A healthy life is about more than just a workout regime and daily green-smoothie. A healthy life is built around a morning routine that sparks joy, daily showers and mindful hygiene, positive self-talk, clean and functional spaces, intentional gratitude, authenticity and honest interactions, and making time to appreciate the outside world.
As Winter transitioned into Spring, I made the conscious effort to Spring Clean my life by focusing a new and higher level of energy towards a whole-body, whole-mind, whole-soul healthy lifestyle. Some of the things I did to cleanse my life were a return to the patterns and routines that I used to use to find happiness, however, others required becoming a student and being open to new practices.
Here, I share the 6 things I have implemented over the last four weeks to increase the joy in my everyday life
1. I KonMari-ed My Bedroom
Anyone who has encountered the teachings of Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo knows that minimalism is currently all the rage; in Kondo’s housekeeping manual, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, readers are inspired to throw away (or donate) all of their unneeded and “joyless” belongings. I love cleaning and tidying but I have never cleaned according to a “method”. However, this time I gave my apartment a good ole’ spring cleaning, I used the teachings of Kondo to plan how my new apartment would be organized when I moved in on the last day of March.
In my new apartment, the clothes in my closet are hung in color pleasing patterns and my books are stacked according to genre and in aesthetically pleasing piles. As a side note, I should mention that Kondo urges her readers to get rid of most of their books, only keeping the ones that “spark joy”, however as a lover of all things books, I didn’t get rid of any books (and thus did not fully embrace Kondo’s teachings). However, I did organize my memorabilia drawer, clean out my sock drawer, and de-clutter my toiletry kit and day-pack.
In order to help my room maintain the calmness that permeated the atmosphere after I KonMari-ed my space, I have begun making my bed each morning. According to Well & Good, making her bed is the first thing that actress Elaine Hendrix does in the a.m. because it “symbolizes the closing of yesterday and the start of a fresh new day”. Plus, it makes the whole room look less chaotic, which subconsciously calms the mind and inadvertently welcomes me home with crispness. I have also found that when I make my bed, I am less inclined to climb between the sheets in the middle of the day, instead I lounge on the living-room couch when my body is craving that position.. While I am not against spending daytime hours in my bedroom (especially if it means opening the balcony door and writing at my desk), I try not to spend much time in or on my bed when I am not sleeping.
Kondo says, “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too.” It’s true. Now, every time I walk into my apartment, I’m filled with joy: I’m home.
2. I Became A Student of Hygge
Remember when staying in was considered social-death at worst and boring at best? Well thanks to “hygge” staying in is hip and Friday nights snuggled up and watching Netflix are not only “chill”, but recommended. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) is a Danish term for nesting and resting that encourages making. As if I needed another excuse to skip happy hour for a blissful evening curled up in bed reading another celebrity memoir, becoming a student of hygge has helped me be even more sure that I’ve made the right decision to stay in.
After reading an article about hygge on SELF.com, I was intrigued and headed straight to my go-to Barnes & Noble to purchase all the “hygge” how-to manuals. With How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen and The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking under my arm, I left the store ready to study. How to Hygge is an illustrated how-to-hygge-guide that allows you to literally hold something hygge in your hands: the books texture, color-scheme, and illustrations embody the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and wellbeing. The Little Book of Hygge is a great introduction into the Danish way of life and offers plenty of tips for people just starting out on their hygge adventure.
After a month of studying hygge I am still only a student of hygge and not a professor of “coziness”. But I have incorporated my learnings into my everyday practices as I set out to make a city that does not (yet) feel like home, home. However, these two books helped me set up coziness matras, which I remind myself of daily with post-it notes that are neatly arranged on my desk. Get comfy. Take a break. Be here now. Turn off the phones. Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles. Build relationships. Embrace vulnerability. Spend time with your #squad. Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Live life today. Live in the moment.
These mantras that have helped me Spring clean my soul as much as the act of intentionally studying something has. By declaring myself a student of hygge, my interest in hygge stopped being a passive fascination and transformed into a purposeful undertaking that let me not only observe hygge, but experience it.
3. I Started Expressing Gratitude
I was gifted a beautiful leather journal that has been lying unmarked on my desk since Valentine’s Day. After reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin for a second time, I decided to try writing in a gratitude journal as part of my own road to happiness. In her book, she writes about how this exercise was one of the ways she tried to boost her happiness. In her blog post on the subject she says that, “One of the most common happiness recommendations is to keep a gratitude journal”. What better use for my new journal than to express express moments of joy, tenderness, and gratefulness?
