10 Extremely Simple Tips To Eliminate Stress in Your Day.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Ten extremely simple and easy tips to take stress out of your day.

When I was little, I was always puzzled by the maxim, “A stitch in time saves nine.” I couldn’t figure out what that meant. Finally, light dawned: a single stitch, made in good time, saves the trouble of making nine stitches later. In other words, a little effort now saves a lot of effort later.

That notion underlies several of the tips below. The other notion: when I have a reasonable amount of energy, life feels a lot less stressful.

1. Keep some cash in the house. For years, I badgered my husband to get cash so we had cash in the house. Finally, light dawned: Why did I get to decide that this was his problem? Now I get cash when we need a reserve, and I feel much better.

2. Never let your car’s gas level fall into the “empty” zone. Special note to my fellow under-buyers: if you can afford it, fill the tank! Save yourself from having to return to the gas station in two days.

3. Have an over-the-counter pain reliever at hand at all times.

4. Put your keys away in the same place every day. This sounds so easy — and it is. It will make you so happy.

5. Turn out the light as soon as you’re sleepy. Since I started my happiness project, I’ve become a sleep nut. Getting enough sleep makes a huge difference in my sense of energy and cheerfulness.

6. Walk around the block.

7. Take ten minutes before bed to tidy up.

8. If you have to pack a lunch for anyone, get it ready the night before.

9. Have at least one good friend who lives in the neighborhood.

10. Make your bed. This sounds trivial, I know — but try it, it really helps!

Samuel Johnson pointed out that “To live in perpetual want of little things is a state, not indeed of torture, but of constant vexation.” By making the effort to stay on top of the little things, you can keep the vexation to a minimum.

What am I missing? What tip would you add to this list?

* If you have a very serious question related to happiness and mental health, check out Ask Dr. Lloyd. There, you can post a question to an established psychiatrist, Dr. Lloyd Sederer. A great resource.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 45,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • I would add #11: Keep your phone, ipod, camera, etc. charged. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to make a phone call, listen to music, take a picture and not having enough battery.

    #3 is my favorite because I always forget to do it. For years I didn’t keep headache medicine at work (where I get most of my headaches) and at home I only had exedrin (which has caffeine) or advil pm. So if I didn’t want to be jittery or sleepy I didn’t have much. Why it is so hard to just purchase a bottle of regular painkiller and keep in your desk!

    • gretchenrubin

      YES!!! That’s a great suggestion.

  • I think these are generally great tips, but I do wonder about the having a good friend in the neighborhood one. It seems that the other tips are things that are totally within my control — I can easily pick up a pain reliever or pack lunch the night before (a commandment in my home!)–but I can’t just decide to either have a friend move to my neighborhood or to turn a neighbor into a good friend. Of course, given that my own blog is entirely about making friends, and how hard it can be, this jumped out at me. For a long time I haven’t had a good friend in my neighborhood, but not for lack of desire! This seems to be something we can work towards but not make happen overnight, whereas some of the others really are, as you say, quick and easy tips.

    Last month one of my good friends DID move a block away from me. LIFECHANGING. It’s so fun to have a buddy as a neighbor, so I agree with you, I just don’t necessarily think it is as easy as the others…

    • erin

      I made a four neighborhood friends by just talking to people I see every day walking to the train or out with their kids. I am a bit shy, but I overcame this to chat up the people I saw every day. I now count these people as some of my favorites in the world. Try it!

      • PNWGal

        I made a resolution in college to smile at 3 people every day. I think it helped me make friends.

  • * Always carry travel packs of facial tissues, lip balm, and stamps.

    * Don’t indulge in feelings of agony over any purchase of $30 or less.

    * Ask cashiers to throw away receipts for small items (if you’re not in the habit of saving and cataloging these). If I accepted every receipt for every bottle of water and pack of gum that I buy, my purse would be overflowing. (Alternative: Throw them in the trash next to the exit, after you’ve photographed them if necessary for expenses.)

