that I tend to buy online that I should spend more time shopping for in person, both to enjoy the experience of looking through things and to be more thoughtful about what I’m buying.

Did reading more make me happier? While I enjoyed spending more time reading because I already like to read, I wouldn’t say this made me happier in the way that reducing my caffeine or dressing up for work did. I didn’t see a profound change in my stress levels or mood, and I ended up turning something I like doing into a task I needed to complete every day. For this one, I’m going to go back to sitting down to read when it makes sense, like on the weekends, and otherwise stop giving myself a hard time for not reading often enough.

Did dressing more formally for work make me happier?

Originally, I decided to try dressing up for work because I wanted to get more use out of my closet. I have a large collection of dresses (over 60) and blazers obtained over the years living on the East Coast, going to business school, and working at places like McKinsey. When I moved back to Seattle last June and went back to working at a tech company, I very quickly started wearing the jeans plus a t shirt or sweater uniform. I realized that I had so many pieces of clothing that I love that I wasn’t wearing and instead was rotating through the same few outfits.

My giant collection of dresses, as seen by the number of hangers.

I definitely accomplished my goal of wearing more of my clothes, including many dresses that I genuinely missed wearing. It also turns out that “dressing for success” is real. Wearing my formal clothes made me feel more confident and put together. It put me in a “working” mindset which led to much more focus and productivity. I spoke up more often in meetings, even when they were conference calls. When I worked from home, I still made an effort to dress up, and it really did make a difference in how I worked.

Another benefit I didn’t expect was that changing out of my formal clothes when I got home into something comfier helped me wind down at the end of the day. It helped create a distinct change from the work day so I could relax rather than continually checking my work email when I was trying to enjoy dinner or read a book.

Did dressing more formally for work make me happier? Absolutely. I love wearing and getting use out of all the great clothes I already own, and more importantly, I love how dressing differently for work and home makes me feel. I will definitely continue to do this.

Did giving up second-screening make me happier?

After reading this article about why second-screening can be horrible for us and how we’re all “doing it wrong,” I decided to go without a second screen for a week. This meant no chatting with friends while watching a YouTube video or reading news while watching a movie. I also couldn’t look anywhere else during a conference call or check my phone during a meeting where someone was presenting.

This is slightly different than uni-tasking; instead of only focusing on one thing at a time until I was finished with it, the only rule was that I could only look at one screen at a time. This meant that I could still switch from one activity to another, such as from working on a PowerPoint deck on one monitor to email another, but I had to make a conscious choice to switch rather than quickly flitting back and forth. In a future week, I’m planning on committing to uni-tasking, but this felt like a good first step.

Second-screening is way harder than I thought. This was the first time writing this blog that I failed. I ended up accidentally second-screening without even thinking about it so many times. Overall, the act of stopping to think of whether I really need to check my phone or look at my email on another monitor right now was a great way to make sure I was doing the right things at the right time. I also watched way less on YouTube this past week because there were countless times where I started doing something else on my second monitor and realized that I honestly didn’t care about what was happening in the video. When I successfully single-screened, I paid way more attention and got a lot more out of what I was doing, whether it was a meeting, a movie, or a conversation I was having with a friend online. I also learned, similar to my week meditating, that my ability to focus is not at all where I need it to be. In a future week, I’m going to fully dedicate myself to uni-tasking and see what happens.

Did not second-screening make happier? In the short term, definitely not. It was incredibly frustrating, and I felt awful for not being able to focus for more than two seconds on anything. In the long term, I think it will make me happier. It’s an amazing when you break the habit, and single-screening really helped me focus and make the most of my time. I will continue to try to avoid second-screening where possible.

Did removing Instagram from my phone make me happier?

I’ve read more articles than I can count about how social media is making us miserable and how we should all delete our accounts. Given that I already don’t use Twitter and removed Facebook from my phone years ago, I was curious to see if removing Instagram would make a huge difference in my life. I’ll preface this by saying that I tend to spend more time on YouTube and Reddit than on Instagram, so this experiment probably would’ve been more useful had I cut out all social media for a week. That said, here’s how it went.

For the first few days, I noticed that I really felt like I was missing out on what was happening in the world. That feeling that I used to have when I saw someone on an incredible vacation or having an amazing dinner was replaced by the fear that I no longer knew about things like the latest product launches from my favorite fitness companies or which puppy was now the cutest dog on the platform.

Then, about half way through the week, I totally forgot about Instagram all together. I wasn’t thinking about whether my meal was Istagrammable or whether our weekend activities were worth sharing via stories. This helped me enjoy things in the moment and reduced the stress of making my life “picture perfect”. On the other hand, the 30-45 minutes throughout the day that I used to spend scrolling Instagram were replaced with other mindless scrolling elsewhere. I had hoped that I would read, meditate, stretch, or walk more, but I just switched to a different mindless activity. I learned that how we spend our time is both our habits and our choices, and taking away the habit of Instagram didn’t automatically remove the habit of mindless scrolling.

Did removing Instagram making me happier? Ultimately, I think it did. It removed pressure from my day to day life and helped me stopped comparing my life to others’ highlight reels. That said, I still have more work to do using my time mindfully.

Did meditating every day make me happier?

Meditation and mindfulness, like many of the things I’ve tried so far, have promised to fix everything in your life. It will reduce stress and pain, promote healing, reduce anxiety, increase relaxation, improve relationships, promote productivity, and much more. I personally have been a subscriber to Headspace for more than a year now, which I only know because I had a charge on my credit card for the annual subscription renewal that I had completely forgotten about. As much as I had tried in the past, I haven’t been able to meditate consistently over time.

Many of the studies done on meditation show that it’s important to “retrain your brain” by practicing meditation consistently rather than when you feel like it. I wondered if I would see the benefits of meditation if I actually did it every single day, so that’s what I did this week.

My current mediation streak on Headspace

When I was feeling extremely overwhelmed with wedding planning or my back pain (I currently have 3 bulging discs), meditating in the moment helped immensely. Otherwise, meditating mostly showcased how unfocused my brain really is. I struggled to stand or lie still for more than a few minutes. While I know that your mind wandering is totally normal and part of mediating, it was frustrating that I couldn’t focus for more than a few seconds at a time. I now have a long list of things to try for this blog like uni-tasking, staying off of Instagram and other social media sites and setting up specific times to check emails.

Did meditating every day make me happier? I think it’s still too early to tell, but it did make me realize what other actions I could take to make me happier. For now, I’ll keep my streak going and provide an update when I’ve meditating every day for a couple months.