Life

How to be happier: find the joy in simple, free things

Taking care of mental and emotional wellbeing should not cost the earth. Can we be joyful without spending? I put the question to Twitter…

January - the Christmas comedown - isn’t the most wonderful time of year. In fact it’s cold, it’s dark, taxes are due and we’re all broke. 

But despite the mindfulness apps, the self-help guides and a global wellness industry worth more than $4 trillion, self-care should not be the domain of the privileged or elite. 

There have to be ways, I thought, to find joy in small moments without spending upwards of 40 quid on a candle. Even if it is vagina-scented.

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I headed for Twitter, a space more generally known for polemics than positivity, to scout for ideas. The response to my request for ideas was overwhelming, to say the least. 

In honour of all you joyful tweeters, I’ve compiled the responses into a general list of ways to take pleasure in the mundane, the achievable, and most importantly the economical moments of life.

1. Socks and sheets

Not the most obvious place to start - and certainly not the most common response I expected - but it turns out that socks are a surprisingly popular source of joy.

Socks warm off a radiator, or fresh from a dryer, fluffy socks, favourite socks, borrowed socks… socks, it seems, are A Thing. One Tweeter even suggested moisturising feet and sleeping in socks, to wake up with “the softest feet ever”. Genius.

It also seems like the best investment you can make in your wellbeing is some fresh bedsheets. According to this tweeter, “Fresh bed sheets are so definitely not a small thing. They are a thing of unutterable wondrousness!”

2. Back to nature

There’s a wealth of evidence to support the notion that spending time outdoors boosts your mental wellbeing. But before you say it, getting back into nature does not require weekend getaways or travelling outside the city, if that’s where you live.

Rather, many Twitter responses involved simply paying attention, or getting involved. Observing the trees, flowers, the sky, looking for the first signs of spring, walking on the grass, watching the sunset, smelling the air, growing things from seed, listening to the rain from inside… it seems that despite hundreds of years of urbanisation since the Industrial Revolution, we are all still creatures of the earth at heart. 

Special shout out to Becca Caddy for this genius idea: “I have an alert for when the ISS is passing overhead, and running outside to spot it always gives me a bit of perspective and wonder!” 

woman in garden
Sleep help: spending time in nature is a brilliant boost for our wellbeing.

3. Reading and writing

Unsurprising for Twitter, but reading came up time and time again. Re-visiting a beloved novel from your childhood was a popular idea, as was the smell of old - or new - books.

Another repeated suggestion was writing letters, or keeping a journal of observations from your day. Journals are often touted as a simple, free way to reconnect with your emotions and make sense of your whirlwind thoughts.

In our perma-digital lives, reconnecting with the written word seems like a radical but effective mindfulness strategy. It’s also a great excuse to crack out some stationery, too.

And kudos to Will Gore for this one: “A really well-directed expletive can bring tremendous joy (but also embarrassment, or even disciplinary action so it’s a fine balance).”

3. Clean and tidy

This one seems counter-intuitive, especially for a slob like me, but cleaning and tidying your living space can be a brilliant way to raise your spirits.

Cleaning is a physically demanding activity, and produces endorphins like any exercise, but it also produces results. Plus you can put on a podcast or a jazzy soundtrack.

Tidying and decluttering your space can help disorder the mind and keep on top of chaos. There’s an inherent satisfaction to be had in a perfectly stacked dishwasher, said one tweeter. And it’ll ease relations with your flatmates. Win win.

4. Animal magnetism

No great surprises to be had here - this is the Internet after all - but animals, dogs and cats in particular, were a major source of joy for most people. The simple act of stroking a purring cat was a favourite.

Of course, owning a pet isn’t possible for everyone, or free for anyone, but a number of suggestions allowed for that.

Ideas included making friends with dogs in the park or on public transport - or just watching them in the street, to enjoy the “effortless, tippy walk” of some of the more elegant breeds.

You can also volunteer at local shelters, visit city farms or just look out the window - watching birds was particular popular.

Cat asleep on pink cushion
Purring cats are an endless source of joy

5. Get physical

Seems obvious, but it’s not. A simple, quick and totally free way to boost your spirits is to check in with yourself physically. 

Suggestions included stretching, stroking your own arm or hair, giving yourself a hand massage or enjoying the feel of soft fabric on skin. Nobody suggested masturbation but it’s an obvious one if you think about it.

Lying under heavy blankets, said one tweeter. Weeing in the shower, said another - although that was divisive. And there were many, many votes for the unparalleled relief of taking off your bra when you get home.

6. Friends and family

The simple act of reconnecting with other people can do more to boost your spirits than almost anything else. 

Get off WhatsApp and call your friends for a proper chat. Cuddle a baby. Talk to a stranger. Playfight with siblings. Write notes to your family. Look at old photos together.

One user replied: “The occasional feeling of pure contentment you get in a moment silence when spending time with good friends or family.”

And at least two noted the joy in clocking a well-dressed pensioner.

7. Music and lyrics

One of life’s greatest free pleasures, music came up time and time again. Singing at the top of your lungs, dancing to a Motown soundtrack, clocking a good key change, revisiting your favourite songs from the past, listening to Desert Island Discs…

Personally, I like to sing in the shower - but only songs in some way related to water. It makes me absolutely joyous.

8. Drink it in

No, we’re not talking about alcohol. Not technically free, but the smell of good coffee or a perfectly brewed cup of tea came up time and time again. 

There were also votes for warming your hands on a hot cup, having a favourite mug, following a milk-bag-water ritual… after all, I suppose we are English.

But more surprising was the number of votes for the first sip of ice-cold water. In January, you can’t say freer than that.

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Images: Getty / Teymi Townsend

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