December 13, 2019

Ten things that I do in 5 minutes or less to improve my happiness

Happiness seems to be a big subject that is popular these days. Nobody really knows the exact formula or ingredients for happiness and that’s because happiness is unique to the individual. From having read a few books on the subject (The Happiness Project, The Happiness Equation, etc.), I have come up with my own definition of happiness which I strive for:

Every day, if I can do a few of the following things, I’ll be happy: exercise, eat healthy, write, read, sleep 8 hours, laugh and learn something new.

Of course I have larger goals in the grand scheme of things but tactically, that is what I like to focus on every single day. It’s why I try to wake up early every single day. I’m not perfect and I don’t do all of the things above every single day (sometime I struggle to do one or two things honestly) but whenever I can hit more of those items above, the more satisfied I am with my day (and I also feel more productive).

Recently though, I’ve also been experimenting with small things that I do, that take less than 5 minutes but help me improve my happiness, even if it is a really small thing.

Wear great looking, comfortable socks

Every day, before getting ready for the day, I go into my closet and pick out socks to wear. Weirdly, I find that whatever socks I pick help to dictate how I feel about the day – so when I have a really productive day planned, I like to wear very comfortable socks. Putting on the socks and feeling comfort and warmth makes me instantly feel good about the day ahead of me. I’m not sure why but it does it for me and maybe it will do it for you too. I really like icebreaker socks if you’re looking for a great brand of socks to wear.

Listen to a pump up song

Music is great but rather than listening to music all day (which, when I’m working, I try to not listen to anything so that I can concentrate fully on my work), I use music sporadically throughout the day when I feel like my mood or energy is particularly low. I’ll put on a song that is really high energy and upbeat, maybe on repeat and the song is a great pick-me-up – I especially like to put on the song strategically in the afternoon right after lunch when your energy levels can be particularly low. One of the songs I like to listen to is uptown funk by Bruno Mars feat Mark Ronson.

Watch a few minutes of standup

I can say that few things bring me to a smile or laugh as quickly as watching or listening to my favourite stand-up comedians. I’m a big fan of those with wry humour so enjoy Mitch Hedberg, Demetri Martin and Jerry Seinfeld. Watching or listening to a few minutes of standup brings a smile to my face and as an added bonus, telling those same jokes to friends helps bring that positive energy to others.

Go for a water or coffee break

Although I think it has been busted that you’re supposed to get 8 glasses of water every day, water is crucial to your bodily functions and if you do not get enough water, you will feel dehydrated and possibly lethargic (or at least I do when I don’t get enough water). Think about when you wake up and what a difference it is when you get in a glass of water right away – you wake up right away and feel like you are ready to tackle the day. Throughout my day, I like to get up, fill my water bottle and drink a cup of water – it’s a good way to prevent yourself from sitting all day and making sure you get some of your 10,000 steps in.

Message a friend you haven’t talked to in a long time

For whatever reason, you probably have friends that you were close with in the past that you rarely talk to today. Maybe you or they have moved away to another place. Or they have kids now so you do not regularly go out anymore. Whatever the reason, you were friends for a reason in the past and unless something happened, it wouldn’t hurt to talk to them again. Messaging friends you haven’t talked to in a long time can bring back great memories – I’d start with “Hey, sorry I haven’t kept in touch – was thinking of you and wondering how you are doing?”

Take in six deep breaths

Six deep breaths will help to stimulate your vagus nerve which will help relax you. If you’re concentrating on taking in six deep breaths, you likely won’t be doing much else so it will allow you to take a break from whatever you are doing. Finally, it’s a bit of a silent meditation which will help improve your focus and concentration for other activities. What’s a deep breath? Breathe in for five seconds, hold for five seconds, breathe out for five seconds, hold for five seconds. Then repeat five more times.

Tense and relax

Back when I was working at UBC, a bunch of students and I were going through a long training session. The workshop facilitator, sensing that our energies were low, taught us a simple technique to help get some blood going and our energy levels back up. As we were sitting in the chair, the facilitator told us to tense everything from the bottom up. Tense our toes, then our feet, our knees, thighs, legs, butt, abs, chest, arms, neck, mouth, face and then head. Tense everything and then relax. Repeat a few times. I find that this helps to get the blood flowing and is a simple way to get your energy levels going when you have been sitting for many, many hours and do not have a chance to stand up and walk around.

Walk outside, preferably a park or somewhere with plants and trees

I work downtown and sometimes, all I see is an urban jungle. Taking a walk outside with nature helps to relax you – I would recommend not bringing your smartphone or any digital devices. Just take a moment to wander outside, look at the greenery and get away from your smartphone.

Be grateful and remember how lucky you are

If you’re presumably on a computer or device with an internet connection, you are a lot better off than a lot of the world. I’m not going to quote specific statistics and such but even the fact that you are alive is incredibly lucky and I sometimes forget that (and I’m willing to bet that some of you do too). If you feel down, think about how lucky you are that you have food to eat, clean water to drink, a place to come home to and the ability to learn, read and improve. Focusing on the big picture helps to put things into perspective.

Help a stranger

I’m not telling you to do something drastic or significant like the movie Pay it forward – I’m just saying to do something small like holding the door open for someone or pointing out that someone’s backpack is open. If you want to do more and are in the position to be able to help someone, you can do this trick I learned from Adam Robinson – go for a coffee. Once you get up to the cashier, provide them with a $20 and tell them that you are paying for your coffee and the coffee of the person behind the person behind you (i.e., two people behind you) and tell them to give them all of the change. Why not the person behind you? Just so that they cannot immediately connect it with you. Or if you have more time, volunteer with an organization that you are passionate about.


These acts do not take a lot of time, they don’t really take any additional money and they do not require any special skills or experience. They are easy to do and they help improve my happiness – so why not give it a try yourself? What are some small things you do to improve your happiness?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *