7 little things you can do to improve your life...now
Make a Date With a Friend
Whenever you're up against a lengthy to-do list, remember this: Time with pals is the last thing you should cut. The more you hang out with friends, says a recent Dutch study, the easier it is to cope with stress. Social ties in general help, but it's face time that matters most, says study coauthor Mariska van der Horst. "Talking about your stress can help you get a grip on it," she says. "And good friends have a way of making you feel that things will work out."
Go Play (Outdoors and In!)
"Every married couple needs an outdoor game, like tennis, and an indoor game, like gin." Julia Bator and her husband follow this tip—learned from her Quaker grandparents, married 72 years—with regular rounds of golf and cribbage. "It's our carved-out space for fun," Bator says. And spouses who play together build happier marriages, says a University of Denver study. "Having fun is an essential part of falling in love," explains researcher Howard Markman, Ph.D. "Couples who play rekindle that early spark, which keeps their foundations strong."
Use Chores to Connect
Think of it as a new weekend ritual: The next time you need to fold laundry, pay bills, or do dishes, grab your hubby and work in tandem instead of dividing and conquering (and catch up at the same time). Far from resenting making an equal contribution to household chores, men who pitch in report being happier, a University of Cambridge study found. "We actually think that's because their partner complains less," says study coauthor Anke Plagnol, Ph.D. Clearly, less kvetching leads to more cuddling. Besides, folding sheets is easier à deux.
Laugh Off Stress
When faced with an annoying situation—like being stuck in a traffic jam you could have avoided—don't beat yourself up about it. A study at the University of Luxembourg found that if you laugh gently at a misstep ("Hey—at least I'm getting some downtime here") instead of belittling yourself ("I was an idiot to take this route!"), you'll be less tense and feel a greater sense of well-being. So swap those derogatory digs and try humoring yourself—nicely.
Power It Down
Out of sight, out of mind—your phone, that is. The next time you meet a friend, switch it off and stow it. Keeping your mobile in view is distracting and can put a damper on your interaction, found a study at the University of Essex. "When you put your phone away, you show that what you're doing now is most important," says lead study author Andrew Przybylski, Ph.D. In other words, you've got to disconnect to truly connect.
The next time you get happy news, like a promotion, don't keep it to yourself—phone a pal and tell her. You'll get a second dose of the positive feelings associated with the event, finds research from Brigham Young University. Just be sure to call someone who'll be as enthusiastic as you are (i.e., not your slightly jealous coworker). "It's best to share your joy with someone who truly cares about you," says lead study author Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D. That way, you'll both get a happiness boost.
Get Out in Nature
Enough with the multitasking: The best thing you can do for your productivity is give your brain a break and head outside. Being outdoors (ideally somewhere with greenery) for half an hour can boost creativity and help you feel more focused and less stressed once back at your desk, say researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of Utah. "Plus, if you're having a mental block, taking a quick walk can help you problem-solve," says study coauthor David Strayer, Ph.D. It doesn't matter whether you're in a city park or somewhere bucolic; for maximum benefits, leave your BlackBerry behind.