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18 Ways to Improve Your Life Right Now

That don't include going to counseling

Most people know that there are some basic activities and ways of living that could lead to greater heath and happiness. Psychologist Roger Walsh (Univ of California-Irvine) has been studying these things for years, and recently wrote a major paper of research supported lifestyle changes that improve overall well-being, which he calls Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLCs). Furthermore, another researcher, Andreas Dick-Neiderhauser (Univ of Redlands) has been doing something similar, but he calls his list "Universal Curative Processes". The following is a quick overview of both, and they are all free and ready for all of us to start doing today.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes
The following is the research supported list of TLCs from Roger Walsh. If you want to feel better but don't want to do counseling, try these:

1. Exercise: this should be of no surprise since exercising regularly is often discussed in national media anytime improving health comes up. Just moving more, even if it is a walk around the block, is a good thing to do to improve your lifestyle.

2. Nutrition and diet: another thing that should be of no surprise is that eating foods that are good for you can also help you feel better. It is also important to occasionally indulge in things that might not be great for you since that is also part of enjoying life.

3. Time in nature: I personally notice that when I go on a hike or spend a couple days near the coast or in the woods, or even take a moment to recognize the beauty of Mt Hood (a beautiful sight where I live in Portland), that I just <i>feel </i>better. Walsh has research to back that up, and I often encourage my clients to find a spot that is accessible where they can regularly connect with the natural world.

4. Relationships: being in healthy relationships that you are regularly involved can make you feel better. Some psychologists have gone beyond this as a way to improve well-being, but are suggestion that this is the #1 important factor in life. For more on healthy relationships, check out my post on Universal Relationship Needs.

5. Recreation: when we start to feel like we don't have time for much more than work, school, or taking care of a to-do list, we usually don't feel very good. Making sure that some time is spent regularly in some kind of recreation or play, is essential for well-being.

6. Relaxation and stress management: a lot of my clients mention that they "waste too much time" watching a favorite TV show, hanging out with their friends, or just relaxing. It is essential for us to relax and manage our stress well, for us to feel good in our daily lives. You can read more about this in my post on Managing Stress.

7. Religious or spiritual involvement: people who regularly take time to connect with something greater than themselves, or participate in spiritual or religious activities, report greater well-being.

8. Service to others: it is a common misconception that we need good things to happen to us for us to feel good. Fortunately, research has shown over and over again that helping others is good for us. Some recent evolutionary psychology works backs this up as well, proposing that we evolved to be pro-social, cooperative beings.

Universal Curative Processes
Moving on to the next list, these are more psychological than the first. Another key is that each process may be needed at a different point in our lives.

1. Self Acceptance: This includes acceptance of feelings and wishes, and of problematic aspects of the self. Essentially when we can stop judging ourselves, stop fighting with our emotions, thoughts, and desires, and accept things about us that aren't fitting in with our ideal views of ourselves, a deeper, positive change happens.

2. Acceptance of Others: Accepting others the way they are (not as we wish them to be), and finding empathy, compassion, and understanding for them can create an amazing change in the quality of our relationships. For more on these first two, see my post on Developing Self-Compassion.

3. Acceptance of the Course of Life: Beyond fighting with parts of ourselves and others, we also tend to battle against the general course of life and our own eventual ending. Being able to accept the aging process, the ups and downs of life, and finding meaning in our activities, are elements that create a more peaceful and healthy life. For more on this, read Following The Path.

4. Liberation: This includes getting freedom from anxieties and binds to the past, possibly real forces that prohibit our growth (unfulfilling work, an unhealthy relationship, an oppressive social system, etc), and experiencing courage and personal strength.

5. Trusting Others: If we have been hurt by others breaking trust or being unreliable, finding people that you can trust can have a large therapeutic effect. Sometimes it takes the courage from #4 to help us get to this.

6. Being Present: This includes being able to deeply engage in the activities we are doing at this exact moment without distraction, and enjoying sensual experiences (good food, sex, the warm sun, etc) without interference from our critical mind. See my post, How to Understand Your Mind, for more on this.

7. Creativity: A lot of research has been done over the past few decades on the therapeutic effects of creative self-expression, which can be in writing, art, dance, music, or any other form. Many of us had a creative passion as children, but we often lose touch with it in adulthood. Reconnecting to this can be therapeutic.

8. Attainment of Goals: Striving for goals by itself increases happiness, but if we meet our goals, especially if they are intrinsically valuable, there can be a larger effect. This is closely related to #9.

9. Meeting Authentic Needs: When we are able to let go of goals that were not genuinely ours, or were not healthy for us (e.g. a compulsive drive for incredible wealth), and replace those with goals that meet our needs (relatedness, autonomy, competence, balance, fun, etc), there can be a large scale change in our well-being.

10. Connecting to Something Greater: Many people will report a major positive change when they can regularly connect to something greater than themselves, whether that is in a spiritual or religious context, or being connected to a group during an activity or mission.

So if something on these lists captures your attention, or seems to be the next place for you to grow, see what you can do to take some steps toward that today. For more stuff like this, check out my post on Increasing Happiness.


Will Meek PhD is a counselor in Providence, Rhode Island.

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