Life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs. One day you’re on top of the world. The next day, you want to drown in your own misery.
At least – that certainly is the case for me.
As long as I can remember, I’ve always had highs and lows when it comes to my happiness on any given day.
When I’m feeling great, everything is awesome.
But when I’m feeling bad, it can be crippling. The lows get… really low. Anxiety. Worry. Depression. Self-despair. Sometimes I struggle to even get out of bed and do anything productive at all.
After dealing with these “happiness cycles” for many years, I’ve come to learn that it usually doesn’t take all that much to get me out of my negative periods.
I’ve learned that there are certain happiness-boosting activities I NEED to do regularly to feel good about myself and enjoy life.
If I haven’t done any of these things for too long, they usually lead to one of those crashes.
Usually, whenever I’m wallowing in my pit of misery, it’s because I’ve neglected one or several of these things for far too long, and wasn’t even aware of it.
It snuck up on me. Caught me by surprise.
I also had another realization:
When I’m feeling down, it can be incredibly hard to pinpoint exactly WHY I’m feeling down in that moment. It’s hard to accurately assess what caused me to sink so deep, and how to get out of it.
I can feel that something’s wrong… but just don’t know what it is exactly.
I’ve begrudgingly come to the conclusion that I just can’t trust myself to identify what’s the root cause of that unhappiness in the moment.
That’s why I’ve come up with this Happiness Checklist.
Whenever I’m feeling down, depressed, anxious or just plain unhappy, I run down this checklist to get myself back into a happy state of mind.
Next time you’re feeling down, and don’t know how to get out of it, try going over this checklist:
1. Are you tired or sleep deprived?
It’s hard to be happy when you’re exhausted.
Abundant, regular sleep performs a vital function in keeping you happy. During sleep, your brain processes your negative emotions, and actively boosts your mood.
Make sure you get plenty of it. Aim for at least 8 hours per night.
So – how long has it been since you had a good night’s sleep? How long have you been up today?
If you’ve been up for a while, just go to bed and call it a night. You’ve fought your fight for the day. Get some rest, and fight again tomorrow morning.
2. Is it late at night and you’re feeling miserable?
Nighttime has a tendency to make things look darker than they actually are. Your fears and worries are amplified. The light at the end of the tunnel seems so distant.
On top of that, you’re probably more tired than you think and your brain is playing tricks on you.
Just go to bed.
Don’t worry if everything looks gloomy tonight. Hit the sack. It’ll all look better tomorrow morning. I promise. Happiness is only a day away.
3. Have you exercised recently?
If not… get your body moving.
Exercising is the quickest happiness boost you can get.
Go for a run. Lift some weights. Do some bodyweight exercises. Do yoga.
Get your heartbeat up for at least 30 minutes, and flood your brain with the positive chemicals physical exercise releases in your bloodstream.
If you haven’t exercised in the last 48 hours, your mood will probably benefit from working out – even if you don’t believe it in the moment.
The difference between how you feel before and after a workout is night and day. Take advantage of that natural high.
4. How long have you been locked up inside?
One of the worst punishments we as a society can give criminals is to lock them up in solitary confinement, and prevent them from interacting with other people.
Yet we voluntarily do this to ourselves all the time!
Have you been out of the door today? Have you stepped out into the world and seen reality with your own eyes? Or have you locked yourself up in your own house?
Get out of the house. Walk around. Go somewhere. Do something.
If you don’t leave your home for too long, your mind starts working in a weird way. Don’t torture yourself by locking yourself up inside your own prison.
5. When did you last socialize?
When was the last time you deeply socialized with someone? Or just hung out and relaxed with a group of friends you’re comfortable with?
You’re a social creature. You’re built for socializing, and you NEED it to stay happy.
Hanging out with other people and engaging with them gives you a sense of primal fulfillment that invigorates you. It makes you feel alive.
Socialize in person with people you like.
Remember: social media, computer screens and cell phones are NOT socializing. They might feel like it, but they’re not.
You’re a social creature that needs people around you physically. Head out and engage!
6. When did you last do something productive?
We humans have been part of an interdependent society for as long as we’ve been around.
We each depend on other people and play in a role in each other’s lives. In some ways, we are the value we bring to the world around us.
When did you last do something productive – something that made the world better?
Doing real work feels great. There’s a sense of reward in doing a job well done.
It feels good to know that you’re taking part in society. That you’re doing something productive.
If you’re feeling restless – do something. Do your work. Earn your living. Create. Build. Push through the resistance. Be productive.
7. Are you on top of your work?
If not, just get it over with.
You’ll have to do it eventually anyway.
You’ll always feel like shit if you’re behind on everything you need to do. (Nearly) missing deadlines feels terrible.
Procrastinating won’t solve anything, no matter how intimidating the task might seem. It will only prolong and delay the unhappiness.
Resistance will keep kicking your ass, making your life miserable until you do the things you need to do. Once you’re on top of your work, a sense of calm will come over you.
Get on it and hustle. The only way out is through.
8. When did you last do something romantic or sexual with someone you’re attracted to?
You need to feel loved, desired and attractive every now and then to thrive as a human being.
You need affection, love and intimacy.
So make time to find someone to share it with.
If you have a partner, spend some quality intimate time with them.
