Get Happier: “Say Five Nice Things” (No, Really, Do It Now)
People who come over to my house sometimes laugh at the little altar by the window. There’s a Buddha that my friend Ethan got me in India. A native Canadian statue that represents abiding love. There’s an antique gold-leaf painting of Mary and a rosary I got at the Vatican. There’s also a wooden heart that my friend Erika got me in Jerusalem, a beautiful dancing Shiva, some Lotus Wei mists and seashells I don’t remember collecting. Clearly, I take a sort of kitchen-sink approach to happiness and spiritual wellbeing. Or, as my boyfriend likes to joke: “You’re covering all your bases.”
But if we’re picking favorites, my most prized item is probably a bamboo woodcut by the artist Sighn that reads “It’s OK.” It was made, cheekily, in a limited edition of 1 million, and it makes me smile every time I look at it. I’ve had it since 2008.
Why am I talking about all this? Because I’ve decided to do my best to actively cultivate more joy, in a day-to-day kind of way. Some tough stuff has happened lately, and as far as I’m concerned “It’s OK” is a very good place to start.
My older brother—a loving father, husband and prankster known for hacking into people’s Facebook accounts and posting ridiculous status messages on their wall—passed away about a month ago, at the age of 34. This is a very difficult thing, and there isn’t much more I’d like to say about that. But if you’d asked me a year ago how it would feel to have people say things like “He would want you to be happy now” I think I’d have said “That sort of makes me want to punch you now.” And yet a couple of people I trust deeply have said as much to me in the last few weeks, and every time I hear it, I get goosebumps. When people die, you start looking for lessons. Of the two I’ve found so far, there’s one I want to share: Experience joy, even, or especially, when things suck. He would want me to feel joyful now. And I want to feel joyful, too.
So on the days when I’m not playing a game of emotional Chutes and Ladders, that’s what I intend to do.
That’s why we’re starting a new series. Regular readers know by now that we’re not just a beauty site, even though we are, totally, a beauty site. We cover food and meditation and sleep and sexy hormones and other weird things because we take a whole-person approach to feeling (and, yes, looking) our best.
So I’d like to start you all off with my favorite new game. I “invented” it as a way to hasten making up with someone after a little spat, and it’s called Say Five Nice Things. Now I do this all the time. I even do it when I’m on the train and someone bumps me. (“Quick! Say five nice things about that awful stranger who just plowed into you!”) Every time I do it, my mood shifts.
Here are three reasons to play Say Five Nice Things:
1. Everyone loves compliments. That’s why it’s fun to do with a buddy. It could be as simple as “Your sunglasses fit your face really well” or as meaningful as “You always put your arm around me at the exact right moment.” The more specific and sincere the better, I think. But really, probably anything will do. As long as it’s nice, in whatever way you define it, it will probably work.
2. It’s like gratitude, except easier. Gratitude is great. We’re big fans of these kinds of exercises, but it can feel a little hokey and it’s a lot of pressure. Sure you could say “I am grateful for the fact that this martini is delicious” but that might feel a little…thin. This game is much more low-pressure. It’s just noticing five things that you like, and then saying them out loud, or out loud in your head.
3. It changes your focus. I’m not a “look on the sunny side” kind of person—I find unrealistic optimism creepy at best. But I do try, not always with great success, to resist the undertow of hardship. That’s why I say nice things about jerks on the train. It completely diverts my attention from bad things and onto good. Try it, maybe. I find it works.
Now, we’d love YOU to list five nice things in the comments about literally anything in the entire world. We’d also encourage you to try it with a friend or lover. They might look at you like you have three eyes (you do!*), but I bet they’ll like it, too.
* LOL, sort of.