One of my friends had to raise his two young boys alone after losing his wife in a tragic car accident.
I asked him how he was able to pull himself out of bed each morning after this happened.
Before I even finished my question, however, he abruptly stood up from the table and walked away.
Upon seeing this, my stomach dropped. I thought for sure I’d overstepped my bounds and he was in his bedroom cursing my name.
Fortunately, a few moments later my hands stopping sweating when I saw him walk back towards the kitchen holding his computer.
“You gotta watch this,” he told me while sporting a massive cheeseburger smile. “It saved my life.”
For the next 9 minutes, my friend and I sat in silence, only to break the air with the occasional laugh.
We watched with our eyes glued to the screen as a woman, who loathed her job, sought out legendary motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar, after one of his events and begged him to help her find new work.
According to Zig, he had never met anyone with such a toxic case of “Stinkin Thinkin,” in his entire life. The woman was positively irate.
To dampen her already wet parade, instead of comforting her, Zig immediately shot back in a stern voice, “I’m afraid I can’t help you. In fact, I think your day is about to get worse.”
After pausing to make sure he had the woman’s full attention, Zig concluded his lecture by saying, “I believe your company is going to fire you.”
According to Zig, after he said this the woman was absolutely flabbergasted. “Fire me?” she threw her arms in the air. “Why would they fire me?”
Zig replied by looking the woman dead in the eye and saying, “I don’t believe there’s a company big enough that can handle this much poison in one small spot.”
Upon hearing this, like a lot of people who find out they’re in danger of losing the very thing they’re complaining about, the woman shut up.
Instead of fighting Zig, for the first time since meeting with him, the woman opened herself up to finding a solution to her problem.
Seizing a rare moment of calmness, Zig then sat the woman down and forced her to write out every single detail of her job that she liked no matter how small.
At first, as expected, the woman put up a front. After reminding her that her company paid her each week and discovering that her salary was higher than most people, Zig couldn’t get the woman to stop writing.
In the end, with minimal effort, the woman listed out 22 reasons why she liked her job.
After she was finished, Zig noticed that her once tense shoulders were now quite loose. Before she got too relaxed, Zig had one last request for the woman to make her transformation complete.
Each night before going to bed, and each morning before going to work, Zig encouraged the woman to stand in front of a mirror and read off her list.
But instead of saying, “I like my job because I have a short commute.” Zig demanded that the woman stand in front of the mirror and say with conviction — “I love my job because I have a short commute.”
Not only did this simple exercise, of putting a voice to the good things around her, dilute this woman’s venomous attitude. According to Zig, the next time he ran into her she couldn’t stop talking about how much she was now enjoying her job.
Zig’s exercise, though simple, according to my friend who lost his wife, is a game-changer.
“Bad things are going to happen,” he told me. “But life is still beautiful.”
If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel stupid the first time you do this exercise.
But don’t stop.
Like a lot of people, jumping out of bed each morning to attack the day is not my baseline. I lean negative and I’ve had to work hard to control my anxiety.
Few things, I’ve discovered for me personally, are more powerful than allowing ourselves to act cheesy from time to time.
Plus, if you don’t learn to appreciate what you have, you’ll never get more out of life.
Writing down, and then giving a voice to the good things around you is the first fast and free way to boost your mood. Below are three other lightweight but heavy impact exercises that have the potential to do the same.
When you’re feeling down, lift other people up
One of the most important conversations in my life occurred when I was complaining to my dad about my horrible first-world existence.
Before I could get traction behind my argument, he cut me off and said,
“Michael, shut up and go buy that pretty wife of yours some flowers.”
For once, I did what I was told. Upon receiving the flowers, my wife wasn’t the only person who was smiling. So was I.
If you’re stuck in a rut and you can’t find your smile, do something to help someone else broaden theirs.
It doesn’t have to be something big. Don’t make things harder than they have to be.
Leave a message for an old friend letting them know you’ve been thinking of them.
Help a young writer you see promise in to tighten their work.
Tell your partner they’re beautiful.
Few things get us out of our own heads like doing something that places us in the hearts of others.
Go do something that doesn’t make you feel worse
Keeping a list of what you love about your life is key. After all, it’s hard to be happy if you aren’t clear on what beauty looks like to you as an individual.
Don’t underestimate the importance, however, of having a stack of go-to exercises that won’t worsen your mood after doing them.
For example, if you’re anything like me, you probably don’t love the gym. But I’d be willing to bet you’ve probably never felt worse after you went.
Any time you do something that evokes this feeling of not making you feel worse, write it down. Then work these quick activities into your day to keep your energy levels up.
It could be something as simple as listening to your favorite upbeat song or watching a clip of stand-up comedy. Hell, it could even be taking a few minutes to clean up around your house.
Dreaming of being happy all day is exhausting. There’s much energy to be gained by doing what you can to be even just a touch less miserable.
Embrace the “Last Time” technique
Quarantine restrictions in Spain were tough. For over three months my two young children didn’t touch one single blade of grass.
Like a lot of people, there were days when the non-stop noise did my head in. Especially, when our youngest, Luc, discovered dice and the sound of him throwing them on the tiled floor of our two-bedroom apartment constantly vibrated throughout our house.
What saved me from going into a massive rut was a Stoic practice my friend Joan told me about called the “Last Time” technique.
Essentially, it’s a reminder that everything is temporary. Which, of course, can sound depressing. But when harnessed correctly, it can also be extremely liberating and snap you back into the land of the living.
Imagine for a moment tomorrow will be the last time you change your baby’s diaper. Would that change anything about the way you approached them?
If you don’t have kids, imagine simply spending time with a close friend. Would that change the level of patience and care you put into the conversation?
Or simply imagine that this is the last article you’ll ever read.
This exercise will slow down your breathing and help you to put life into the perspective it deserves.
As a kid, I wanted to be a professional soccer player. As I got older, every few years, my dreams changed. Today, a few weeks away from turning 42, my only goal is to not spend every minute of every day feeling stressed out or miserable.
If that means I need to dance to cheesy music from time to time or stand in front of a mirror saying the reasons why I love my life, then so be it.
Like my friend who lost his wife said, “Bad things are going to happen. But life is still beautiful.”
This article originally appeared on Medium.