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Four Daily Habits That Boost My Happiness

Posted by Kelley Bren Burke on

Want to be happier? Try one of these four daily habits that are proven to boost happiness: meditation, exercise, reading and gratitude.

FAVORITE HABIT #1: Meditation

I started my Happy New Month habit project six months ago with a daily meditation practice. I noticed small changes pretty quickly: slight boosts in calm and self awareness. 

A few months after I began daily meditation, I realized meditation had significantly altered my thought patterns. That day our dog Gracie had a medical emergency. Now I know that she was experiencing the side effects of what PetMD calls a dietary indiscretion. I call it eating rabbit poop in the back yard. 

Gracie cute dog in a pink and blue cone

This dietary indiscretion made her so sick that she was bleeding from her bottom. I grabbed a towel and her leash and raced her to the vet. While I was waiting for the vet in the examination room, my mind was spinning through the various scenarios. I remembered that my husband Chris had dropped a big Pyrex bowl in the kitchen a few days earlier. Did Gracie eat a chunk of Pyrex before he cleaned up? 

After a few minutes of anxious thoughts, I realized that I had no way of figuring out what happened by myself. The vet was on his way, and he would help. It was likely that we’d be home safe with some medication in a hour and we’d be done. And the saddest, worst case scenario was that we'd have to put her to sleep today. And there were 500 other scenarios in between. It was pointless for me to endlessly cycle through them. In the meantime, I decided to focus on being with Gracie. I tried to calm us both by petting her and talking to her. 

And sure enough, it was scenario #1. Home in a hour with some medication and special dog food for dogs with sensitive tummies. And dogs with rabbit poop vices.  

I recommend meditation for everyone. Meditation has two major benefits for me. I’m less reactive, and more present. I have insight on how my mind works. I see now that my mind is endlessly looping an old reel of thoughts. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this prior to meditation, but about 50% of my thoughts are planning and worry.

Because I’m more familiar with my thoughts now, I’m more likely to respond to whatever is happening, rather than react in a habitual way. I’m able to see how I’d typically react, but now I can often choose whether to take the bait. And when I do take the bait, any negative response is often watered down and shortened. 

I miss days on some of my habits. I never miss meditation. I’ve decided it’s a non-negotiable habit. I started with ten minutes of meditation every day. I gradually moved up to 20 minutes a day. Now I’m back down to 15 minutes a day. I decided to do this after a week of distracted 20-minute meditations. 

 I’m not a perfect meditator by any means. Thankfully, being a perfect meditator is not the point of meditation. I use my iPad to listen to my meditation app. I often get distracted by my iPad. That iPad is the alluring, seductive siren of my life. Meditation time is no exception. I’ve done the following things during meditation: texted with friends, checked the weather, added things to my to do list, checked my bank balance, looked to see what sold on Etsy during my meditation, and taken photos of my dog. 

Murphy the Olde English Bulldog

Even without my iPad, I often open my eyes to gaze at the stones on the bracelet that I'm wearing. Sparkly! 

Gems by Kelley Iolite Hill Tribe Silver Bracelet

The only thing that matters then is realizing that I’m distracted, and returning to my breath. 

The Headspace app is still my favorite meditation app. I have a current 143 day Run Streak in Headspace, which means I’ve meditated with Headspace for 143 days in a row. The Run Streak is motivating for me. Who wants to break a 143 day streak? Not this girl.

Headspace meditation app run streak

Headspace also shows that I’ve done 199 meditation sessions, for a total of 2797 minutes. 

Headspace meditation app series completion progress run streak

FAVORITE HABIT #2: Walking 

Walking is my second biggest happiness boosting habit. I started daily walking in March. Research shows that it’s best to begin with a small, easy habits. After you’ve established a small habit, you can build upon that after time. So I began with one walk around the block in March. I bumped it up to two blocks in April, and three blocks in May. Walking calms and energizes me and clears my brain. Much like meditation. And of course, it’s good for our dogs.

FAVORITE HABIT #3: Reading

Reading was the monthly habit I chose for February, and it’s my third favorite habit. Actually, it’s probably my favorite habit in terms of pleasure. Walking and meditation make me feel better and give me a mood boost for the day. Reading just plain old makes me happy. I mostly read nonfiction, so reading also gives me insights for changing my life. Now I’m reluctant to rank reading as #3. OK, let’s make it a tie: walking and reading for #2. I usually want to read more than I want to walk.  

