I've written 10 books and journals on happiness, gratitude, habits and resilience that share how to cultivate a positive mindset amidst chaos.
Here are five research-backed practices I do every day to feel happier:
Every night, my wife and I write down our ikigai on a blank index card. We fold them in half and set them up like tents on our bedside table. It serves as a north star and helps us wake up with a sense of purpose.
Sometimes I'll feel lofty ("Helping people live happy lives"), or laser-focused ("Finish writing the next chapter of my book"). Other days, I'll try to neutralize my morning anxiety ("You have enough").
The average walking speed is about three miles per hour, so taking just one of my meetings while walking gets three miles in. Since I'm not surrounded by screens, I'm more focused, too.
For inspiration, I recommend the essay "Walking" by Henry David Thoreau.
It's easy to be distracted by random thoughts when you're doing an activity. But research shows that your happiness rises when you don't allow your mind to wander, and you focus on just doing that one thing, whether it's shopping or cleaning or listening to a podcast.
My "wear one suit" rule helps me stay focused: I wear the same suit jacket, dress shirt, blue jeans, running shoes and watch to every speech and interview I do. This way, I'm not thinking about my outfit before, during or after my appearance.
The same goes with breakfast. I've been drinking the same morning smoothie for 15 years. Then I'm not worrying about what I'm going to make for breakfast tomorrow as I'm cooking dinner.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed, I write a list of the next day's three most important tasks before bedtime. I always start with the hardest task, such as writing, which for me takes up more energy than anything else.
A laundry list of 20 things would feel like too much, so this prioritization helps me sleep better. And by choosing only three tasks, I've already done the hard work of deciding what not to focus on.
I buy 100-packs of index cards from the dollar store, and each time I burn through a pack, I'll congratulate myself for having 100 focused days.
When I interviewed Johann Hari, author of "Stolen Focus," he told me he puts his phone in a lockbox with a timer every night. Now I do the same thing to limit blue light exposure. I also use dimmer lights and read fiction to help my brain fade into a deeper sleep.
With all habits, the goal isn't to be perfect, but to feel a little better — and happier — than before. So don't beat yourself up if you fall off course. Just try to get back on track the next day.
Neil Pasricha is a leading authority on intentional living. He is a New York Times bestselling author of 10 books and journals, including "The Happiness Equation" and "Two-Minute Mornings." He hosts the award-winning podcast 3 Books, and has given speeches at TED Talks and SXSW. Follow him on Twitter.
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