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November 12, 2021 — 10:02 AM
To be clear: There is no one recipe for a happy, full life. Every person has their own path, their own set of “ingredients,” if you will, for true bliss. However, if we could come up with a game plan for those feel-good emotions, who better to turn to than happiness expert and New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin?
While it’s important to discover what makes your own heart sing, she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, she does offer some sneaky (and common) habits that can actually hinder the process. Below, find the oft-overlooked patterns that can affect your joy:
According to Rubin, staying up way past your bedtime is the No. 1 thing that can make you feel worse. Sure, you may feel great at the moment—especially if you’re up watching a riveting TV show—but your happiness may suffer in the long run.
“People think that they can train themselves to get by on less sleep,” she says. “But in fact, when researchers study these people, they’re quite impaired. It really does affect your mood, your memory, your sense of humor, your immune function—all of these things suffer.” We repeat: Sleep is essential for overall well-being, your happiness included.
You may be thinking: Well, what if I’m watching a goofy TV show at night that makes me laugh? Doesn’t that make me happier? Still, says Rubin, staying up too late isn’t doing you any favors. “Way past your bedtime, all TV is created equal,” she declares. It may feel good and happy in the moment, but it will sabotage your happiness later on. “Staying up way past your bedtime is usually something that’s not going to make you happier,” she adds.
Although, the right “bedtime” is subjective, depending on your chronotype. The key is to discover what bedtime works for you, and stick to it as often as possible.
Some common personal narratives can detract from your happiness as well. Let’s take the “tomorrow fallacy,” (also called the “arrival fallacy”) for example, where you might think, as soon as you get that raise, or as soon as you get married, or as soon as you buy a house, you’ll be happy.
“It doesn’t happen that way,” Rubin says. “We’re much better off trying to enjoy the process and how we’re getting to a certain place because by the time that we reach it, it’s not going to have the transformative quality that we might have anticipated.” In other words: Rather than focusing on the finish line, enjoy the journey. Chances are you’ll feel better along the way.
“Another story that people tell themselves is ‘I’m lazy.'” says Rubin. “I think a lot of people really blame themselves or think it’s somehow a fault of theirs. ‘I can’t put myself first,’ or ‘I’m immature,’ or ‘I’m lazy,'” even when they may do a million and one great things. Words matter—and the words you use to describe yourself can affect your overall happiness.
So if you’re disappointed in yourself for not accomplishing a certain task, don’t brand yourself as lazy. “There’s nothing wrong with you,” says Rubin. “You just need to change the way things are set up so that you can execute for yourself whatever your aim is.”
Set yourself up for success with a good night’s sleep.*
Yes, uncertainty and anxiousness typically go hand in hand (which has the potential to affect your overall happiness). But according to Rubin, too much certainty can lead to unhappiness, too. “We need novelty; we need challenge; we need an atmosphere of growth,” she says.
That doesn’t mean you should flip the switch entirely, but she says something as simple as learning a new skill can make you feel engaged. For example, let’s say you want to learn to play the guitar: You don’t know exactly what you’re doing or how the venture will turn out, and that’s the healthy level of “uncertainty” that can feed your happiness. One 2016 study even found that when people participated in classes outside of work, they reported improved mood and greater satisfaction with their lives.
“So some kinds of uncertainty really can support our happiness, and too much certainty can make people feel stifled and claustrophobic,” Rubin says. Of course, everyone has a different tolerance for uncertainty—some people thrive with a daily routine; others feel stifled by following the same schedule. “We have to find that right balance for us,” Rubin adds.
These buckets may look slightly different for everyone (i.e., different bedtimes and daily routines), but it’s important to keep them in mind, especially if you’ve been feeling a bit blah of late. Who knows? Maybe focusing on just one of these habits can change your overall headspace.