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9 Simple Ways to Improve Your Life Right Now

When I’m feeling sad, I like to do a few things. The first thing I do is nothing—meaning that I don’t believe you should always try to “fix” the state of feeling sad. It just happens sometimes!

It happens to everyone, or at least to most people, even if you aren’t prone to depression or another clinical diagnosis.

The next thing I do is ask myself a couple of questions:

1. How am I feeling?*

2. What do I want?

*Well, obviously I’m feeling sad, but it can be helpful to get more descriptive than that.

I often emerge from that thought process with something to do, which is nice. It doesn’t mean that this thing will fix the problem, but since that’s not (usually) the goal, I’m not going to be terribly disappointed if I go and do it and still feel sad.

After all, you need something to do, right? So you might as well do something that will be helpful or useful later on, even if it doesn’t clear up your immediate state of being.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions. I’ll include them under the heading “ways to improve your life,” which is fair enough, but for me I think of them as “things to do when I’m feeling discouraged and want to do something positive.”

Use or modify them as you see fit:

  • Pursue “eulogy virtues”: Focus on the qualities that people will remember you for, such as kindness, integrity, and empathy, rather than resumé virtues like career achievements. In other words, instead of working toward the next achievement, do something nice for someone else. (Shoutout to David Brooks, who has advanced this concept in his columns and books.)
  • Practice lifelong learning: Stay curious and open-minded by continuously learning new skills and seeking new experiences. This can help you adapt to change and maintain a sense of purpose. From time to time I like to ask myself: “What am I learning right now?” … and if I can’t think of a good answer, that’s a sign that I need to do more reading, take a new course, or otherwise educate myself.
  • Embrace the power of intention: Set clear intentions for your actions and thoughts, as they can shape your experiences and reality. If you can do one thing today, what should it be? One note: be careful about using intentions strictly as a productivity hack. Sometimes the best intention is to take time off work and go for a walk! Or whatever the equivalent is for you.
  • Discover your most underutilized sense: This one is hot off the press, as Gretchen Rubin has a new quiz out based on the Five Senses. (She also has a new book devoted to the topic.) I just took the test and am still thinking through how my results apply to me. 🙂
  • Plan for deep work: Set aside dedicated time for focused, undistracted work on tasks that require deep thinking and concentration. This is work that’s truly important but rarely urgent. Setting aside time will help you produce higher-quality work more efficiently. (Shoutout to Cal Newport.)
  • Make or update your will. I try to do this once a year. It feels good to think about gifts you’d like to leave behind! (Side note: thinking about death is usually a good way to improve your life in general.)
  • Connect with nature: Simply put, get outside. Spend time outdoors to ground yourself and draw energy and inspiration from the natural world. For me this often involves running, but just going for a walk is great, too.
  • Evaluate your day: At the end of every day, answer the question, “Did today matter?” Most people can answer this question for themselves intuitively. You know what matters to you! Over time, you’ll learn to align your behavior to have more “YES” answers.
  • Practice active listening: When engaging with others, fully focus on what they’re saying, instead of using the time to think about what you’re going to say next. (Side note: this is especially important when you’re hoping to persuade someone of something, or when you’re in any type of argument.)

Time Passes Anyway, So Do Something Useful

This list could be much more extensive. The point: no matter what else is going on, there’s always something you can do to improve your life.

These things (and many others—think of what you might add) can also help when you’re feeling sad or discouraged.

Go do something! Pick one of these today, and get to work.