The hardest part of a busy day can be figuring out what to prioritize in order to feel best both in the moment and when you're looking back on what you've accomplished. Should you always make room for exercise? Meditation? Journaling? How do you choose?
New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink has a hack. On Twitter, he composed what he calls a "meta to-do list" that's a concise three items long.
Connect with other people face-to-face, turn off your phone and pursue meaning rather than some abstract idea of happiness, advises Pink, based on a recent article by Colby Itkowitz in the Washington Post titled, "Prioritizing these three things will improve your life — and maybe even save it."
Using science-backed conclusions from speakers at the International TED Conference, the article suggests some "simpler, almost obvious, life improvements we should all prioritize to live better lives."
Here's a breakdown of those three highly recommended improvements and why they work.
Psychologist Susan Pinker says socializing can be as or more beneficial for your well-being and longevity as exercise, Itkowitz reports: "Smoking, drinking, exercise and even heart problems are not predictors of a person's longevity — a person's close relationships and social integration were. ... Those with intimacy in their lives, those with support systems and frequent face-to-face interactions were not only physically and emotionally healthier, but they also lived longer."
That, Itkowitz writes, is why women live, on average, six years longer than men. Not because they work less stressful jobs but because they're more likely to talk to each other, and communication serves as a kind of vaccine against stress.
Turn off your phone
Social media doesn't fulfill or satisfy us in any real way, according to New York University professor and author of "Irresistible" Adam Alter. In fact, his findings, Itkowitz writes, are that, "People who spend time on social networks, dating apps and even online news sites reported being less happy."
Alter's conclusion isn't to sign off altogether but to set and enforce limits. Itkowitz reports, "Alter found that those who did set finite rules for their technology use — like never using it at the dinner table or putting it on airplane mode when you're out on the weekends (so you can access the camera but not the Internet) — were able to enjoy life more."
And perhaps they also found more time to socialize in person.
Pursue meaning, not happiness
Since happiness is elusive and fickle, pursuing it can be fruitless and frustrating. But, Itkowitz reports, meaning is different. Emily Esfahani Smith, author of "The Power of Meaning," has found that there's a workaround: You become happy not by trying actively to be happy but by making sure your life has definition.
Itkowitz writes that "finding something to drive you forward, whether it's work or something else, is a crucial slice of having meaning."
Transcendence, purpose, storytelling and belonging are all better goals, ones that will make you more satisfied and content in the long run. "Happiness comes and goes," Smith has found. "But when life is really good and when things are really bad, having meaning in life gives you something to hold onto."