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Savvy Psychologist's 100th Episode: 5 Tips for a Happier, Healthier Life

I can’t believe it either! After two years, a Best New Podcast iTunes award, and millions of downloads, the Savvy Psychologist podcast has reached episode 100. And believe me, I’ve learned a lot along the way. So join me, Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, for a 100th anniversary special of five best tips to be both happier and healthier.

By
Ellen Hendriksen, PhD,
Episode #100

This week, in celebration of the podcast’s 100th episode, we’ll aim for a double whammy: five tips that will improve both your health and your happiness.  I don’t close every episode with a promise for a happier, healthier mind for nothing.

What makes this tip list a little different is its specificity. There are lots of happiness tip lists out there, and with all due respect, I’ve found much of the advice to be vague and shape-shifting, like “Choose joy” or “Be open.”  So here are five tips for health and happiness that may seem oddly precise, but that makes them achievable (plus grounded in science, but you’re used to that by now).

Tip #1: Take all your vacation timeand look forward to it.  The U.S. is notoriously stingy when it comes to vacation time, especially compared to Europe.  So you'd think that we Americans would use all of our precious allotment. But so many of us either leave that time on the table, work while we're on vacation, or don't take any vacation at all.

Vacations intuitively increase health by offering a chance to relax and recharge. Vacations go along with lower blood pressure, lower rates of obesity, and less depression.

In terms of happiness, a 2010 study of over 1,500 people compared happiness in those who took vacation and those who didn’t, and unsurprisingly, they found that people who took vacation were happier. But it wasn’t in the way you think. Oddly, they were happier before their trip.  

Why? Remember the episode on Why We Do Stupid Things? The idea that there are two kinds of pleasure—enjoying the moment versus anticipating the moment—fits perfectly here. There is the pleasure of sipping a mai tai in a cabana, but there is also the pleasure of sitting in your cubicle in the middle of winter looking forward to sipping a mai tai in a cabana. This excitement—looking forward to a vacation—can be just as fun, or even more fun, than vacation itself, especially if you end up with culture shock, fighting with family, or coming down with the trots.

So the lesson is not only to take your vacation time, but also to relish looking forward to it. Plan the best itinerary for you, whether that involves whitewater rafting or beach feet selfies and, most importantly, let yourself fantasize about it before you hit the road. 

Tip #2: Minimize your commute. Study after study shows the longer your commute time, the less happy and healthy your life. Indeed, a 2010 study found that longer commutes went along with lower life satisfaction. Yikes!

I know not everyone gets to decide how long their daily commute takes, but next time you move or switch jobs, seriously consider the smaller house or slightly lower salary if it buys you a shorter commute time.  That might sound crazy, but healthwise, a long commute makes you sit more every day, which has implications for your heart, weight, and metabolism. They don’t say sitting is the new smoking for nothing.  

In terms of happiness, a 2008 study of over 54,000 people found that commutes longer than even 20 minutes led to fewer of what the researchers called “socially-oriented trips,” like having dinner with friends, going out to see a movie, or even catching your kids’ school play. The longer the commute, the more likely it was that people never socialized.  And it’s those social interactions—having dinner with your cousin and his kids, playing on a local hockey team, even going to a funeral—that make up so much of the meaning in our lives. To quote Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”  So given a choice, shorten that commute and fill your found time with people you love.

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