I’m a teacher. It was the last weekend of summer, and I was headed back to school. I love my job, and I don’t usually mind the end of the summer. Usually by then I’m ready for structure, routine, and social interaction. Last summer, though, I lost about a month to an emergency appendectomy, so I wasn’t quite ready to go back and I was feeling a bit gloomy. To improve my mood, I spent some time thinking about what my best days shared, and a created this Good Day Manifesto so that any time I felt down, I could turn to it and take action, because who doesn’t want to have more good days?
As the pandemic stretches on and we face more time in lockdown and an uncertain future, I thought other folks might also benefit from my manifesto, so I humbly share it with you. I wish not just a good day, my friends, but a great one!
1. Get up early (or at least not too late).
Let’s face it: If you sleep until late morning or early afternoon, you’ve already missed a whole lot the day, meaning you less time to have a good. The best days are the ones that feel expansive, and waking early literally expands the amount of time before you.
Tomorrow Magazine makes a strong case for waking up early:
- First, many famously productive people credit waking up early as a secret to their success.
- Second, some studies suggest waking early improves mental health and even boost creativity and improving your decision-making abilities all day long.
- Third, regularly waking early will help you avoid sleep deprivation by normalizing your body clock so you develop better sleep routines.
Exactly what constitutes early? It varies from person to person. The Michelle Obamas of the world think 4:30 is a good time to rise. I think 4:30 is the middle of the night. For me, waking between 6:30 and 7 on non-work days feels optimal. In fact, if I sleep later than 7:30, I wake up feeling like I’ve already lost precious time from my day, and so I find myself feeling stressed as soon as I get up. On workdays, because I’m a teacher we have an ungodly early start time at school, I have to wake around 5:30 to avoid rushing.
What time should I rise to avoid feeling rushed? Ask yourself that question, and your answer will point you toward your personal early.
2. Drink really good coffee (if coffee is your thing).
If you aren’t a coffee drinker, good for you! I’m jealous! Really, I am. I’ve tried to kick my coffee habit many times, but even after the caffeine withdrawal subsides, my mornings feel sad without my coffee routine, and I always fall back into it. Routine, it seems to me, is a pretty important part of having a good day.
Anyway, for the coffee drinkers out there, there are plenty of reasons to hang on to your habit. According to The Atlantic regular coffee consumption reduces your risk of developing diabetes, caffeine’s negative effects on the heart have largely been debunked, and drinking coffee helps you be more alert. Unless you have certain health conditions, coffee is perfectly healthy.
If you’re going to start your morning with coffee, you can make your day a little brighter by drinking the good stuff. Why are so many coffee drinkers willing to subject themselves to bad coffee when it’s so easy to have good coffee?
I decided a few years that life was too short for bad coffee. If I’m going to start my day with a steamy cup, it’s going to be delicious. Forget Dunkin Donuts (so bad, I mean seriously, so bad, which is why everyone orders it full of cream and sugar), McDonald’s (cheaper than Dunkin, at least as bad, maybe worse), even Starbucks (really hit and miss, kind of expensive). And don’t even get me started on Keurigs.
You can get a coffee maker (in your choice of dozens of styles from drip to percolator to pour-over to stove-top espresso) and you don’t have to break the bank to do it. Then you can learn how to make coffee exactly to your taste at home for a fraction of the cost of take-out coffee. And you can pat yourself on the back for saving the environment by no longer using styrofoam or paper cups.
Honestly, it does not take more time to make a cup at home than it does to stop and get one. If you save that pit stop, you also don’t have to deal with annoying people first thing, which makes it a double win. So why not develop an at-home routine to ensure you always start your day in a good place?
3. Get outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
The sun on your face, the wind in your hair, what could be finer? Getting outside, preferably early in the day, puts pep in your step. Some of the scientific benefits of going outside include:
- Improves mood
- Improves immune function
- Strengthens eyesight
- Enhances creativity
- Provides vitamin D
Sure, sometimes in winter it’s too cold to stay out long, and sometimes in summer it’s too hot. Sometimes there’s a hurricane, or a blizzard, or (best of both worlds) a snowicane. But most days, even if it’s cold or hot or rainy, you can get outside for a few minutes, even if you just stand on your front stoop and take a few deep breaths. A few short minutes in natural light early in the day sets you up to feel good all day long, so just do it.
4. Before you hit your to-do list, do that thing that you always say you’re going to do but never manage to find time to do.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll stay up way past bedtime finishing something for work, but if it’s after eight o’clock in the evening, and I’m done with work, I’m done for the day. That thing that I’ve always wanted to do… it can wait for another day when I have more time.
Isn’t it funny how we can really, really, really want to do something and yet somehow never find the time? So you want to write a novel or take up painting or read a book or develop a yoga practice. You say you want to. You tell your friends. You dream of having a life where there aren’t so many other things you have to do. Stop dreaming! Put that thing you want to do first.
Fifteen minutes. That’s all you need. Get up early, have your coffee, step onto your front porch for a few minutes of daylight, and then set a timer for fifteen minutes for your passion project. You’d be amazed at what you can get done in fifteen minutes a day, day after day. You could finish the first draft of a novel or screenplay in a year with fifteen minutes a day. Just ask Pilar Alessandra, author “The Coffee Break Screenwriter.” She’ll tell you — you don’t need all day to do the thing you love!
