As children, most of us can’t wait to be adults because we want to be able to do whatever we want whenever we want. For many of us, that list includes things like eating ice cream for dinner every night, staying up all night playing games and watching movies, and never cleaning our rooms ever.
As we step into adulthood and finally gain the freedom to actually do those types of things, it often comes as a shock that they aren’t nearly as enjoyable as they might seem. So many things seem appealing in our imagination but come with unexpected consequences in real life. Still, they can be difficult to give up because they’re so enjoyable in the moment.
But after a lot of trial and error, a lot of sugar hangovers, and a shift toward prioritizing long-term health and happiness over short-term pleasure, I’ve come to accept some surprising realizations about what actually makes me happy. Here are a few of them:
I'm happier when I don't consume caffeine.
Any millennial knows that coffee culture is A Thing™. Every day, we’re surrounded by people who glorify coffee and claim they can’t function without it. But the thing is, we’ve quite literally normalized a drug addiction.
Now, I’m not going to go around claiming that no one should ever consume caffeine. For one, no one would ever read anything I write ever again. And two, caffeine is fine in reasonable quantities. But when coffee is a key part of your personality, you may want to consider backing off a bit.
I’m happier when I don’t consume caffeine because getting a good night of sleep every night is pretty much the best thing I can do when it comes to my happiness. I’ve gotten pretty great at consistently getting good sleep. I have a nighttime routine that leads me right into bed at a reasonable hour, and I make sure to live my life in such a way that I’m able to feel sleepy each night at bedtime and get good quality sleep. This means limiting naps, exercising often, and seriously limiting my caffeine intake.
If you’ve never tried cutting out caffeine, try it for a few weeks and see if anything changes. For me, those racing thoughts at night that prevent me from falling asleep are entirely caused by caffeine. Cut the caffeine and I can fall asleep quickly. It’s amazing how good you feel when you sleep well every night.
I'm happier when I wake up early.
If you told this to 15-year-old Abby, she’d probably crack up laughing. I used to be the night-owlest of night owls. But at some point in college, I started embracing mornings. I needed peace and quiet to get work done and focus on myself, and the best time to find that tranquility on a college campus is in the morning.
Turns out, I feel way less like a zombie, get more done, have more energy, and enjoy life more when I wake up early. I didn’t realize it at the time, but sleeping until 2 every day isn’t great for your mood. Seeing the sun is good for you.
I could write an entire post about all of the reasons I love waking up early. In fact, I have. But in general, waking up early means that my precious me-time falls at a time of day that is serene and full of potential. It’s difficult to feel bad about yourself when you’re journaling while watching the sunrise. (Btw, if you want to see pictures of these sunrises, my Instagram is full of them!)
Waking up early isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds once you get used to it. Quiet mornings are one of life’s simple pleasures, and embracing the little things that bring you joy is a great way to build long-term happiness.
Not to mention, sunlight is a huge mood booster. At this point in the year, I wake up just before sunrise and go to sleep just after sunset, which means I get to embrace every single moment of sunshine each day. Sunshine isn’t something that I ever want to take for granted and waking up early helps me appreciate it fully.
I'm happier when I work out every day.
Okay, maybe this one isn’t that surprising. It’s backed by all kinds of science and anyone who exercises regularly can tell you that it will make you feel good. What I didn’t realize is just how good the right kind of workout can make you feel.
Throughout my life, I’ve done gymnastics, soccer, tennis, running, swimming, and all of those random assorted sports that they make you do in high school gym class. I’ve ranged from hating them (swimming) to loving them (gymnastics), but until this past year, I hadn’t found something I loved and done it multiple times per week.
I now lift weights roughly five times per week and spend some time stretching and doing yoga most days, and I consistently feel great. Like, I can’t possibly emphasize enough how much working out improves your mood and energy levels. All of those scientists aren’t kidding when they talk about how good exercise is for you.
