For the longest time, I would come home from work and immediately pop on the TV. It was mindless—after a day of meetings, intensive heads-down work, and never-ending email chains, the only thing I thought I wanted to do was watch five episodes of some sitcom I’d seen hundreds of times before.
But then last year, I realized I was always ending the day feeling exhausted, or worse with a headache. In addition, I wasn’t sleeping well. So, I tried an experiment: Instead of turning on the TV in my free time, I’d pick up a book.
The results were surprising. I have more energy both after work and the next day, and I read 23 books in 2017 (compared to around 10 in 2016). And, most importantly, I discovered a way to relax that didn’t make me feel like a lazy couch bum.
So when I came across a recent article in Quartz explaining how screen time makes us unhappy, I had one of those eureka moments.
OK, so it’s not surprising that watching TV or looking at your phone for too long isn’t good for you. But what’s so intriguing is that extensive research found that doing any other activity that doesn’t involve a screen makes you happier than screen time would.
To quote one study cited in the article:
We found that teens who spent more time seeing their friends in person, exercising, playing sports, attending religious services, reading, or even doing homework were happier. However, teens who spent more time on the internet, playing computer games, on social media, texting, using video chat, or watching TV were less happy.
So, that got me thinking—if avoiding screens will make you happier, what else can you do to unwind after a day of work?
If you’re out of ideas, I’ve compiled 15 for you:
2. Listen to a Podcast
Sure, it requires technology, but after you click play, all you have to do is sit back, close your eyes, and listen. Here are a few of our favorites.
3. Call a Friend
Catch up with someone you haven’t talked to in a while—you never know what the conversation can lead to.
4. Or Meet Up in Person
Rather than going home right after work, meet up with someone and grab dinner or drinks. Just make sure to put your phone away and give them your full attention.
Start a blog, write an article and post it on LinkedIn, journal. Don’t worry about composing something spectacular—just get those thoughts on paper. You might feel surprisingly refreshed afterwards (although if you are posting on LinkedIn, might want to run it by someone else).
Or bake! Find a new recipe and try it out—and if you bring your creation into work I guarantee your co-workers will love you.
This doesn’t need to take up all your free time. Set aside 10-30 minutes right when you get home or right before bed to calm your mind. Here’s how to do it if you’re new to the practice.
8. Clean Your Home
Dirty dishes in the sink? Haven’t Swiffered the floors in a month? Need to do laundry? Food going bad in your fridge? Use the time after work to get ahead on your chores—even just one chore. It’s not only a great way to practice meditation, but it’ll free up your weekends for more fun.
Not a morning person? Substitute the TV for a treadmill, yoga class, or online exercise video. You’ll feel like a champion.
10. Go for a Walk
If exercise isn’t your thing (I get it), go the more leisurely route and walk around the block—as long as it’s not freezing or pouring rain. Maybe take some music or a friend with you.
11. Do an Art Project
Have a coloring book? Use it. Want to learn how to paint or knit? Now’s the time to try.
12. Play With Your Pets
That is, if you have one. Give your dog or cat some love—I’m sure they could use more of it.
13. Pamper Yourself
Paint your nails, throw on a face mask, take an extra long shower. You work hard, so why not treat yourself to some me time?
14. Solve a Puzzle
Challenge your mind a bit by working on a physical puzzle. Or, play solitaire with yourself. If you have a roommate, play a board game.
15. Make a List
It can be about anything—maybe you need to lay out your groceries for the week, or want to compile your favorite companies to work for, or have been meaning to jot down your New Year’s resolutions. Take the time to write them down, then come up with a plan for how to execute on them. An easy way to motivate yourself to follow through.
To help you remember all these ideas, I created this handy little graphic. Save it to your desktop, print it out and put it on your fridge, or just admire it right here. I know that regardless of who you are and what you’re interested in, you’ll find one of these ideas will really help you feel happier.
What do you like to do in your free time (that doesn’t involve your phone, TV, or laptop)? Let me know on Twitter!
Photo of person on couch courtesy of Alain Schroeder/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author