The Habits of Happiness

When I turned 39, I decided I wanted to do something special to celebrate my 40th trip around the sun.

Having explored a few “40 before 40” lists, and found them wanting, I came up with my own plan. My goal for this year is to incorporate 40 healthy habits into my routine. I’m going to keep track of them here. I hope you might find one or two to take up yourself, and I welcome your comments, suggestions and cheerleading too!

1. Goodbye, I love you

I’ve never been great at expressing this feeling, but I am convinced if you feel it you should say it. This habit is about making sure I say “I love you” to the people I really care about, for example at the end of phone calls.

2. A.S.L

I’ve meant to learn Sign Language for a long time. Languages are hard for me. When I asked for suggestions for my list, learning a new skill and doing something I had always intended to were both offered. This matches both! 4 lessons into a free online course, I’m really enjoying it.

3. London Calling

There are few better ways to lose an hour than talking to a friend. Although neither started in 2021, my weekly phone calls to a neighbour on Mondays and my dear friend Joy on Fridays are highlights of the week. Long may they continue.

4. A Routine Made Of Habits

To an extent, I guess all habits should be part of your routine, but this one is about weekly chores. Laundry, House cleaning, etc. I find it much easier to keep on top of them if they have their own day / days and don’t wait until I ‘have time’.

5. The Drugs Don’t Work

… unless you take them. Remembering to take medication, supplements or whatever I need to take isn’t my strong suit. But now, I’ve started storing mine in a cupboard I open every breakfast time. And taking a dose immediately so I don’t get distracted and forget.

6. Run Forrest, Run

Fitting exercise into a day is probably the biggest challenge for me. So I’m starting small: up and down one flight of stairs 5 times a day. It doesn’t take long and I don’t need to shower or change for it, so I don’t have lack of time as an excuse. Even after 3 weeks, it’s already starting to feel a tiny bit easier.

7. While you’re here…

Someone advised me that the easiest way to incorporate habits is to link them to something you already do. So every day, the first time I go into the basement, I sweep the cats’ litter box. It means I don’t feel like it’s a ‘thing to do’ in its own right.

8. Goodnight Kiss

Ever since they stopped sleeping with me (or inside me!) I’ve made sure to kiss my kids goodnight when I go to bed. It’s probably my favourite habit of all!

Not like this!

9. I love you enough to check

On the subject of I Love You, another habit I have is checking the kids are strapped in before we drive off. The big one is able to do his own straps now, but I still stick my head through the door, give him a kiss and check his belt. It makes me feel safe… and I hope makes them feel loved.

By Pedro Ribeiro Simões from Lisboa, Portugal – Girl Shopping, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85152054

10. Support network

Buying a new bra every year around Christmas time means I remember to throw out the old, worn-out ones on rotation. And it’s always nice to get a little extra support 😉

11. Elmowrites because Elmo loves to write

Someone asked me the other day when I became a writer. I couldn’t answer, because I think it’s always been in my soul. Making a habit of writing on this blog, in particular Friday Fiction every Wednesday, is probably one of the healthiest habits I have. It does wonders for my brain and I’m so glad to be back in the habit now.

12. Baby’s Got New Shoes

I have to wear shoes indoors for the support or my legs start hurting. Remembering to replace them regularly prevents the pain recurring, so a habit I’m trying to build is to buy new sneakers every time the clocks change. And yes, I know the picture isn’t strictly relevant, but who couldn’t use a little more Robert Redford in their life?

13. Giving Tuesdays

Last year I discovered that buying gift cards for our local supermarket, then using them to pay for our groceries, gave the kids’ school a 1.5% kickback on everything I spend. It doesn’t cost me anything or affect my points and it adds maybe 1 minute to my weekly shopping trip. Pretty neat, eh? So now I’m in the habit of buying giftcards. And spending them.

14. I gotta tell you…

I love buying from small businesses, but my limited dollars only go so far, and I’ve read time and again that one of the best ways to support a small business, whether that’s a bricks-and-mortar store, an etsy page or a new author, is through a positive review. So one of my new habits is to post google reviews regularly, and whenever I try something new and find myself impressed.

