For those lucky enough to live in peaceful, plentiful societies, life should be great. But because we’re all human, and everything—every hardship, annoyance, and problem—is relative, we often go through days beset by feelings of sadness, worry, and stress.
We each have our own ways of bringing joy into life. The daily ritual that can’t be compromised; the tweak that makes a massive difference to how you feel. Here at Quartz, we crowdsourced ours, to bring you our guide to a day that’s much, much better than just OK.
(And here’s a promise: none of this advice will require you to move house, spend a lot of money, or wake up really early.)
- Wake without an alarm
The dark of a January morning; a piercing wail that shocks you out of too-short sleep; the insistent, tyrannical “snooze” function. Every morning for most of my life I used an alarm to wake, thinking there was no other option. But then I met my partner, and found he rejected that moment of morning pain, brief and forgettable though it is. Training yourself to wake without an alarm isn’t difficult. It requires routine, and not being exhausted. The pay-off: waking every morning with no sense of panic or shock. Highly recommended.
- Start the day with something hot and truly delicious
From Australia’s flat white to India’s chai, there are coffee and tea drinking traditions in cultures across the world. Culturally and spiritually, these drinks are important. A well-made cup of coffee is so far removed from a watery, lukewarm, or otherwise bad one that it makes the difference between your spirit lifting, or staying right where it is. Don’t compromise.
And as my colleague Jenni Avins notes, use the right cup. A mug should be big enough for a satisfying brew, and ideally made of china or porcelain, which keeps the drink hotter. An espresso is inexpressibly better in an espresso cup.
- Put on comfortable shoes
We’ve talked a lot recently about shoes. They’re political, especially if you’re a woman. And they’re the most important things we wear when it comes to the way we move and feel. Painful shoes are a misery, and comfortable ones a joy.
- Mitigate your commute
Commuting can make us very unhappy. For many, though, it’s unavoidable. So how can you tweak it? Walking or cycling can make the necessity a pleasure, and for some it’s worth factoring in extra time to make that possible. We’re also increasingly demanding flexibility from our workplaces, and that can mean shifting work hours so we start from home and then travel in when the rush hour is over. If you have to take a train or bus, read something that also transports you: A great book came up as an important happiness factor for us at Quartz.
- Don’t be uncomfortable at your desk
Pain at work should not be a normal state of affairs, though for many of us it is. There’s a lot of advice out there about how to optimize your work station but at the minimum: Screens, desktops and chairs need to be at the right height and distance for your body. Other tweaks (footrests, the ability to stand, ergonomic equipment) might be necessary. Experiment until you find what works.
This can be a challenge, but for lots of us it’s also the difference between feeling great and feeling terrible. It doesn’t have to be hours at the gym. A short walk is much, much better than no walk. One trip to the pool a week gives swimming addicts an important fix.
- Put your speakers in the right place. Arrange books so that you can find them easily. Keep floors clean, so that walking barefoot is a pleasure.
- Use good-quality cotton sheets
So, if you don’t have great sheets, buying them an expense. Not a sky-high one, though, and an investment: good sheets last. Some also emphasized the importance of a good mattress. That’s expensive, for sure, but for somewhere you spend a third of your life, perhaps worth it.
Any time of day
- Designate a time each day to not worry
Or, even, a time to worry. Designating time when you can process those thoughts—or escape them—can help manage feelings of being overwhelmed.
- Eat good bread
Bread goes in and out of fashion. But if you’re eating it, that experience can be one of simple glory. Hipster-beloved sourdough. A baguette with butter. Dark Polish rye. Spongy, sour injera. Eat what you love. Just don’t eat bad bread. Don’t do it. That’s all.
- Seek out quality food
We’re straying away from “tweaks” into the realm of farmers markets and locavores. This isn’t a shopping list, but good olive oil, truly fresh seasonal fruit, good Scotch (in the right glass), tomatoes that haven’t been refrigerated, full-fat dairy products, and “capers in your tuna salad” all came up as things that make life better for us here at Quartz. And an airtight lunchbox can give you the ability to take delicious home-cooked food to work.
Having a sense of agency in one’s own life is, unsurprisingly, a key to happiness. So is opportunity: the belief that you can achieve goals. Those are big things, but maybe that’s why small tweaks make a lot of difference to how we feel. They remind us we have choice: between a good cup of coffee and a poor one; between a synthetic sheet and one made of cotton.
Simple gratitude. Who could argue with that?