While I still have a long way to go before landing a syndicated “Dear Abby” type of column, my travels, explorations of scientific research (I’m a science journalist!), and countless hours of introspection have led me to some definite mojo truths.
Every day when I spring out of bed in the morning, I tap into these five nuggets of wisdom to make the most of life. If you are on a quest to capitalize on life’s awe-inspiring richness, here are some thoughts to get you started:
A few years back, my standard reaction to dealing with life’s lemons was to lock myself inside my room and sulk. But over the years I’ve realized that this strategy was wrong. “We can only be so objective about our situation on our own,” says Sherrie Campbell, PhD, author of Loving Yourself: The Mastery of Being Your Own Person. “What may feel tragic to us at the moment may not look so tragic after speaking to someone else.” So, whether you’re fussing over asking out your crush at the tennis club or are emotionally wrecked after a job loss, ask for help. Whether it’s a parent, a colleague, a friend from college—or even a shrink—there are always plenty of people ready to offer their perspective. “We are not meant to do this life alone,” says Campbell. “We are programmed to bond and to help each other.”
Choose experiences over possessions:
Uganda or Gucci bag? A study published by researchers at San Francisco State University last year found that participants were happier when they purchased experiences instead of material things. Last year, I had the choice between purchasing a car or traveling. I chose the latter. International travel had been a long-held dream, and I concluded that traveling was a better investment in terms of my happiness and learning (especially at the age of 27). I packed my bags and headed to Denmark, Germany, and South Africa, making 2014 the best year of my life. Torn between a new Versace gown and a wildlife safari in Kenya? You know the answer.
Seize the moment:
Truth be told, I’m not the queen of the being-in the-moment trick. Right before a deadline, my mind wanders off to guy troubles, pesky neighbors, weight issues—everything but the deadline. Paying attention is hard, but when I’m able to focus well, I have some of my best days. But how do you actually stay in the moment? “It is really about consciously disciplining the mind to stay focused,” says Campbell. “If people want happiness they have to focus their minds on the now moment, take notice of their thoughts, and redirect them in a positive moving manner.”
Find your tribes:
There’s plenty of research to show that social ties keep one healthy. In fact, a 2010 study published in PLOS Medicine found that people who had a wider social circle had a 50% better survival rate than loners. But the trick is to have variety and diversity in your relationships. “Intimate partnerships or parenting, or best friend relationships are great (when they’re good) but it’s important not to think of them as the only kind of meaningful relationships,” says Prudence Gourguechon, a Chicago-based psychoanalyst and psychiatrist and past president of American Psychoanalytic Association. So, while my best friend is my go-to person for practically everything, I have other kinds of fulfilling friendships, too. A school friend and I bond over superhero movies and geeky events like Comic-Con and literature festivals. Since I’m a stickler for fitness, a huge proportion of my time is spent with my running buddy. These people enrich my life in unique and different ways.
Get out of your comfort zone:
This isn’t about going bungee jumping in New Zealand or swimming across the English Channel (though these activities can definitely be thrilling!). We’re talking risk-taking in the context of life, career, and relationships. When I left my full-time job in 2013 to pursue a career as an independent journalist, many doubted I would last long. Here we are: It’s 2015, and I’m still going strong. “The only way to successfully take risks is to be objective about yourself, the risk, and the potential consequences,” says Elizabeth R. Thornton, adjunct lecturer in entrepreneurship, Babson College, Wellesley, Massachusetts. Been meaning to float that tech start-up that will make the lives of children in Africa easier? What’s stopping you? Take risks. You might fail. Or win.
Let’s raise a toast to living life fully in 2015. Looks like that car is going to have to wait another year, too, because this year’s savings are slated to go into an international trip across Asia. Now, live it up, will you?