Finding a style of working out that you really love and doing it several times per week brings happiness is a way that nothing else can. The surprise here isn’t that exercise makes me happy, the surprise was that exercise makes me way happier than I ever thought it could.
I’m happier when I keep my space clean.
Along with being a night owl as a teenager, I also lived in a pigsty, much to my parents’ chagrin. I figured it was fine. I could (usually) find the things I needed, and I didn’t mind stepping over piles of clothing and half-finished projects all the time.
I was wrong. I didn’t realize how much my messy room impacted my happiness because I’d never kept it clean before, so I had no idea what I was missing out on.
Somehow, being in a clean space feels like you have more room to breathe. It feels like you have the freedom and opportunity to be creative. It feels full of potential. Clean spaces make my mind feel like it has room to explore and try new things.
I realize that that’s a lot to claim for something so simple and not everyone will agree with me or know what I mean, but for me, it’s true. I’m still not the cleanest person, and things do tend to get a little out of hand when I’m in the middle of a project, but in general, I strive to keep my apartment fairly clean.
Even if cleaning your room doesn’t make you feel like a new person, at the very least, it’s nice to be able to find things and not feel embarrassed when company comes over.
I'm happier when I don't drink.
If you’ve only ever met the blog version of me who likes waking up early, works out often, meditates daily, and constantly posts pictures of vegetables on her Instagram, it will probably surprise you to learn that I’ve partied hard.
Most of the partying occurred during my freshman year of college but there were plenty of late, intoxicated nights in the years before and after that. It wasn’t enough to damage my grades, but I’m sure it impacted my health and happiness at the time.
Don’t get me wrong: partying is fun. It’s definitely enjoyable in the moment and I’m not faulting you for loving a good night out. I get it. I really do. But I’m happier without it because I’ve realized that a good night out isn’t worth the trade off of losing most of the next day.
This ties back in to the realizations that I’m happier when I wake up early and when I work out. When you’re out late, there’s definitely no waking up early, at least not without feeling like you’re dying, and the workout is pretty hit or miss. Because waking up early and working out do make me happy, it stands to reason that activities that prevent me from doing those things would make me unhappy. It’s important to me that I live a life that facilitates the things that make me feel good.
The decision to quit partying was what was right for me. It’s possible to strike a balance, but if you find that your nights out are cutting into your goals, then the partying should be the thing to go, not your goals.
With anything that interferes with your goals, the thing to ask yourself is, “is it worth it?” For me, the late nights weren’t worth it. For you, going out may help you maintain a balance between working hard and living life. It’s a personal decision to make. But if you find yourself wishing most mornings that you’d just gone to bed at 10, it might be time to commit to staying in.
Also, admittedly, I don’t like alcohol. I don’t like the taste, and I hate drinking it. Deciding that I don’t drink has made it easier to turn down those politely offered drinks that I’d usually accept without a second thought but hate with every sip.
I’m happier when I work hard.
Before I get into this one, I want to clarify something. Nearly every time I mention working hard, people interpret what I’m saying to essentially mean, “you should work yourself to the bone so The Man can make an extra dollar.” I’ve never meant it like that. When I say “work hard” it has nothing to do with capitalism (unless you’re turning something that you love into a business because that’s what you want to do.)
When I say, “I’m happier when I work hard,” and speak about the value of putting in effort, I’m talking about putting effort into yourself, into your hobbies, into your passions. Putting energy into something that you love and find intrinsically rewarding is a great way to make life more fulfilling and enjoyable.
Similarly, feeling healthy and energetic leads to happiness, and working out and eating well help to make you feel healthy and energetic. Therefore, working out and eating well bring happiness. When I say that I’m happier when I work hard, that’s what I’m talking about. Putting your energy into the things that matter to you and bring you results leads to happiness.
Over the last several years, I’ve been putting more and more effort into building skills, learning new things that interest me, taking care of my body, and exploring the world around me. And each ounce of effort that I put into those things ultimately brings a pound of reward.
Put effort into yourself. It’s worth it.