Sure, the big decisions are important — get an education, marry the right person, do work you love — but often, after you establish the big things — or if you get the big things wrong — it’s the little habits that make every day better.
It required a solid 40 years to learn these things, but now that I’ve incorporated them into my life, I live better. I share them so you may live better, too.
1. Eat fruit with breakfast. No matter what else you eat, eat a piece of fruit. It’s always time to go grocery shopping when I’ve run out of fruit. Bananas are the no-excuse go-to option because you can even eat a banana on the bus, in the car, while you check your email when you get to work. If you have any hope of getting 5 a day (i.e., five servings of fruits and vegetables a day), you have to have at least one at breakfast.
2. Air dry your bras. Today’s bras with their space-age materials do not hold up well in the high heat of the dryer. And my bras don’t even do any heavy lifting. If you have large breasts, it’s even more important to treat your bras with care.
3. Set a timer to do unsavory tasks. I can unload half the dishwasher while I’m heating water for tea. I can file at least five things while my computer warms up. I can run (or walk) for 20 minutes. I can make at least eight phone calls in an hour. If I have a lot of housework, I set a timer (30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, whatever) and turn up the music. I focus for the allotted time, and I have permission to quit when the timer goes off, no matter how much I’ve accomplished. It’s better than procrastinating and getting nothing accomplished.
4. Garnish your soup. Soup is a delicious, filling and usually healthy choice for lunch or dinner. But any soup is better with a garnish. Toasted croutons on tomato soup. Shredded cheese and bacon bits on potato soup. A dollop of sour cream (and maybe a few pepitos) on almost anything. Presentation matters. Feed your eyes as well as your stomach.
5. Floss. Flossing regularly improves your breath and your health. Once you get the hang of it, it takes seconds. And it costs next to nothing. If you need help getting started, commit to doing it every day for three weeks no matter how inconvenient and see how No. 6 works.
6. You can train your brain. Habits work. If nagging, negative thoughts keep coming into your head, then keep banishing them. Eventually, the positive will sink in. Don’t dwell. Bad habits can be replaced with good habits if you’ll just give them a chance. “You are good enough, you are smart enough and people like you” as the “Saturday Night Live” character Stuart Smalley would say. Stuart Smalley might be a dork, but he’s a dork whose creator is a best-selling author and is now serving on the U.S. Senate.
7. Facebook is a process, not a destination. There is not just one way to be a friend. Be present. Write. Call. And if you’re friends on Facebook, use the information in the real world: Invite people to events, mention news you learn on Facebook on the phone, send a card based about important posts. For real friends, Facebook is a means, not an end.
8. Use fresh lemon, garlic and basil. The dried, reconstituted stuff has no flavor and is a waste of money. These ingredients are affordable and they improve the taste of basic foods like pasta, fish and eggs. Fresh lemon juice plus sugar and water makes the most divine summer drink. Fresh garlic is an essential ingredient in world cuisines like Asian, Italian, Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. Even a person as completely uninterested in gardening as me adores her basil plant every summer.
9. Don’t waste your time on local television news. It’s alarmist infotainment, and the weatherman doesn’t know what he’s talking about anyway. It’s cheap and empty. The TV shouldn’t be on during dinner whether you dine alone or with someone, and you could use the sleep more than the 10 p.m. crime report. The only time I watch TV news is in the morning when I’m running at the fitness center; at least then I’m multitasking.
10. Walk your dog. No matter what size she is. If you don’t have a dog, you’re off the hook on this tip. But if you own a dog, go for a walk. Dogs love walks (or, if you’re the right person and she’s the right dog, runs). I was 41 before I owned a dog, but I love her like no other pet. Dogs are pack animals, and you can be the leader of the pack — no one at your house will greet you with as much enthusiasm as your dog when you come home. If you feed and pet your beast, you have a friend for life. Walking your dog gets you outside, forces you to smell the roses (and any number of other things along your route), gets you moving and relaxes you.
Bonus tip: 11. Pray. Even if you’re not particularly religious, prayer helps. You won’t always get the answers you want or expect, but the very act of assigning control of chaos to Someone (or Something) else will improve the situation. Scientific studies have proven the power of prayer.
What did I miss? What little piece of advice do you to share to make life better? Do tell.