Mole, in Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

15. Hang Spring Cleaning!

Whether you binge-watch Marie Kondo, read a book or take an online course, there are plenty of places to find inspiration and methods, but the idea is once a year to take the time to remove the crap that’s weighing you down. Not just the dirt, but the mess and the clutter. I recently recommended it to a newly-unemployed mom friend of mine as one of the best things I did when in her position.

File:Home yoga workout.jpgThis isn’t what I look like while exercising…10 core exercises to improve your back—and they're better for your body  than crunches

Nor is this!

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16. Just A Line

A while back, I started looking for a Line A Day diary, on the advice of a wise friend who loves hers. I finally found one in a charity shop, in Kidderminster. It’s a beautiful design and I can’t wait to get into the habit of completing it each day.

17. We Can Work It Out

Wow, it’s November and I’m only at 17! But there are plenty to add. Running up and down stairs hasn’t stuck as well as I’d like, but I’m getting better at doing my physio exercises. Two sets actually, one every other evening and the other each morning. Does that count as 17 and 18?!

18. Christmas is Coming

At the risk of spoilers, my parents and parents-in-law get the same presents every year: a photo calendar full of grandchildren and a home-made craft we make together as a family. They don’t need ‘things’ and I think they appreciate the love that goes into both gifts. So making those is an annual habit for me.

19. Tally Ho!

That craft we make for the Grandparents always happens during our annual trip to a small cottage a couple of hours north of Toronto. The name feels strangely British, and always makes me smile, the cottages are simple and comfy with lovely views over the lake. It’s an annual tradition and we all love it.

20. Going Spare

During the pandemic, I joined a local Facebook foodshare group. Now, if we have food leftover that we won’t eat (like yesterday, when I discovered I had too much short-dated milk), I post it there. It saves wastage and helps someone out. It’s a habit to take the time to post something I might otherwise just throw away.

21. Just Say Yes

It’s easy to overthink things, but some of my best decisions have come from going with my gut. I recently bought a new dress. It wasn’t cheap and I won’t have a million opportunities to wear it ‘out’ but I love it. Whether it’s the occasional splurge or pausing to catch my breath, I want to get into the habit of letting myself do things that make me happy.

22. Just say No

On the other hand, I also need to get better at saying no. I can’t do everything and confidently, kindly refusing to help is OK. It’s why I’m not on School Council at either kids’ school this year. I suppose the habit is to think before agreeing to take something on.

23. Get the meal deal

Making the kids’ lunches isn’t anyone’s favourite job. One thing that helps is that I try to do them while I’m cooking dinner. I’m in the kitchen and have food out anyway, and there’s often a gap while things are cooking or water’s coming to the boil. It’s another habit that saves something feeling like a job of its own.

24. A Wave on the Highway

Since we bought our jeep a year ago, one of my favourite habits is the wave on the highway that all Wrangler drivers share. I know there are problems with our instinct towards tribalism, but waving at other drivers makes me happy. Especially when they wave back!

25. #Duck, duck, jeep!

The jeep has given me another happy habit recently too. I occasionally buy a bag of cheap rubber ducks, write the hashtag on the bottom and then me and the kids leave them on other jeeps we see in parking lots. It brings the kids so much joy and hopefully spreads a bit to strangers too. (Although it possibly mostly spreads confusion!)

26. That time of the month

The last weekend of every month is bonus cleaning time. Regular cleaning makes it quick and not-so-dirty, so I clean the dishwasher, washing machine, cat beds etc before they get stinky!

27. It takes a village

This lesson isn’t yet a habit, but it should be. ASK FOR HELP. I literally love it when a friend asks me to pick up her kid from school or grab her something from the store. It makes me feel important and valued, but more than that it makes me feel trusted with their weakness. I can give someone that same gift by asking for help when I need it, or even just when I could cope without, but the effort to them is less than the benefit to me.