If you don’t have one, go out and find someone. Talk to someone you’re attracted to. Flirt. There are plenty of people think you’re attractive out there – no matter what you think. The only way to meet them is by putting yourself out there.
9. When did you last learn something new?
Humans are unique in how inquisitive and curious we are. We’re built to learn. Learning new things feels great. It helps you and your mind grow.
So, challenge your mind.
Read a thought provoking book. Watch an inspiring documentary. Follow a course in something you’re interested in.
Stimulate your mind. Make it grow.
It’ll help you see the bigger picture of why you’re doing things. It helps you realize that you can learn whatever you want. And it makes you feel great.
10. When did you last help someone else?
As real as your unhappiness feels right now, it’s just as fake as well. It’s all in your head. But it feels so real because it’s all you can think of.
Your mind is fixated on your own problems that you can no longer see the bigger picture.
But you’re not alone. Other people are going through similar problems. And just like you, they can feel utterly lost.
Talk to them.
Ask them what’s wrong in their lives and see how you can help them.
Often, it’s surprisingly simple to help someone out.
Helping other people feels great. You’re a good person, and it’s a natural thing to do.
Helping other people helps you get your mind off your own problems. And hearing what problems other people worry about shows you how insignificant some of your problems are.
11. When did you last let yourself go?
Life isn’t all about work, work, work. There’s more to life than the serious stuff.
You need regular relaxation and rejuvenation to thrive.
You need to play.
Take some time off. At least once each week. Do something fun.
Something you really enjoy, without allowing yourself to feel guilty about work. Take up a fun hobby. Or just play. Be in touch with your inner child.
There’ll always be plenty of work to do later. You’ve got your whole life left to worry about it.
For now, just let yourself go crazy for a night. Indulge in something you thoroughly enjoy. You’ll feel a lot better afterwards.
12. When did you last create something?
Work is all good and important. It pays the bills.
But unfortunately, not all of us do work we enjoy.
Make sure you perform a creative pursuit you enjoy.
Build something. Write. Create art. Systems. Tools.
The act of building something and seeing it come to life is very rewarding.
13. Are you clear on what you need to do?
If you don’t know what you should do next in life, it can feel like you’re drowning.
Are you clear on what you need to do next in your work and your life to reach your goals?
If not, write it all out.
Write it out in big lists.
Get it all out of your head and onto paper. It fits so much better on there than taking up your mental bandwidth.
Empty your mind. Gain clarity. And stop worrying.
14. When did you last appreciate yourself?
Sometimes, we’re too hard on ourselves.
Sure, you’re not exactly where you want to be in life yet. But you’re doing your best to get there giving the circumstances.
Give yourself some credit for that!
Appreciate yourself. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. And love yourself. Love yourself for who you are. Know deep down inside that you’re a good person who’s doing the best you can.
Practice gratitude for what’s good in your life: you, what you’re doing, the people around you, the beautiful things you experience.
If you don’t love and appreciate yourself, you’ll never be happy.
15. What lesson can you learn from this unhappy period?
Sometimes the solution isn’t that straightforward. There might be a bigger problem in your life causing you a lot of misery.
You might not be able to fix the problem overnight. But you can make sure the same problem will never happen again.
What can you learn from this negative experience to make sure it’ll never happen again? What can you do differently next time to avoid it?
Don’t let a good learning opportunity go to waste.
You’re here on this planet to learn and grow and do something with everything you learn.
If you manage to learn at least ONE solid life lesson from the negative experience you’re going through, it wasn’t all a waste. It helped you grow as a person.
16. Just breathe.
In the bigger scheme of things, you’re probably fine.
This is just a minor hurdle on your journey through life.
Get your mind off it.
Let it go. Breathe. Be present. Focus on the now.
And all your problems will disappear.
Inoculate Yourself Against Unhappiness
It sounds ridiculously simple, but this little checklist has worked wonders for me.
Whenever I’m feeling down, I’ll go through it and quickly assess whats’s probably the root cause of my current slump.
The things in life that make you the happiest are usually remarkably simple, cheap and easy to obtain.
Having a checklist like this can help you pick yourself up when you’re feeling down.
Before an airplane takes off, the pilot will run through a long flight safety checklist to make sure the plane is safe to fly.
There’s a long list of things they need to do, just to make sure the flight will be a safe and successful one.
Without that flight safety checklist, they might forget about one tiny (but crucial) step, inadvertently leading to a crash.
Think of this happiness checklist as your precautionary method to keep you happy. It inoculates yourself against unhappiness and depression.
You might think you could just wing it, and accurately gage what your body feels like in the moment. But you don’t. You have blind spots. You end up forgetting about things.
Whenever you’re feeling down, run through this checklist to quickly assess what activity you’ve been neglecting in your life, and how to fix it.
The next time you feel like shit, thoroughly depressed, and you don’t know what the problem is, I challenge you to go down this checklist, and do a few (or all) of these activities. If you still feel bad afterwards, something’s wrong. But I don’t think you will.
What else is on your happiness checklist?
P.S. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a similar version of this idea on someone else’s blog at some point, which probably lodged itself into my brain and inspired me to write this post. But for the life of me, I can’t remember where I saw it. If you know, tell me so I I can give credit where credit is due