I recently spent a few weeks offline, connecting with loved ones and reflecting on life. One thought I kept coming back to is how much effort we put into trying to make life better. We chase things—a promotion at work, a bigger house, or even a new pair of shoes.
It’s so easy to look outward for things that will make us feel better (and yes, I do this too). But deep down, I know that the best way to make life easier and more joyful is to look within.
The way you think of the people in your life, your thoughts, feelings and how you spend your time. We tend to forget these things when our eyes are on bigger pursuits, but they add up, and they matter.
Of course, this isn’t to say that our external circumstances aren’t important too. We all have needs that must be met. But, when we look at how we spend our energy and attention, it’s clear that many would benefit from taking a broader approach.
I count myself in that group, so here are a few simple shifts that I’m working on. It’s not an exhaustive list, and not every suggestion will apply to everyone, but I hope something here will help make life better for you as well.
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8 Ways To Make Life Better
Know your non-negotiables
Life is a journey, and most of us are blessed with many different options of what path to take. But, not knowing where to go and second-guessing yourself at every turn can be crippling.
This is why you need to equip yourself with a compass, and in life, the best directions you can get are from your values. They help direct you toward a path that will lead to the most fulfilment and happiness—not just at your end goal, but while you walk along the route as well.
Your values are what matters most to you or your non-negotiables. They make like better because they help you assess how things weigh-up against, work towards or add to what you value.
Before I knew my values, I was constantly exhausted, trying to do everything and please everyone. I made decisions based on what everyone else was doing, thinking it would make my life better. But instead, it left me feeling adrift.
I felt like I was doing all the right things, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, and I know now this is because I wasn’t living true to myself. Once I got clear about what mattered most to me, everything changed. I made confident choices about my relationships, my career, and even my minimalist lifestyle.
This way of thinking takes practice, but I find the more I act on living true to my values, the simpler and better life gets.
Seek to understand
One of the best things we can do to improve our relationships is by approaching them from a place of understanding or empathy. Understanding your friends, family members, coworkers and loved ones can improve how you communicate with them, learn from them and interact with them.
One of the simplest ways to start practising this is by listening—genuinely listening without planning your response or thinking of a related story to tell. Instead, it’s about being present, paying attention, and simply holding space for others. (This is also known as active listening.)
In full disclosure, I find this very hard to do. I am a natural storyteller, and my mind is always racing from idea to idea. This is helpful as a writer, but it can be hurtful in my relationships. So I am practising and working hard to listen and fully understand others.
Fill your cup
The quest for a better life is an exciting one that will usually lead to many new things to learn and do. But before you rush off to add more to your life, make sure you leave time to tend to yourself.
We all have basic needs: sleep, eat, physical activity and relationships. Don’t overlook these things. A better life will only come if you have a solid foundation for meeting these basic needs first. Not doing so can lead to resentment and burnout.
Fill your cup. It may not be as exciting as working towards big goals, but it is just as important. (On a sidenote—most people ‘know’ this in theory but struggle with real-life self-care. This is a mental shift, and it takes practice to get comfortable putting your needs first.)
Give people the benefit of the doubt
It’s easy to believe that the way we think of others only affects them, but recent research has shown that these thoughts have the power to affect us as well.
Research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies looked at the assumptions made when people were stood up or ignored via text or email. They were asked to guess the ‘why’ behind the other person’s reasoning and filled out a questionnaire to determine how happy they were in general.
The respondents were categorised into groups that defined reasoning as hostile (they thought the other person stood them up out of malice), benign (they gave people the benefit of the doubt), or ambiguous (they thought the intent was malicious sometimes—but not always). The study found that those that gave people the benefit of the doubt all the time were happier.
Of course, there are many factors at play and more research to be done—but this study does suggest that giving people the benefit of the doubt – or at least, not assuming the worst in people—can play a role in our happiness.
I’ve certainly experienced this in my own life, especially with those who I know love and care for me: my husband, my close friends, my family. Sometimes, it’s easy to think negative thoughts, but this is often a reflection of my fears and insecurities.
