What is your No. 1 well-being habit that makes you feel better and be better? And what do you do if, for whatever reason, you can’t engage in that habit?
Do you have a backup plan? If not, you might want to consider getting one now.
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Many people mistakenly think that happy and productive people are just naturally happy and motivated to do certain things that are good for them. Perhaps that’s true for a select lucky few.
However, for the majority of folks, research suggests that it’s actually the other way around. The happiest people tend to do specific things which then bring about their joy.
In fact, according to research by Barbara Fredrickson, these individuals make it a point to do what she calls “prioritizing positivity.” In other words, they schedule specific activities and habits into their day that they know will bring them joy.
Importance of identifying your top well-being habit
It’s important for all of us to identify what those activities are that bring us joy so that we can practice them regularly, and schedule them into our day to make them a habit.
For example, James’ No. 1 well-being habit is waking early and immediately tackling a challenging work project. And exercise, as we mentioned in a previous post, is “Suzie’s” top happiness habit.
While neither of these habits are easy—in fact, often neither of us feels like doing what can be challenging—we know ultimately these habits will make us feel better after doing them. Suzie likes to joke that she’s motivated to exercise since she always feels better, not worse, after a run. (Well, except for her most recent run, which we’ll get to in a minute.)
So, we do our best to make our No. 1 well-being interventions part of our daily schedule. On days we skip out on these activities, we tend not to feel as good. James can attest to that when instead of bouncing out of bed and immediately immersing himself in an engaging work project, as he’s accustomed to doing, he wastes time dawdling or scrolling his newsfeed.
And Suzie feels pretty lousy when she skips out on a run because she stayed up too late having a few glasses of wine while mindlessly watching television.
Do you have a backup plan for your well-being?
Sometimes, however, despite our best intentions and no fault of our own volition, we aren’t able to engage in our top well-being habit. And what happens when, if for some reason, we can’t engage in our No. 1 wellness habit for not just one or two days but for quite some time?
In the past few weeks, this unfortunately happened to both of us. James was pretty sick and couldn’t wake nearly as early as he’d like since he knew he needed additional sleep to strengthen his immune system.
And Suzie had a freak fall and badly injured a rib. It was the first time she felt worse, not better, after a run. She was told by the doctor she couldn’t exercise for at least one week.
We both felt a bit stymied by our circumstances. While James couldn’t wake as early as he would have liked, he got the better end of the stick. At least he could still engage in his work challenge. He just needed to come to terms with the fact that he had to start later in the day since his body needed rest.
Suzie, on the other hand, had to suddenly find another well-being habit that would not only help her get through the week but would give her a similar boost of energy and the post-exercise calm that her daily run provided.
At first, she was feeling a bit frenetic being unable to run. She was beating herself up about her fall. James encouraged her to practice self-compassion, treating herself with the same type of self-kindness she shows toward her family and friends. She wouldn’t berate them for tripping over a loose brick in the sidewalk. He also reminded her that setbacks happen to everyone and to focus on what she could control.
Suzie realized that things could have been much worse and was grateful that she didn’t break anything. She did her best to focus on the moment and was thankful to have an extra 90 minutes in her day. She immediately thought of something else that brought her great joy and how she could spend that time that normally carved out for exercise. That was a no-brainer: Spending quality time with her 11-year-old son, Liam.
Suzie and Liam, avid movie lovers, decided that their beloved movie night would morph into a movie week. They would spend each night over the next week watching an uplifting film together. Each day they carefully researched inspiring films and chose one that was mutually appealing. By the end of the week, Suzie was no longer feeling badly about missing her exercise.
In fact, she experienced a surge of oxytocin, the cuddling hormone, snuggling with our son on the couch watching some great films. And a boost in positive emotions of joy, serenity, and love while laughing and connecting with Liam. And the look on Liam’s face told us he experienced them as well, which is great news since research suggests co-experienced positive emotions can strengthen our closest connections.
On many nights, these movies were also natural catalysts for deep, meaningful conversations about important topics. Suzie and Liam continued connecting and experiencing a boost of positive emotions, like inspiration and awe, long after the movie ended.
Powerful effects of watching movies together
Research on watching movies together shows many additional positive benefits including increased empathy, understanding, and cooperation in young kids.
In one study, researchers found that parents tend to want to discuss the negative things in films like violence, for example. And it’s important that they do, of course. However, it’s also essential to discuss positive themes, like how the characters worked together using their strengths to overcome a challenge, they say.
“If you talk about the negative while also capitalizing on the positive, it can be a very productive discussion,” says Victoria Heasley, then at Penn State College of Medicine. In fact, she and colleagues encourage parents to actively watch and discuss films together with their kids focusing on both the positive and negative themes. Viewing movies together in this way can be a powerful method to guide children through their development process, they discovered.
Suzie found this out firsthand from Liam’s and her week-long movie marathon. The co-experienced positive emotions had a lasting impact long after the movies ended as well. And Suzie felt an even closer bond with her son in the past week.
Who knew that what was initially seen as a setback ended up being a blessing in the long run? Suzie wouldn’t have spent this additional time connecting with her son if an unavoidable change in her routine wouldn’t have happened.
We recommend that everyone has a well-being habit. It could be exercise, engrossing work, meditation or spending time in nature. Whatever it is, it’s important to do these activities regularly.
And it’s crucial to have a backup plan for your well-being if, for some reason, you can’t engage in your chosen activity. Having one (ideally, a few!) in your back pocket is key so you don’t have to scramble at the last minute.
Remember, too, the importance of being flexible when the unavoidable happens rather than berating yourself.
Finally, don’t let one unfortunate circumstance hijack your healthy habit and happiness. Be sure to get back on track once you’re physically able to resume your activity safely in order to reap well-being effects.