    * Always carry an envelope for your expense receipts. Deposit them into the envelope immediately. Related: Schedule a specific hour to tackle your expenses every month. If you finish within an hour, use the leftover time to goof off.

    * Don’t accept every freebie that comes your way.

    * Don’t buy bargains, buy things you need. If you’re only buying something because the price is so low, and not because you need it, you’re shorting yourself.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great suggestions.

  • Tea

    The single best thing I’ve done this year is to buy a small bin to keep all the chargers I have for electronic equipment (phone, camera, ipod, etc) and connection/download cords. As soon as I’m done using them, back they go in the bin. Saves me stressful time searching for them when I need them.

    Wish I had done this ages ago!

    • Lisa

      I take it to the next level and put each cord in its own ziploc baggie.

  • What a phenomenal list! Thank you! (Love #11, too; it’s a biggie.)

    #4 has been such a stress reducer for me.

    In the same vein as #3, I might add – if you have the storage space for it – buying such necessities as bathroom tissue in bulk so that you never run out.

    • Catseye

      Ever notice how often you use scissors? I can’t go a week without needing them. Buy several of them and have one in every room so you don’t have to scour the entire house looking for one. Saves a ton of aggravation!

  • Rita

    I gave up on putting my keys in the same place and just bought a car with “intelligent key”… as long as my keys are in my purse somewhere, my car starts with the push of a button. (Especially handy since I’m always toting a 30lb baby and an armload of groceries!)

    A stash of cash in the house? WOW! Can you believe I’ve never thought of that? I’m going to the bank RIGHT NOW!

  • Holly

    If you have reached the ‘glorious reading glasses’ age….have several pair around so that no matter where your body is there is a pair of glasses to wear. Such joy……

  • Sue

    Ditto Tea! We call it the “cord box” and go through it every once in a while and make sure we know what all of them are for. If not, the mystery cords go somewhere else until we need them (and return them to the box, no longer a mystery) or get rid of them (probably not that important if a year goes by and we don’t use it).

  • Deidra

    My sewing machine has been out for a project lately, so I’ve taken the opportunity to do some mending. It’s amazing how satisfying that has been. It feels so mature (and I’m only 25), but I’ve loved seeing the product of my handy work. Fixed zippers, mended lining of a dress, and even repaired seam on a laundry bag. A stitch in time just makes me happy! 🙂

    I try to not let my car get below half a tank. Then it’s not such a hit to the wallet when I fill up and I don’t worry about running out of gas.

  • Tiffany Fox

    I love these kinds of tips, and I have a few to add:

    * Create a universal packing checklist, and save it electronically where you can always access it/revise it at a moment’s notice.

    * Cultivate five key no-fail dishes that you can bring to any party, without much thought, preparation or expense (an appetizer, a salad, an entree, a side dish and a dessert). Return to these recipes again and again.

    * Every Sunday night, review your calendar for the upcoming week.

    * Keep a bottle of sunblock in your car and in your desk at work.

    * Keep a box of thank you cards in your desk at work. You never know when you’ll need one.

    *Keep a list of gift ideas throughout the year. This makes the holidays/birthdays a no-brainer.

    • Bibliovore

      Great tips. One caveat on keeping a bottle of sunblock in your car — make sure it’s not going to destroy anything if it leaks, which it’s more likely to do if it goes through wild temperature changes. I had bug repellent in my glove compartment once, parked in the sun, and wound up with an oily, smelly mess to clean up.

      • Angie unduplicated

        Bug repellent in purse-size containers, if you live below the Mason-Dixon, for those outdoor conversations with others.

    • Only spray-on sunblocks should be stored in cars, as the changes in temperature in the car can render them ineffective (as when a cream turns to complete liquid due to heat).

      I’d also add: Keep a book of “forever” stamps in your box of thank you cards.

    • dagny1028

      I love the gift list idea. I just started one for the holidays! I am very proud of myself because I am normally stressed out and miserable at the end of the year trying to think of new ideas at the last minute!