I’ve loved books my whole life. I read constantly as a child. I even read while roller skating up and down my block. Yes, I was THAT COOL: eight year old kid with glasses, rocking her rainbow T-shirt, Judy Blume book, and pom pom’d roller skates. I continued being a voracious reader and ditched the roller skates. 

I’ve neglected reading since I opened my Etsy shop, Gems by Kelley in September 2013. Even so, I usually managed to read about one book a month for book club. I used to read several books a week. In February, I began reading thirty minutes a day. I set the timer on my iPhone and go. After a few months, I downgraded to 20 minutes of reading every day. I tend to read 2-3 books at a time. Here are the books I’ve finished or made a good dent in since February:

Stack of nonfiction books

FAVORITE HABIT #4: Gratitude

I chose gratitude for my April habit, so it’s my newest habit. That may be why I feel it’s been less impactful. 

I started my gratitude project by buying a cute gratitude journal on Etsy. 

I was going to write in my gratitude journal daily. Then I found research that says that writing in a gratitude journal once or twice a week is more helpful than daily journaling.  A website called Greater Good says that writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling.“We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Robert Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.”

Because of this, I  decided to write in my Gratitude Journal two or three times a week. Initially I wrote a few paragraphs about something I was grateful for, like my husband or my health. 

Then, I learned about The Five Minute Journal on a podcast. I listen to podcasts while I make and pack jewelry. One of my favorite podcasts is The Jess Lively Show. She interviewed someone who created The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day. The idea is to spend a few minutes at the beginning and the end of the day with a quick journaling exercise. 

I’ve adopted the morning part of the exercise. First, I write “I am grateful for . . .” Then I write three things. Next, I write: “What would make today great . . .” And I write three things. 

I wrote in my Gratitude Journal ten times in April. Some of the things I was grateful for: my husband, our dogs, new books, my sister, my business, our neighbors, our health. On a more embarrassing note: I was also grateful for a new season of The Bachelorette. And the series Gigolos on Showtime. We have a free 30 day Showtime trial. Gigolos is a crazy entertaining show, you guys. It’s a reality TV show about male gigolos in Las Vegas. On a side note, I just learned how to spell gigolos. I was spelling it gigilos and spell check kept trying to change it to “giggles”.  See, reality TV teaches us things! I’m grateful for that, too. 

In 2012, I bought Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project One-Sentence Journal. It lived on our dining room table. Over dinner, we each talked about a happy moment in our days. Then I wrote down a sentence or two in the journal. We did this for a few months in 2012, and then the habit lapsed. I revived the habit of our dinnertime gratitude chat in April. 

I believe a habit of gratitude will make me happier. It trains you to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. I’m going to keep up my Gratitude Journals. So far, the most impactful thing is the Five Minute Journal prompt “What would make today great?” Most of the time, I follow through on my ideas. 

My new habit for June

I didn’t formally add a new habit in May. I continued my daily habits of meditation, walking, reading and gratitude. My June habit will be writing. Before choosing a habit, I usually try it on for size for about a week. I’ve been writing for 15 minutes every morning this week. I’ll continue that though June.

Do you have a habit that impacts your happiness? Are you planning to start one soon? Let me know in the comments below! 


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8 comments

  • Hi Sami! Good to hear from you! I can see how knitting could be a meditative activity. I admire talented cooks and bakers. My husband is an excellent cook. My kitchen skills are limited to pouring wine and finding recipes on Pinterest. I’m a fabulous recipe finder :)

    Kelley Bren Burke on
  • I love this! Knitting is definitely one of my happiness habits (especially knitting in public!) and, lately, cooking/baking has been on the list too, something that utterly baffles me. Can’t agree with you enough on walking!

    Sami on
  • Hi Kelly! I use the Way of Life app to track my daily habits. It helps me stay on track. Let me know if you try meditation. I’d love to know what you think. I’m always up for book recommendations, too!

    Kelley Bren Burke on
  • I need to get back into the habit of starting a new habit. I might have to grab that app and try meditating. I’ve got the reading habit although my family says it’s an addiction. :) Every night, for the past few decades, I read myself to sleep.

    Kelly Sorenson on
  • Hi Jen! That’s awesome! I’m halfway through “Better Than Before”, by Gretchen Rubin. It’s giving me so many insights about changing habits.

    Kelley Bren Burke on

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