Safe at Home? 42 Easy Challenges to Help You Spend the Time Productively—and Lift Your Spirits.

Person giving their dog a bath

Right now, we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, and it will continue and change for a long time. While everyone across the globe is affected, it’s hitting people differently in different places. Countries are experiencing it at different times, and within the United States, states are being hit at different times. The crisis affects individuals very differently, too; people’s fears and challenges vary dramatically. Wherever we are, we’re all so grateful for the healthcare workers and all the essential workers who are doing such important work, so courageously, during this time.

I’m writing from my own experience, at this moment, in New York City.

When I was working on my book The Happiness Project, I needed to figure out a framework to approach the very large and complex subject of happiness.

It took a long time, but I figured it out. My First Splendid Truth is: To be happier, we have to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Although this sounds like a simple and rather obvious formula, it took me a huge amount of time and thinking to work it out.

Even once I’d come up with it, however, I didn’t understand the true importance of the fourth element, the atmosphere of growth. But the more I think about the elements of a happy life, the more convinced I’ve become of its importance.

Also, in these uncertain times, it’s reassuring to control what we can control, and it’s satisfying to cross something—even something small—off the list. Meeting small challenges helps give us the atmosphere of growth that’s so important to happiness.

It may seem trivial to worry about giving yourself a pick-me-up in the dire circumstances we’re facing now, but growth, even in a trivial way, is energizing.

Many of us are safe at home, and because every day feels very much like the day before, it’s easy to start feeling stuck and stagnant. My sister Elizabeth told me, “I feel a sense of inertia. At first, I was energized by the newness of the situation, but now, it’s getting harder to muster up the energy to do the things I know I should do.”

By creating an atmosphere of growth (even very slight growth), we can give ourselves a quick jolt of energy and cheer—and that strengthens us for greater challenges, and the challenges to come.

How do you cultivate an atmosphere of growth? Here are some ideas—and these are quick, easy, whimsical ideas, in case you’re in the mood for a quick fix:

  1. Clear off one shelf—outer order contributes to inner calm; that’s why I wrote my book Outer Order, Inner Calm
  2. Make something, whether it’s as simple as a plate of cupcakes or as complex as a wooden chair
  3. Help someone move forward—teach someone a skill, make an introduction, act as a sounding-board
  4. Learn to do something new—I learned how to play the board game Ticket to Ride
  5. Replace all burned-out light bulbs
  6. Donate to a cause you believe in
  7. Write a haiku
  8. Eat a meal in an unusual spot or have family members switch from their normal chairs
  9. Spend 30 minutes reading or listening to a book from your “to read” pile
  10. After looking at your “to read” pile, decide that actually, you don’t want to read a certain book after all, and plan to give it away
  11. Use an appliance that’s never been used before—I finally tried making egg bites in my Dash Egg Bite Maker
  12. Along the same lines, use something that’s been gathering dust—play the piano, pull out the sewing machine, cook in your wok, flex those exercise bands
  13. Catch up on magazines—I still read physical magazines, does anyone else?
  14. Take a moment to appreciate the flavor of ketchup (fun fact: ketchup offers four of the five taste sensations, in a blend of sweet, salty, sour, and umami—the only taste missing is bitter, which is the least popular)
  15. Make a list of your 30 favorite TV shows, or movies, or books
  16. Take the first three steps toward crossing a major nagging task off your to-do list—whether that’s making a will or a photo album
  17. Use a face, body, or hair product that you own but have never used—my daughter is working her way through an assortment of face masks
  18. Wear a costume during a Zoom call to surprise people on the other side
  19. Write an email or letter to someone you love
  20. Sharpen your knives—my husband just did this
  21. Download and use an app that you’ve been meaning to start using—I finally have Venmo
  22. Reorganize a space in your home to make it more comfortable or more suited to a new function—turn a walk-in closet into a meditation room or a phone booth; turn a tiny sun porch into a reading room
  23. Find a happy photo taken with some friends or family from a few years ago, and send it to everyone in the photo, to remind them of a great memory
  24. Experiment with a new form of exercise
  25. Have a “picnic,” in whatever form that might take—my sister Elizabeth’s family had a “car picnic”
  26. Update your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, etc
  27. Unsubscribe to email newsletters you no longer read
  28. Check under all the beds—you might find things you’ve lost, or that you forgot you had
  29. Do 50 jumping jacks
  30. Make a point of using up all the mostly-eaten containers of food; you’ll have more room and a better sense of your supplies—we had five cartons of mostly-eaten ice cream
  31. Squeak some cornstarch between your fingers
  32. Declare a Family Prank Day—like an extra April Fool’s day
  33. Sit outside and listen to the birds—if your neighborhood is like mine, the birds can be heard so much more clearly these days
  34. Re-read old journals or look through old photo albums
  35. Make a Scrapbook of Now for COVID-19
  36. Tackle some pet care—give your dog a bath, change the water in your fish tank
  37. Go for a 20-minute walk outside
  38. Mail a handwritten postcard
  39. Use the “good china” or fancy plates you don’t use often
  40. Use something you’ve been saving like candles, nail polish, or lotion
  41. Do someone else’s chore, as a treat
  42. Delete all unused apps from your phone

What quick, easy challenges would you add to this list?



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