  • These are really good. I always keep ibuprofen at work, and just knowing it’s there gives peace of mind even though others need it more often than I do. Also do the car key thing. How about these: never let dishes sit in the sink… carry a book or notebook in case you are stuck somewhere and have to wait … and keep band-aids in your purse and/or glove compartment.

  • My addition here is to keep a pad of paper and a pen attached to the fridge or on the kitchen counter to keep a running list of items needed, so when you go to the grocery, you get everything you need, and don’t get home and realize you’ve forgotten something.

    Also, never bring bills, work, arguments, or anything “negative” into your bedroom. I believe the bedroom should be an absolute ‘peace zone’ — a respite from the world.

    • Mary

      Great advise luv it!

  • I have a little travel bag that has a toothbrush, toothpaste, mascara, moisturizer, etc. – all the things I need on a trip. And I leave the stuff in there. No running around remembering to put things in it when I go on a trip. No forgetting anything. I just pack my clothes, drop in the zipped up bag, and go!

    • Monica

      Great tip Karen! I am away one weekend in 6, and my weekend bag always has a nightie, some underwear and my travel washbag. I also put in any little present I’ve bought for the family I’m visiting. Then, whenever I finish a book I’ve enjoyed, I drop that in too, to share with my mum and/or sister who are fellow book-worms. My mum’s great phrase is “comfort reading” ie light novels for when you’re out of sorts.

  • I’ve noticed how important taking care of some of the small things you’ve mentioned has made a difference in my day.

    For myself, I always like to have chamomile tea on hand in case I feel stressed out.

    One way I like to relax is to find a funny video online. There’s so much great humour out there…it just lightens up my day.

    But I’ve noticed that I feel off when I don’t get enough sleep, which in turn has caused me to make lunch the next morning, which makes me feel rushed when I get to work.

    Small steps to bigger happiness.

  • I love these. I’m always amazed at what a difference extremely simple things can make to my happiness level. For example, my commonly used bags all contain a pen, kleenex, painkillers, tide-to-go, and hand sanitizer, and it makes such a huge difference to not have to track these things down when I’m running out the door, or be caught without them when I’m out.

  • nickdico

    Here’s one – maybe don’t multitask as much? or at all? Single task instead! http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/05/how-and-why-to-stop-multitaski.html

  • Angie unduplicated

    Earplugs. Have them, use them. Loud TV’s, music, and other noises can and will contribute to stress.

  • Your list is great! The only thing I would add is to keep a running list of things you will be out of soon. That way, when you go to the store, you can pick up those things before you run out of them.

  • Hpvanduuren

    Looks like good tips,

    What nr. 2 is concerned that’s something I learned during my Military Service, to alway’s fill it up.
    So that’s automatic for me.

    What point 10 is concerned – although I must admit that that one sometimes does slips through a little – this blog has reinforced me to atleast have the intention
    to actually do it.

    I even did add a little extra ‘flavour’ to this ‘ritual’ since I happen to have a thing for arranging a bunch of big pillows in a specific order. It might come as a total surprise to people that know me, but sometimes – out of nowhere – I at times I can be
    an actual neat freak!

    Possibly because with the pillows I feel it’s easy that way to emphases making a statement,
    that goes something like:

    ‘This Room is totally tidy! :)’

    All the Best,
    To your Happy Inspiration,

  • Stress guru

    You are such a control freak – loosen up

    • gretchenrubin

      Believe me, I’ve tried loosening up, and running out of gas, running out of
      cash, losing my keys, and staying up late…these don’t make me easy-going!

      It’s a paradox: Careful preparation makes me feel carefree.

      • darcibeth

        Yes. I knew a guy who refused to wear a watch because he said he didn’t want to worry about time. For me, it would be the opposite. When I know what time it is, I know how much time I have. I can plan my time and make sure I leave enough for pleasureable things.

