Want to be happier? Begin by being good to yourself. That may sound self-evident, but too many people skip this step and try to make themselves happy by chasing ever-higher goals, or holding themselves to ever-greater standards of perfection.
Ironically, being good to yourself instead will bring you closer to achieving those lofty ambitions, says Daylle Deanna Schwartz, speaker, columnist, and author of 15 books, including The Effortless Entrepreneur. “The more you value yourself, especially at work, the more you build confidence,” she says.
In fact, the happiest people go out of their way to treat themselves right and they do something nice for themselves each day. They set appropriate boundaries and take care of themselves by saying no to things when they need to. “When you love yourself, you understand that saying no to something you don’t want to do is an act of kindness, and you don’t walk around with negative feelings toward the person who asked you to do something you didn’t want to do,” Schwartz says.
Not only is being kind to yourself good for your career, it’s good for your relationships too, she adds. “The more you build self-love, the more you have to give to others.”
Here are 11 acts of kindness happy people perform for themselves—and so should you.
1. Commit to Doing One Nice Thing for Yourself Every Day
Schwartz invites visitors to her site to sign a 31-day pledge to “do my best to do something loving for myself, however big or small.” Whether you feel like signing or not, making the commitment means you’ll remind yourself on a daily basis to treat yourself with loving kindness.
Keeping that commitment will bring real benefits, she says. “It motivates you to take better care of yourself, go after your dreams, and not let people treat you poorly.”
2. Listen to Yourself
That is, listen to how you talk to yourself, and the internal tone of voice you use. (Mine tends to resemble my mother’s in a lecturing mode.) “We often criticize ourselves in our own heads, and that brings down our confidence,” Schwartz says. “When you love yourself, you know you’re good enough that you have to stop talking to yourself in negative terms.”
3. Forgive Yourself
“Forgiveness is a big part of it,” Schwartz says. “It’s hard, because most of us have been getting angry at ourselves for all the things we do wrong all our lives. People get into trouble because they try so hard to be perfect and then they beat themselves up when they’re not. Loving yourself means accepting that you’re stuck inside your own imperfect skin.”
Schwartz recommends this exercise to start forgiving yourself: “Look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you and I forgive you.’”
4. Accept Yourself as You Are Right Now
For starters, that means accepting the body that you have today. “Body image is a big stumbling block, and so is age,” she says. “When you love yourself, you try to be the best person you can be in the body that you have, and that’s as much as you can do.”
Self-acceptance also means accepting your income and success level as they are, she says. “It’s OK not to be making a certain amount by the time you get to a certain age,” she says. “Entrepreneurs get a lot of criticism when people say, ‘Why are you wasting your time doing that?’ or ‘You’re not successful enough!’”
Instead, she recommends asking yourself a simple question: “Am I happy with what I’m doing?” She herself sold a successful summer recreation business when she found it was becoming too stressful. “I wound up with less income, but I was happier.”
5. Eliminate Toxic People in Your Life and Workplace
This may be easier said than done, but avoid tying yourself to clients, business partners, investors, or employees who make you unhappy. It’s obviously harder to take the same approach with family members, but Schwartz says there’s no reason to put up with people saying or doing things that are unkind. “If people say mean things to me, I let them know if they talk to me like that I’m going to walk away or hang up the phone,” she says.
6. Prioritize Your Health
“I take supplements and vitamins, I exercise, and I recently cut out sugar for seven weeks as an act of self-love,” Schwartz says. But be careful—don’t let caring for your health turn into a reason to beat yourself up if you slip. “Yesterday, I had Twinkies,” she says. “I’ve been wanting them ever since they temporarily stopped selling them. So I bought some and I ate them. I don’t beat myself up when I have a treat.”
7. Stop Skipping Meals
“People say, ‘I’ve been so busy I had no time to eat today,’“ Schwartz says. “That’s a very unloving thing to do. Grab something, even if it’s just a salad.”
Neuroscience tells us that letting your blood sugar sink sends stress signals to your brain. So if you truly can’t stop and grab a meal, make sure you have healthy snacks at your desk.
Don’t forget that when you’re feeling stressed, overworked, or upset, simple breathing exercises can up your happiness quotient dramatically, Schwartz says. “If you do some deep breathing during the day, you can calm yourself down and not let stress get to you or make you sick.”
9. Give Yourself a Welcoming Space
For years, Schwartz never made her bed, simply throwing the covers over it. Now she makes it every day for a simple reason: “Walking into my bedroom when my bed is made makes me smile.”
Take the same approach with your workspace, she advises. Make it as orderly as you can. Neatening up your workspace and getting rid of stuff you don’t need will make you feel calmer and more in control, she says. But don’t limit yourself to just decluttering. “Make sure you have your environment and office space the way you like it and that it’s a pleasant place for you to work,” she says. “Have fresh flowers on your desk. Take it seriously.”
10. Get Some Sunlight
“A lot of people work in dark spaces. That’s very unhealthy and unloving,” Schwartz says. Try to work in a place where you have access to natural light, she advises. If that’s not possible, invest in full-spectrum light bulbs. Either way, make sure to get outside for a walk as often as you can.
11. Buy Premium Products for Yourself
Does this sound like you? If you’re bringing a bag of coffee to someone else, you pick out a luxury brand in a nice package, but if you’re buying it for yourself, you pick the store brand or another inexpensive option. That’s fine if you’re one of these people to whom all coffees taste alike. But if you prefer the more expensive brand, you should go for it, Schwartz says.
“Very often we spend money on others but we’re cheap with ourselves,” she says. “The better brand is only a few dollars extra, and every time you use it you’re reinforcing to yourself that you’re worth more.”
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