Summer is a season full of opportunities for enjoyment. So why do so many of us drift through it in the same humdrum fog we’re lost in during the other three? The fact is, most of us have become numbed by life, feeling that we’re victims of circumstance trying to survive each day. So while a refreshing dip in a swimming pool might put a smile on your face while you’re submerged, your good mood usually doesn’t last long.
Don’t despair, though. You can influence your level of happiness to a greater extent than you think. And there’s no better time to start than during the summer.
Why summer? Life doesn’t completely stop in the summer, of course, but it does slow down and give us more time to reflect on how happy we are with our lives and to think about changes we may want to make. For many families, the daily pace is less hectic, and you’re more likely to spend time relaxing. Plus, since summer is a time of warmth, light, and growth, it’s naturally uplifting. Put together, that means that over the next few months, you’ll have more time and (maybe) energy to devote to making meaningful lifestyle changes. Here are six.
1. Enjoy the weather: exercise.
No one except the most avowed couch potato can resist venturing into the great outdoors when the sun is shining and the grass is green. Take advantage of the wonderful weather and up your activity level. Exercise will relax you, make you feel stronger, and improve your sleep. It’s also a natural anti-depressant that will boost your attitude and outlook. As time passes, you’ll gain the added bonus of being happier with your physical appearance as well.
2. Get some new sunglasses: be easier on yourself.
Most people go through life as if they’re wearing glasses with prescription lenses that allow them to focus only on the negatives: their failures, mistakes, worries, etc. This summer, put on a new pair of shades with a more positive prescription that lets you focus on the good things in your life, too! The fact is, we’re all human—and thus fallible—so it’s normal to make mistakes. However, it’s not healthy or beneficial to dwell on them.
3. Plan fun activities: play to your strengths.
The days are longer, schedules are more relaxed, there are several holidays to look forward to, and you’ll probably take some vacation days. Resolve to spend some of that time developing your special abilities and talents. If you want to be happy, you need to recognize, use, and share your gifts. Each of us has been given special, unique strengths. When we use them, we’re happier and feel better about ourselves—and the world at large is better off, too.
4. Smell the roses: live in the present.
There are so many moments to treasure throughout our lives, and they’re often especially vivid in the summer: the sound of your kids playing outside, the scent of the herbs in your garden, the feeling of sand between your toes, and sun on your skin. The question is, are you really experiencing and enjoying these moments, or are you obsessing over the past or worrying about the future? If it’s the latter, you’re only exacerbating your anxiety and unhappiness by choosing to dwell on things you can’t control.
Also, keep in mind that your children usually know when your attention isn’t 100 percent with them. Don’t unintentionally make them feel less important in your life.
5. Break out the barbeque: strengthen close relationships.
Summer is known for cookouts, pool parties, and front-porch sittin’. Don’t be “that family” who always keep to themselves. Try to host one or two events between now and September and invite the people you love over for some fun. It’s worth trying to improve your relationships with family and friends all year round, because the quality of your bonds with the people closest to you can make or break the quality of your life.
Also, pay particular attention to your relationship with your spouse or significant other. You must put as much time and effort into this relationship as you do your house, your car, or your job. Celebrate your spouse every day. When your partner feels as special as he or she did in the early days of your romance, the spark of your relationship will stay alight. Summer is a great time to pick a bouquet of wildflowers, plan a romantic getaway, or buy tickets to an outdoor concert you’ll both enjoy.
6. Smile and say hello: be friendlier.
You’re not the only one who ventures outside more often in the summer—so make a conscious effort to be friendlier to others you encounter. Introduce yourself to the family next to you at the pool or beach, for example, and say hello to folks you pass while walking in the park. (You’ll also be setting a great example for your kids.)
These suggestions are meant to be a starting point. My hope is that you’ll incorporate these habits into your life and experience a more sunshine-y summer . . . and that you’ll remember this season as the beginning of your journey toward happiness. What may seem like small changes in your actions and attitudes really can make a huge difference in how you experience the rest of your life.
Todd Patkin is the author of Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and—Finally—Let the Sunshine In.