    • Observer

      That is rather negative. Lighten up, we all have our own methods of making life better for us and given we are each individual, different things work for each of us. Given the comments, most people are finding the exchange positive and helpful.

  • Shareeanne

    I have three small children and I have found laying out what they are going to wear (including shoes and socks) the night before takes a lot of the stress out of my morning.

  • Mom

    Re: your cash item. Why DO we try to assign things like that to our spouses. I do that too, and like you, the thing never got done. It’s not that the task is onerous. Do you think it’s because we’re looking for approval of the idea, and if ones spouse embraces and executes the idea then it must have been a good idea?

    • gretchenrubin

      In my case, I just didn’t want to deal with it. But finally I realized that
      didn’t give me the right to insist that he deal with it!

  • I can add to number 5 — I actually use those silly eye patches pilfered from airline flights. That way, I can have the pleasure of knowing husband is in bed next to me but I don’t see the flickering lights from The Game that is inevitably still playing on the TV.

  • One more that I can’t believe I forgot: Pre-menopausal women should always carry at least one “feminine item” in her bag. I like to carry more than one – people are always asking me if they can have one on an emergency basis, and I need to make sure I have supplies on hand for when *I* need them, too.

  • Jroberta

    Add hot water to dirty dishes or pans if not ready to load in dishwasher or wash by hand.

    Let the phone take the message when you’re too busy to talk.

    Keep extra cartridges on hand. When your printer is out of ink, you can replace it promptly.

  • Abby

    Finding my keys in the same place every day makes me sooo happy! My mother actually wears her keys on a string around her neck (that my father put together for her years ago). But she has to take this off to sleep and change clothes and so, she can never find them.

    When I buy lipstick, I buy 3. One for my purse, one for my office desk drawer, and one for my cosmetic bag. I’m happy when I don’t have to dig around for my lipstick.

    I also take care of the mail as soon as I walk in the door. Happy!

    Now, if I can only teach (train?) the rest of my family to make dinner. That would be heavenly.

  • Kate

    Since so many people seem to rush rush rush to get somewhere “on time” my tip is to plan to arrive 10 minutes early.

  • Rodin

    really great ideas! A couple more:
    * Each device these days comes with a cord to connect to the PC/phone etc. Put a simple label around each cord soon as you buy the device it comes with…write what it is (Canon camera)on tiny slip of paper and attach it to the cord with scotchtape around it. I have about 20 cords in a box and don’t really have to guess when I need a cord.
    * Write your name and tel# and stick it on each ‘loasble’ item (USB drive, water bottle etc)….you’ll be glad you did!

  • SunshineIsMine

    One thing that helps me stress less is always having a healthy snack on hand and a bottle of water, no matter where I am going. My son and I eat a little something every few hours and you wouldn’t believe the benefit to something as small as this (my son may have mild blood sugar issues as his mood and energy level is always improved by a little snack). Always having healthy food nearby hand makes us happy!

    • gretchenrubin

      This is SUCH a good point. My family goes crabby fast when hungry.

      • Zumilla

        When my son was little, I always has a PB&J sandwich in my purse (in a baggie!). Squashed or not, it it was always acceptable, and a life-safer on long flights.

  • Lila

    Great tips! I love your book, Gretchen, and my husband and I are planning our own Happiness Project to begin in July. A few tips to add:

    1. I keep a mini spiral notebook with me at all times and use it to record every to-do item, idea, shopping list, etc. I keep both a pen and a highlighter (which I use to make things completed) in the spiral.

    2. Walk. We have a cheap treadmill in our house and when I am feeling blah I make myself walk for at least a few minutes. I love to listen to podcasts and watch Hulu, so I set up my laptop on the treadmill for some entertainment. I have a baby, so finding a few minutes here and there to walk while at home is the best way for me to exercise at this point.

