The one thing we can all pretty much agree on is that we’d very much like 2021 to be a happier year for everyone! Happiness can come in small increments, so for this year, why not try a monthly habits-for-happiness challenge?
Instead of trying to totally overhaul your life at once, set yourself a goal each month with one of these habits. Don’t be discouraged if one or more of them don’t quite work for you, either; everyone is different.
We’ve suggested these in the following order as some tend to build on the previous suggestion, but you can customize the list to meet your individual needs. Remember, it’s not just about checking things off a list, but rather, creating sustainable habits that will last way beyond 2021.
January: Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Good sleep is the foundation for everything else. It’s nearly impossible to put your best foot forward if you’re exhausted all the time. Sleep hygiene is all about building good habits around your sleeping hours, so you get the maximum benefit from that much-needed downtime.
Try some of these techniques:
- Wind down for 30 minutes before bed, including avoiding screens.
- Set consistent bed- and wake-up times.
- Have a comfortable, relaxing bedroom setup.
- Maintain a consistent pre-bed routine.
- Be sure to get sunlight and exercise during the day.
February: Reach Out to an Old Friend
Last year was tough for all of us. It was even more frustrating because we couldn’t see our friends and loved ones.
This month, reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a while. Whether it’s just a comment on social media, a text, an email, or a phone call, some human interaction is one of the best things you can do to get the year off to a good start.
March: Start Managing Your Stress
Since you’ve already tackled sleep—the lack of which is one of the biggest contributors to stress—it’s time to get a handle on the daily causes.
It’s fair to say that many of the things that stressed us all out over the past year were largely out of our control. That’s why the focus in March is twofold:
- Learn how to process anything that’s out of your hands.
- Decide how to address any concerns that you do have the power to change.
There are dozens of stress management techniques, so you’ll likely try several before you find the habits that work best for you. This month, experiment with different techniques and see which are your favorites.
Some easy habits to try include the following:
- Mindful, deep breathing
- Going for walks around your neighborhood
- Listening to music
- Practicing yoga and/or stretching, even in small increments
- Taking short breaks throughout the day
- Writing out your thoughts and feelings
- Surrounding yourself with pleasant sights and scents
April: Set Better Work Boundaries
Working from home has probably made work boundaries even tougher than usual, but it’s important to continue to set (and stick to) them.
Try to keep your work schedule as “normal” as possible. If you’re a freelancer, contractor, or business owner, avoid the “just one more thing” mentality. Inevitably, you’ll look up and realize you’ve just spent an extra hour on work when you’d planned to stop after five more minutes.
Depending on the layout of your home, physical space might also help you set clear boundaries between work and home life. If you can, create an office space dedicated to work (and only work).
Even if it’s just a folding table in the corner of the living room, it’s helpful to visually delineate the difference between work and not-work, especially now.
May: Be Okay with Saying No
“No” is a complete sentence, and an incredibly powerful one. It’s tempting to be that person who always says yes when someone asks for a favor. But this is also a big source of stress.
Building on what you’ve learned over the last two months, May’s challenge is about getting more comfortable with saying no when the situation warrants it. Only you can judge each situation, of course.
Whenever you’re feeling pressured, though, just take a moment to consider what the outcome of saying no will be. If it’s something you’re okay with, you’ll be surprised how freeing it is to draw that line by saying no.
June: Cut Down on Screen Time
Yes, our world is increasingly digitized, but too much screen time is probably just going to stress you out more. Whether you can’t stop doomscrolling Twitter or you stare at a computer all day, too much screen time really isn’t conducive to a happier, less stressed lifestyle.
For many of us, a large portion of screen time is work-related and out of our control. To balance that, try setting a goal in July to reduce your screen time by an amount that makes sense to you.
Tip: During the unavoidable hours of work screen time, make sure you consciously blink! Staring at a screen reduces your blink rate and dries out your eyes. You can also help reduce eyestrain with the popular 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look away from your screen for 20 seconds and focus on something that’s at least 20 feet away.
Most devices and apps have a built-in “usage time” feature you can use to track how much your screen time adds up. Use these same tools to hold yourself accountable and reduce the time you spend scrolling.
July: Dress in a Way That Makes You Happy
A lot of us probably spent most of last year in casual clothes, except for the occasional video conference. After a while, though, hanging around in sweatpants and T-shirts can get dull and a little depressing.
In July, choose a few days each week to dress in a way that makes you feel good. Put on that outfit that’s been sitting in your closet for eight months. Take the time to style your hair or do your makeup just how you like it, or do anything else that makes you smile when you look in the mirror.
August: Stop Calling Things “Guilty Pleasures”
This month, stop qualifying the things you like with the phrase “guilty pleasure.” Remove it from your vocabulary, today!
If you happen to enjoy something others perceive as silly, whether it’s a soapy TV show, upbeat pop music, or mystery or romance novels, stop associating “guilt” with enjoying those things. There’s nothing to feel guilty about—one interest or hobby isn’t any better than another!
September: Adopt a New Hobby
Now that you’ve spent some time embracing what you love without guilt, take it to the next level. Is there a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, but just never had the time or inspiration? Consider September your time, and get creative!
If it’s just the fear of failure that’s standing in your way, there’s no need to worry. There are more resources than ever before, both on- and offline, that can help you learn any hobby imaginable.
Developing a new skill is a great challenge, and focusing on the learning experience can give you a real boost, not to mention an exciting goal to work toward.
October: Find a New Community
That new hobby you picked up last month? If you’re enjoying it, it’s the perfect gateway to finding a new community October.
We need interaction and relationships to thrive. In other words, we need each other! The easiest way to find a new group of people to hang with is through a common interest. That’s why hobbies, sports, book clubs, cooking classes, and so on are all great places to start.
If you’re unable to meet in person, that’s okay, too! Online communities have exploded in popularity and will only continue to grow.
November: Practice Gratitude
For the month of Thanksgiving, focus on actual gratitude more than stories of Pilgrims and turkey dinners. Just practicing being grateful can have a huge impact on your outlook, which will, in turn, elevate your mood.
These habits can take many forms, but some popular practices include engaging in some mindful meditation for a few minutes each day or starting a gratitude journal. This month, see what works best for you and keeps your focus on the things for which you’re most thankful.
December: Give Back
One of the biggest habits for happiness is a spirit of abundance. That means not just being grateful for what you have, but sharing it with others. Generosity feels good—and it does you good, too! Spend the last month of the year finding different ways you can give back to your community and beyond.
Try to avoid the most obvious choices. At this time of year, some organizations have more help than they can handle, while others struggle because they don’t have enough volunteers.
The best way to avoid this is to start small and reach out to an organization in your own community. Choose a cause that’s particularly important to you, then find out what they need and how you can fill the gap.