Packed lunch

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1. Secret #1: One Thing Before Bed and 10 Minutes Early
Twice last week, I staggered into work with my dress—not my shirt—inside out. Life was reminding me in a smug, overfriendly voice, "You can't get dressed and out the door in 20 minutes anymore, honey. Because you're not 20 or even 21. You require wrinkle-covering gunk on your face and shoes that aren't flip-flops. Further, scurrying around each morning, shoving papers that are not the correct papers into a bag, cursing at armchairs as you trip and fall all over the house just gets depressing, fast."

The answer: Doing one five-minute thing before bed (pack the lunch/iron the shirt/match the sock) and waking up 10 minutes earlier (to make coffee/eat a yogurt/select an outfit that doesn't look like it fell out of clown car). These are two small changes to your life that are a total pain...until you do them four or five times and finally saunter out the door feeling as if you're starting your day, not some grueling sprint toward its finish.
Child eating in a restaurant

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2. Secret #2: The Restaurant Voice
There are plenty of reasons to talk really loud. You're mad! You're trying to make a point! You're upset! You're stressed! But you're also silencing the people around you with all your exclamation-pointed emotion! Friends who want to give you advice get alarmed, so alarmed they can't put the right words together. A spouse who wants to end an argument with you gets so exhausted by the force of your convictions that he goes mute and gets depressed and says nothing. Furthermore, don't problems seem to grow at the volume we express them?

This is why you need to rely on a trick your parents taught you as a kid: the Restaurant Voice. Chatting in this voice, one that was calm, polite and, most of all, quietish was probably about not distressing them in public. But now, it's about not distressing yourself. No matter what the emotion (fury, fear, stress, total freak-out), it's most clearly and compassionately expressed at a talking-over-a-child's-plate-of-spaghetti tone of voice, which allows others to hear your concerns, and not just the feelings being blasted over them.

(Let me add that totally unproven, life-based research has shown that being heard leads to feelings of being understood which leads to feelings of bliss so resounding that when you experience them, old friends come up and ask you who cut your hair or how you lost the weight.)

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3. Secret #3: Hopscotch
Somewhere in your life is a playground. There are so many things in the way of your stopping there: groceries, a bad back, a meeting, a cello lesson for your son. But hopscotch is one of those activities that actually lets you time-travel on earth, back to the age of chalk, graham crackers, singing without worry if you're on pitch and skipping through pre-drawn squares to pick up a pebble that has the heft and value of a real gold doubloon. Other pastimes that will induce this kind of old-time joy: hula-hooping, rope-jumping and lay-ups on the a neighborhood basketball court. Provided, of course, that you establish a few grownup rules: one game, flat shoes, limited bending.
Woman chatting on the phone

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4. Secret #4: Remember: Pre-Dawn Phone Calls
The best thing you can do for happiness is sleep. But women all over the world continue to not sleep. Ask around. You know a friend or a neighbor or mother of a child in your daughter's class who is regularly up at 4 a.m. She is doing what you are doing: discussing with herself why she is up, considering taking a mind-numbing pill, making lists in her head, getting up to work or do laundry because every single moment of the day should be spent on something productive.

Why not indulge in something you haven't done since your late teens? Talking to somebody on the phone—who talks on the phone?—all night, about big, silly ideas. I'm not kidding. I'm referring to those long, drawn-out conversations you had while younger with new best friends about love and novels and who you were going to be, the one that left you bleary-eyed and raw-voiced and inspired. My only caveat: text first to see if she's up.
Weighing love and money

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5. Secret #5: Respect—not Money
Someone in life—Dad? Mom? Santa?—once told you that your character is more important than your bank account. But as life goes on, just about everything seems to point the other way. Who wants to be the honest, kind, loving person with a studio apartment at age 40, a $20 haircut and a 10-year-old dented hatchback? it turns out, a lot of people. In a recent study at the University of California, Berkeley, researchers found that overall happiness isn't related to how much money you have but how much respect and admiration you have from the your closest friends, co-workers and family. Respect, of course, usually comes from doing the difficult, life-changing things, like helping out an elderly parent instead of buying a new car.
Vacuuming in a gown

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6. Secret #6: Inappropriately Formal Clothes
A 6-year-old girl will think nothing of putting on a purple princess dress (or a flaming-black Batgirl cape) and sauntering out for a walk in the neighborhood. Why? Because ballroom and superheroine garb is uplifting: You're not having to be somebody else (Joy Number 1); you're being yourself, only fancier and all-mighty (Joy Number 2). Consider donning an evening gown while you vacuum the basement on Saturday or—my favorite—on date night. Strolling into the neighborhood burger joint after watching the one movie that wasn't sold out at the multiplex (which is the only kind of date night I've ever experienced, one with zero planning) wearing a ruffled silk floor-length number adds the kind of festive, inappropriate glamour that makes you feel like one of those over-the-top desserts on the menu. Yes, nobody needs flaming bananas on ice cream. Then again, fun has never been about need or requirements, has it?
Sleeping in workout clothes

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7. Secret #7: Sleeping in Workout Clothes
I shouldn't reveal this one. Nevertheless, here's how it goes: Working out makes you happy (endorphins). But working out takes free time. But free time only exists in the wee hours of the morning...but the wee hours of the morning are HORRIBLE.

This is why you must sleep in your workout clothes. You must sleep in them so that when you stumble out of bed you will already have your Lycra pants on, plus your stupidly cute pom-pom socks. All you will have to do is shove on the breast-smashing bra and those overpriced aerodynamic sneakers and stagger over to the gym or around the block for a "run," which is really a "walk." And you will be happy. Not very sexy. But happy.
To thine own self be true

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8. Secret #8: The One Cheesy Sentence
We all have one cheesy sentence that we can say to ourselves that makes walking into the restaurant for the first date or into the office for the interview or into the party possible. It could be "Slow down!" because you talk really fast. It could be "I only need one—not three glasses—of wine" It could be—and in my case, it is, because my mother gave it to me via Shakespeare—"To thine own self be true." Spend the 15.2 seconds it takes to sit in the elevator or bathroom stall and repeat it to yourself, slowly, three times. Then go out there and forget it. Life brings the most joy when you're living it—not yelling at yourself about how to live it.

Next: 11 easy ways to boost your mood


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