    3. I wholeheartedly agree with your 10 minute evening tidy tip. I also do the morning version of that. I take a few minutes to quickly put dirty clothes in the bin, make beds, unload the dishwasher, etc. Starting the day with a tidy house makes a HUGE difference in my mood.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Gretchen, Thank you for the great tips! I just finished The Happiness Project book yesterday and I’m totally inspired. Thank you for sharing your journey and showing me that with a little effort, I can tap into my happiness well a lot easier.

  • Somewhere (here?) I read about laughing silently inside your head for a few minutes several times a day. I tried it first yesterday during the morning dog walk, and it’s great! Of course I still purr for a few minutes a day as well. Three-minute demo here:

  • Hi Gretchen
    I suggest your tips in Technogym Wellness Blog adding your blog as the main resource: http://tinyurl.com/26ws5xb

  • Anne

    Great list. One of my home stressors was always searching for my eyeglasses when I wanted to watch TV.

    I bought a leather upright pencil holder (can-shaped) from Homegoods and I keep it in one place ALWAYS. (On a hutch between the kitchen and living room.) As soon as I walk into the house, my glasses go in that holder. When I’m done watching TV, back they go.

    Simple solution that has worked very well!

    • gretchenrubin

      Why is it SO HARD to put something back in exactly the same place, every
      time??? and yet so worth the effort.

  • #4 can apply to so many more things other than keys: shoes, wallet, sunglasses, briefcase/purse, pretty much anything.

  • Fiberkids

    To add to Jroberta’s suggestion about letting the phone take a message – We turned off our phone ringer years ago. When we are available to take calls, we just turn up the volume on the answering machine. We avoid almost all sales calls this way, cause they hang up when our message starts to play. One of the best stress-reducers we’ve ever tried!

  • Zoe

    I used to have trouble deciding what to cook for dinner – now I enjoy searching for a recipe on line over my lunch hour, and stopping on the way home if I need a few extra ingredients. My kids and I have been enjoying all the variety, and often cook together,

    • Candace

      HI Zoe,
      I great way to do it is if you have a iphone there is 2 applycations allrecepies and epirucus those are GREAT and easy you can plan your dinner while you are driving and also help because it does the shoppinng list for you so you don’t miss anything !

  • Kat

    Here are mine! I definitely do the grocery list, a magnetic pad on the fridge. I would also say keep individual mints/candies in the car so if you are hungry or feel queasy you have something to help. Get a little lazy susan to place all your spices on then you can spin it to find several easily. If you get a lot of junk mail, make a template form to tell them to take your name off their list or you can find one online. Place this form and your address from the original mailer in the postage free envelope and ship it off. You not only help yourself, you help trees! Consider an extended cell phone battery. It’s a little heavier, but now I only have to charge my phone 1x/week or less. Whew! Recycle old magazines on a yearly basis. If certain articles speak to you, cut them out and keep them in a small folder. Give plants away if your house is crowded with them. You’ll make so many people happy, and free up space! Also I have to block my alarm clock light with a little towel, even dull night light prevents me falling asleep as fast. If you exercise, keep a bag with needed materials (water, extra socks, towel) by the door so you can easily head out the door quickly. Have a satellite minifridge in the summer for cold refreshing drinks, sparkling water is a great healthy one, ours is by the garage, hits the spot after garden work!

  • Girl About Town

    I agree. Children enjoy routine and thrive in knowing what their own jobs are and what is required of them. To see their clothes laid out helps them know what day it is (a hard one for kids) and what they are going to do – go to school, go swimming, go to soccer, etc.

    Mornings are stressful and arriving at school early and on time is an important lesson for kids to adopt and also shows respect for the teacher and other students. By all means – get those clothes out, make the lunches and set the bags near the door. Then, you can spend more time eating breakfast together as a family or get ready yourself instead of searching for a sock.

  • Mary

    Get the gym bag all packed for the early morning rush, and do it the night before, after getting the lunch(es) ready. This goes a long way toward eliminating exercise backsliding, and hitting the gym before work always reduces stress in my day.

  • April

    I would add: Pick out your clothes for work/school the night before. This saves me so much stress in the morning.