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28. Trust in the Future

I remember when Sebastian was a toddler, saying to a friend that I couldn’t imagine letting him run ahead down our road. He was so small and fragile, and like all toddlers, completely untrustworthy when it came to his own safety. But somewhere along the way he turned into a 9 year old who can walk to his friends’ house alone. There’s a lot I still can’t imagine, but I trust it will come to pass anyway.

29. Forgive the past

I believe this is a habit I’ll be working on forever, but forgiveness is one of the healthiest habits I can think of – forgiving not just others, but also myself.

30. Healthy is happy

This gorgeous card from Wild Canary Studios reminds me of a few habits I wish we didn’t need. But washing hands, cleaning teeth and (right now) wearing a mask are all second nature, but vital habits for health and happiness.

31. Snuggles

Most evenings, when I finally sit down, it’s with the laptop or phone still on my knee, but there is something more important. Two somethings, actually. Whether they come is up to them, but if they come, I make space because every cat cuddle brings joy.

32. Stop, Look and Listen

Time doesn’t pass fast for me. It doesn’t usually drag; it just is. Apparently living in the moment is good for happiness, in which case I guess this is a habit of happiness in itself. But while time doesn’t rush by, I do multitask, and miss things. So I make a habit of stopping, sometimes. Watching the show without also ironing, watching the swimming lesson without checking my phone… Being truly engrossed.

33. Extra Special Last One

When we’re nearly at the end of things, Jon often tells the kids “last one” and then gives them an “extra special last one”. It drives me crazy, mainly because it requires extra planning on my part, but I have to admit it often saves drama. So maybe it’s not a habit for my happiness, but the kids’ happiness is my ultimate goal, right?

34. And again

If the kids get an extra song or turn, they should get an extra chance too, right? Sometimes it feels like every chance I give them to do the right thing, they mess up. But the funny thing is, when I’m right at the end of my rope, about to ban them from TV for life, if I give then one last chance, they pull it out of the bag. At 9 and 6, it’s about going to bed on time or saying please and thank you. As they get older, I’m guessing this habit will come into its own.

35. Time For Tea

When I used to take the kids to the grocery store, the staff gave them a cookie each for free. Whether you saw it as a reward for good behaviour, a distraction to prevent chaos or a sugar boost to avoid hangry tantrums, it was a lovely scheme, but I always wondered why tired Moms didn’t get one too. So I buy myself a bright pink, delicious tea at the end of each shopping trip. It’s hydrating, it’s tasty and I’ve never yet had a hangry tantrum in the store, so it must work!

36. Totally a twofer

When I buy the tea, I also buy something for Jon. Usually a cake, in summer an iced coffee. It’s a habit, so I guess we will eventually take it for granted, like me buying pods for his coffee machine or his favourite cheese. But right now, it feels like a gift. A little ‘I love you’ moment in a relationship it’s easy to take for granted.

37. The Answer is Always Yes

Charitable giving is hard. How do you choose the few charities you give to regularly when there are so many amazing possibilities? Each of my friends has causes that are important to them and I love them for it. So, ever since I’ve earned money of my own, I’ve had a simple rule. If anyone I know, even vaguely, asks me to sponsor them for a charity they think is worthwhile, I will. Every time.

38. Eat…

Not all my eating habits are super healthy (daily chocolate for example), but for the most part I have a healthy relationship with food and good eating habits. Fresh, home-cooked and eaten without guilt.

39. … Drink…

Honestly, this was one of the first habits I thought of but the problem was, I didn’t have it. And almost a year into Operation Habit, I still don’t drink enough. I don’t drink other things in place of water, I just don’t hydrate enough. So this one’s kind of a cheat: a habit I want. I want to drink more water. Maybe I’ll get into this habit in year 41.

40. … And Be Merry!

A few years ago, I did a challenge to post one thing I’m grateful for on Facebook, every day for 100 days. It was fun and a wonderful habit to get into, because when you start looking, there’s joy everywhere and when you make looking a habit, it’s impossible not to see it. So that’s habit 40. Another one I am variously successful with, but one of the best HoH of all.

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