Note that giving people the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat. Instead, it’s about pressing pause and assuming the best until you have evidence to the contrary (especially with those who have already earned your trust). I’ve found this helps me feel less bothered about the little things, which is a powerful way of making life better.
Grow through, don’t get through
For many people, work is a means to getting something they value. For example, living debt-free might be a goal. To make that goal happen, you would need to work.
Waking up for five days a week thinking, “I have to go to work and get through this day”, sets you up for mediocracy at best and resentment at worst. So how can we make a ‘must’, like earning an income better? The answer is changing your mindset.
So much can come from shifting your internal dialogue and seeing every opportunity as one of growth. Instead of ‘getting through’ Monday to Friday, ‘grow through’ Monday to Friday.
Take each day as an opportunity to grow in some way. This turns what is seemingly an obligation into an opportunity. You could improve your skills at your current job to make you better equipped for a future career. Or walk to work to get you closer to health goals.
This isn’t about ignoring negative feelings or denying that life is hard. Instead, it’s about acknowledging them and then deciding how we’re going to react. I’ve learned we can live true to our values, even when the circumstances are less than ideal—but we must be intentional about creating this shift.
Edit your influences
The people that you spend the most time with will have the most significant influence on you, so it’s in your best interest to make sure that these people are making your life better, not worse.
Surround yourself with those that share your values, that you can speak with openly, and that make you feel your best. This applies to the ‘real world’ and to those we interact with online.
Edit your social circle, and your social media feeds so that you’re in alignment with what you value in life. Unfollow anyone that steers you away from your life priorities or make you feel less-than. Protect your time, space and energy—these are limited resources and should be respected accordingly.
Related Post: How to Stop Comparing Yourself To Others
Know that you can respond, not just react
Setbacks, annoyances and grievances are an inevitable part of life. The good news is that you have the power to respond, not just react. There’s an important difference between the two. A ‘reaction’ is fuelled by your emotion and is difficult to control. When something negative happens, we’re usually overcome with emotion and react.
While it’s important to acknowledge and process your feelings (after all, there’s a lot to be learned from them), it’s also important to know that you can respond to situations too.
Responses can be controlled. They are the ‘action’ that you take, and if well-considered, they can serve you and the situation better than your initial reaction.
If something upsets you, feel the feeling, try to understand why you are feeling it, and pause. Think about the best way forward, then take a course of action. This might mean that you excuse yourself from difficult conversations or delay responses to messages. But it also means that you give yourself the power of choosing what to do next, rather than simply reacting.
Add to Your Reading List: If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend Emotional Agility by Dr Susan David. Regular readers will know I’m always talking about this book—it’s so powerful!
Take small steps and have faith they will add up
Life is a journey, and remember that things take time. Growth is rarely linear, so if you experience a setback, don’t be too hard on yourself. In those moments, I know it can feel like it’s not worth trying—but have faith—the small steps matter.
This is especially true for values that feel out of reach due to the state of the world or the influence of culture. But each person acting on their values will lead to more authenticity in the world, which is a change worth striving for.
If you value a minimalist lifestyle, don’t shop for things you don’t need. If you value work-life balance, leave the office at 5:00 (at least once in a while). If you value sobriety, don’t be afraid to order a soft drink when you’re out with friends. It takes courage to create a better life, and sometimes it feels like you’re not getting anywhere.
But honestly, I’m learning that what makes life better IS the journey. Our goals don’t matter as much as showing up daily and finding joy in the people and the simple pleasures all around us.
I think at some point, we’ve all asked the question “how to make life better?” and ultimately, I think it’s about courage, kindness, and authenticity.
How can we show up for ourselves and others every day in a way that honours our hopes, dreams, and values? And how can we enjoy the journey, instead of living for some imaginary ‘someday’ when everything will be perfect, and our problems will disappear?
I don’t have all the answers (does anyone?), but experience has taught me these simple shifts are a powerful step in the right direction. When you’re clear about what and who matters, and you align your thoughts, beliefs and actions accordingly, then you can’t help but create a better life for everyone.