  • Rgg

    Hey Gretchen
    I had to laugh out loud with this post. Two weeks ago on a Saturday, I ran out of gas. My execuse is that my gas gauge is broken and its too confusing to estimate gas usuage.(sorry excuse). So I ran out of gas at the bottem of a hill,and I was able to coax the car up a small incline only to die at the entrance to a gas station. What followed was like a Marx brothers comedy. I didn’t have any cash on hand either. But the happy ending is that I did have a neighbor who is a friend, who drove out to the gas station to help me. My tip of the day, “Love thy neighbor,as thyself”.

  • Excellent post. Surprisingly, cleaning a bed does help you to disconnect and I think that’s important in times of stress. 🙂

  • dreamer

    I totally agree with the whole walking around the block and making you’re bed. I don’t know what it is but it really makes a difference in my mood. I always forget to make my bed in the morning and I sometimes forget to do it for a while but when I do do it, it makes a huge difference in the mood of the room. It makes me feel so good about myself.

  • Mila

    Adding all the my list I have a great sistem that works for me and my boyfriend really good. That is everything has a place in the house so at night we go to bed the aparment is nice and clean.
    Get up at 5:30 and we go for a walk araound the house to breath and talk about plans for the day etc is also great time to share with your partner.
    We come back and do Kundalini yo ( breathing) and refresh and charge your body of energy .
    After this we do learning (read, wach videos) by 7:30am we are ready to work and have done a lot of things.
    I feel much better everyday and when I don’t do it my boby just feel down.
    I did the experiment of stay at my parents house for a week not doing any of this things and was crazy how much my mood change and I was very sensible and din’t have energy to do anything else in the day !

  • Lani

    My best friend’s dad always told us “you go broke saving money.” Now I always ask myself, am I buying this because it’s on sale, or because I need it. I have extended that to other parts of my life too – Am I getting this master’s because it’s on sale (not as expensive as other programs)? It has totally revamped how I buy things, and even who I spend my time with. I have tried to fill my life with quality things and people, rather than going for things that are on sale.

  • Janeymouse

    Set out breakfast things the night before.

    Listen to an audio book or podcast whilst cleaning, doing dishes or cooking – makes the task seem so much less of a waste of time!

    Try to do chores you don’t enjoy (for me, doing my weekly online grocery shop) early in the week so that it doesn’t hang over you.

    I try to sit still with my cat, a hot drink and a biscuit for 20 mins after getting in from work, as opposed to rushing straight into making dinner etc. It makes things feel less frenetic.

    Get to bed well before you need to get to sleep.

    If it takes your fancy, buy bath / shower / cosmetic products that you’ll really enjoy using. Getting ready for work can be so dull, but a nice lip gloss can help!

  • Cecelia

    Here’s food for thought: I found a couple of these ideas (keep cash on hand and gas in the car) on another list and I began doing these about a year ago. It has really saved a lot of time and added to my sense of security. The other list was a list of tips for preparing ourselves for a terrorist attack! Now, I hate to introduce that into a happiness blog, but I think it is appropriate to mention that one of the things that really itnerferes with our sense of well-being is the fact that we are now living with this overarching threat. The best way I’ve found to get past it (and get on with being happy) is to pack a ‘survival’ tote box which I keep in the garage, and to read the Happiness Project blog daily. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

    • Beth

      I have prepared a kit of emergency supplies, based on earthquake preparedness information (we live in an earthquake zone). Hope I never have to use it, but knowing it’s there is a stress reliever. I could be wrong, but characterizing such a kit as one that will help deal with natural disasters instead of terrorism will reduce the stress even more?

  • Kathy

    I have a box at home with an assortment of things which I have bought to give as gifts, some for kids, some for women and some for men. They are inexpensive gifts of the sort you see in the sales, note books, bath oil, book marks etc. When I need to give a “thank you” gift or a birthday pops up which I had forgotten about, I can dip into the box and find something suitable to wrap up for the occassion.

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