Every night, the last thing I do (yes, even after scrolling through Instagram) is write in my gratitude journal. Sometimes I fill up 5 pages, other days only half a page gets filled. However, the effect is always the same: I end the night with feelings of thankfulness and gratitude and fall asleep with those magical thoughts filling my mind.
What has been important to my journal-keeping is giving myself the flexibility to go without writing in the journal, if I am simply too exhausted to when I come home. By allowing myself the flexibility to miss a day (or two) of journaling a week, I never have to face or encounter feelings of failure, inadequacy, or neglect. Instead, my journal is only a sphere of positivity.
4. I Began Meal-Prepping
Since leaving my old job, my work schedule has me leaving for the gym at 7:00am, and not returning from work until just after 10:00pm. This means that at least two of my meals are eaten outside of the home (if I can wake up early enough, I’ll have breakfast at home and if I am too lazy to plan what to have for dinner at work, I’ll wait to eat my pm meal until I’m home and unsure whether my hunger outweighs my exhaustion from the day).
When I moved into a new apartment at the beginning of the month, with only one other roommate instead of four, my allotted space in the fridge more than doubled! I suddenly had room for pre-made meals, tupperware, and apples galore! Gone were the months of grocery shopping for two-days at a time. I now have the room to meals prepped and stores for an entire week!
I began preparing overnight oats and chia-seed pudding for breakfast, undressed-salads or grain bowls for lunch, and ground pesto chicken for dinner. When I started meal prepping, my weekly grocery bill only went up by about $25-$30 a week, but I wasn’t spending money on last-minute meals from Whole Foods a or Seamless delivery to work which typically added up to $20-$30 A DAY. Yikes. So I was still saving a total of $120 a week. That’s $480 in a month, or $5760 in a year! Yeah… Meal prepping is AWESOME.
Meal prepping has not only saved me money, but because I know now exactly what I am putting in my body, I am able to avoid foods that make me feel sluggish (like sugar and dairy) and fuel my body with what it craves (like steel cut oats, chicken, and fresh fruits and vegetables).
5. I Cried
At the beginning of March a cousin of mine, who I’m not particularly close with, but whom I love deeply, had her artwork and furniture debuted in The Whitney (yes! THAT Whitney), and our entire family flew into New York City for opening night. While I wasn’t able to go to cocktail hour at the museum because I was working late, I met my entire extended family at the AirBNB they had rented out for the weekend, where everyone was eating take-out pizza from classic NYC pizza joint. I didn’t get through my first slice of pepperoni before I started to cry.
It hit me: I haven’t been hugged since I’ve seen my family during the holidays. I was so overwhelmed by the sensation of touch, and the of being encompassed by knowing and calming arms, that I couldn’t do anything other than cry. Crying that night was embarrassing, but my family was receptive to the tears, without dwelling on their existence. After about an hour of intermittent crying I realized how freakin’ good I felt! I felt cleansed! I felt like my body had rid itself of negativity. And in some ways, it had. Some researchers have suggested that emotional tears, unlike basal or reflex tears, contain stress hormones, which the body is able to physically push out through the process of crying. Another theory is that crying triggers the body to release feel-good endorphins (the same ones you get from exercise or laughing).
Because the release of the emotions felt so refreshing, I have not shied away from crying when I need to cry since. I reframed crying as giving my body what it needs, instead of seeing crying as weakness.
6. I Began Running Outside Again
After running a marathon in 2014 and redefining my fitness goals, running outside stopped being a priority. Winter-time runs weren’t on the top of my need to-do or want to-do lists and between CrossFit and individual weight-training, running fell to the wayside. However, after a particularly aggressive leg-day my muscles ached with the need to run. I listened to my body and ran my favorite 5-mile stretch: from apartment door over the bridge into Manhattan and back through the streets of Williamsburg to home. I began running this route at least once a week: Sundays in March became my run dates with myself.
Unlike, say, a CrossFit class, running is something I get to do totally on my own terms. Music/no music? Treadmill/outside? With friends/solo? I get to decide. So for 1 hour every Sunday I run through the streets of New York and connect with both my body and the city. Running helps me follow my hygge-inspired mantra, “Be here now” because it serves as a reminder that sometimes all you need in life is to put one foot in front of the other…literally.