5. Move your body.
I’m not an athlete. I hate sports. I still have nightmares about grade school gym class. Nonetheless, I always feel better if I get some exercise. Moving your body doesn’t have to be strenuous. Take a gentle walk. Do restorative yoga. Maybe all you have time for is some gentle chair yoga at your desk. It still counts! Personally, my best days seem to be those when I meet exceed 10,000 steps day, but even when I don’t, my day is always better if I get in a walk. Any movement will help you ground yourself in your body, and it makes you feel good. Recent studies have even shown that moderate exercise can have bigger health pay-offs than short bursts of intense exercise.
6. Eat well, but not too much.
By eating well, I’m not talking about filling your fridge solely with organic produce and brown rice. What I mean when I say eat well is to eat food that makes your unique body and your unique taste buds sing. Some days, a salad makes my body happy. Other days, only a cupcake will do. I bet you’re the same way. So honor your body and eat the food that brings you joy.
But don’t overdo it. Eating to satisfaction as opposed to fullness has many benefits including improved mood, better sleep, and better sex drive. Personally, I find a concentrate better when I eat smaller, lighter meals. And we all know how lousy it feels to overeat. Being bloated and tired, feeling guilty and frustrated with yourself — these are not ways to have a good day.
7. Tackle the most dreaded item on your to-do list early.
This strategy is often called “eating the frog.”
It’s so tempting to tackle our to-do list from easiest tasks to hardest. In this way, we can often avoid the hardest task for days and weeks. But it feels bad to have something hanging over your head. And it feels so very good to cross something major off a list.
8. See something beautiful (and don’t tell anyone).
This is a Diane Mulligan original right here, folks. It’s an idea I came up with a few years ago when I was feeling fried from looking at social media too much. I decided that every day I would look for something beautiful, and I would snap a picture or make a note in my journal, and I won’t tell anyone. I would keep that beautiful secret for myself and nurture my inner, private life. I use the Day One app on my phone for this purpose. In my Day One journal, I have a record of things I have found beautiful, and I don’t need a hundred likes from acquaintances and strangers to validate them. I can just enjoy them. After a few months of doing this, you’ll have an amazing record of beauty at your fingertips, and it will belong solely to you.
9. Stay off social media.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” By the transitive property, then, social media all too often is the thief of joy. As enjoyable at looking at beautiful places and beautiful objects on Instagram can be, it can also easily lead to questions like, “Why do I live in this crumby town when these beautiful places exist? Why don’t I own a $500 handbag that will organize my life forever?” I regularly take long breaks from social media. I wrote about it way back before it was the cool thing to do. I encourage you do take breaks from it, too.
Even in the midst of the pandemic when we are all craving social interaction, I have found social media hasn’t filled that void and has left me feeling down and out more than a few times. I’m in the lucky boat in this storm — I have a secure job I can do from home, I have enough food, I am safe. Still, I’m finding stay-at-home life to be quite the emotional roller coaster. Meanwhile, there are people out there on social media who seem to be genuinely having The. Most. Fun. right now. Maybe it makes me a small person, but seeing their endless fun brings me down. So I’m taking a break from Instagram for a while, and honestly, I don’t feel lonely because of it. Instead of mindless hour scrolling pics, I’ve been calling and texting actual friends, and that feels far more meaningful.
My happiest days are those when I am so busy living my life that I don’t even have time to check Instagram or Facebook. Engineer days that are so full of engaging real-life activities that you forget all about your phone. Or just put your phone down in a designated place in your home instead of keeping it on your person. Try it and see if you miss anything important.
10. Step away from the television.
Sure, sometimes all you want is to Netflix and chill, but also, no one ever went to their grave saying, “I wish I had watched more TV.” While some recent happiness studies have touted ways to use TV to boost happiness, a lot studies also show that TV has a negative effect on happiness.
As a teacher with summers off, I know how tempting the TV can be on days when I have nothing planned. It sits there in the corner beckoning. And if I sink into the couch and turn it on, I might not get up all day, aside from necessary business. But I know I will also feel like garbage by the end of the day. So I have a simple rule for myself: No TV until after 7 PM. I still get to watch a favorite show or two, and then TV feels like a nice ending to a good day, instead of the thing that sucked my entire day down the tubes.
11. Compliment a stranger.
Say something nice to a stranger and really mean it. We all crave connection, and in a world where so many of our interactions with strangers are online and negative, why not set out to foster a good interaction in real life? As you’re out strolling your neighborhood, as everyone seems to be doing now that we can’t really go anywhere or do anything, if your neighbor is working hard in their garden, say, “Wow, your yard is looking great!” They’ll be so happy. So will you.
12. When in doubt, just do something.
My husband and I developed this motto a few years ago on a cross-country camping adventure. Believe it or not, on our monthlong vacation, sometimes we weren’t very happy. I know, I know, first world problems. Sometimes my husband was annoyed that I wasn’t being adventurous enough. What can I say? I’m afraid of rattlesnakes and grizzly bears. And sometimes I was annoyed that my husband wanted to do frightening things like go rock climbing. And then we were both aggravated and stuck in a camper in the middle of nowhere. And to get over it, we would just do something. Take a walk. Take a swim. Keep driving to the next town. It really didn’t matter what we did. Once we started doing something, we always felt better.
Even as stay-at-home stretches on, there’s always something at home you can do: Bake cookies, clean out your closet, organize your bookshelf in alphabetical order. The tasks may not sound fun, but once you get started, you’ll probably feel pretty good about it. So just get up and do… anything!