Investing in Yourself: Feeling Good

investRecently, I discussed the value of investing in yourself – putting time and money into improving you, not building assets. Today, we’ll look at one area of investing in yourself as part of an ongoing series on the topic, spread out once per weekday over two weeks.

Your mood is one of the most powerful factors that determines how your day will go. With a good mood, you’ll interact with others in a generally positive way, feel positively about the things that are going on around you, and be more driven to work hard and succeed in life. With a bad mood, you create negative impressions with others, generally feel down about what you’re doing, and often are prone to creating a negative impact on what you’re doing.

Finding effective ways to lift your mood a little is valuable. I’ve already discussed exercise in detail in this series, but that’s one avenue – topics which I’ll discuss later in the series that help with mood lifting include personal appearance and self-confidence. Aside from that, though, there are several little investments you can make to consistently raise your personal mood – and thus raise your value in your own eyes and in the eyes of others. Give some of these techniques a shot.

Start your day with something intensely positive.
My average morning starts off with a shower, a small and energetic breakfast, some logic puzzles, and then, eventually, a period of time with my kids. This is an awesome way to start the day – it fills me with energy, improves my personal appearance, invigorates me, and gives me a taste of the activity I enjoy most in my life, playing with my children.

See if you can’t identify a thing or two you can do in the morning to start your day off with a positive mindset. Some suggestions:
A breakfast of fruit or oatmeal Something healthy, natural, and full of energy to start your day.
A shower Start off things by taking a long, soaking shower, cleaning you off, revitalizing you, and getting you ready to go for the day.
Meditation or prayer Early morning might be the best time to get in touch with your spiritual side, especially if it’s something that brings positive value to your life.
A brief taste of your favorite hobby Read a book chapter or play a quick game to start things off.

Include some natural mood lifters in your daily routine.
A plump, juicy grape is one of my favorite little snacks in the world. I pop one in my mouth, chew it up, and suddenly I feel just a little bit better. Thus, quite often, I’ll put a bowl full of grapes on my desk and pop several during the day. It naturally brings up my mood and makes the day flow by a little faster.

A grape is a wonderful example of a natural mood lifter. It works in the now by creating pleasure on the tongue and just a little burst of energy from the natural sugars, and it’s fine for the later, too, because it calms my appetite and the grape itself is a good food to be eating. I feel no guilt, just a little burst of pleasure and happiness.

See if you can identify some small natural mood lifters in your life. Maybe it’s a small ball that you can squeeze in your hand. Maybe it’s a photo of your children on your desk that you can look at regularly. Whatever it is, utilize it – make it a regular part of your routine. As for me, I never get tired of that regular bowl of grapes.

Accentuate the positive things you do and minimize the negative ones.
No one in life does everything absolutely right, nor do they do everything absolutely wrong, either. While it’s useful to know what your faults are, dwelling on them creates a false impression in your mind that you’re somehow less valuable than you are. Instead, spend time focusing on the positives in your life.

For example, I know I have some sort of talent for writing. Through this site, I’ve been able to reach a lot of people. Thus, I often use it as a point of pride and self-confidence for myself – I can do this, and thus I can tackle the things I don’t do so well, like handle pointed criticism.

Make a list of five or so things that you do really well and spend some time really focusing on tasks that maximize those skills. For me, for example, that sort of exercise would probably involve doing some blog writing and some freelance writing. For you, it might be doing something completely different.

Focus in on a small number of goals rather than a lot of goals.
A while back, I wrote an article entitled

The Fine Art of Abandoning Goals, in which I discussed how I turned a monster list of 101 goals into a much smaller group of five goals. Why did I do this? The huge number of goals felt like a giant weight on my shoulders – I always felt like I needed to be doing something, but I never felt like I was getting close to really finishing anything.

Make a list of all of the goals you’re tackling right now in your life, from the big ones to the small ones. You’ll be surprised how many there are if you start listing them, and when you look at that giant list, you’ll be surprised how much weight that that list contains.

Now, go through that list and eliminate a lot of them. Eliminate the ones that don’t leave you yearning to achieve them. Keep them only if you absolutely must do them. Try really hard to winnow the list down as small as you can.

What remains are the goals you should pay attention to. The effort you put forth in your life should be directed towards achieving this handful of goals and not wasted by achieving secondary or small goals that your heart isn’t really into. Yes, that may mean that you abandon some things in your life. Don’t sweat it – you’re just freeing up your time and talents to chase after the things that really do have value.

Add some variety to your environments.
Most of the time, I’m stuck in an office environment with the typical pale walls and nothing much to look at – my windows all face other buildings. When I’m writing, it’s almost always early in the morning in the basement, in a windowless room. These are nice environments for focusing in deeply, but they’re not good for creativity nor are they good for my self-image.

Try changing up your most common environments. For example, when I’m writing, sometimes I get a boost of creativity by going outside – I feel better, I see new things, and I have new ideas. At work, I’ll often just walk through the building when I’m feeling blue for the opportunity to interact with people and see something different than the walls all around me.

Make some significant changes to your environments. Add a plant, a wall decoration, or change the paint. Move furniture around. Better yet, do these things regularly. It does wonders to reduce that sense of “same ol’, same ol'” that leads to a sense of complacency.

Get a bit of pampering.
On occasion, it is a very good financial investment to get some pampering – the only problem is if you’re doing things you can’t afford or doing them frequently enough that it is interfering with your financial state. Try doing something exceptional for yourself – but keep it exceptional.

For me personally, a massage is about the best thing I can get. A nice, long, deep one, where the daily pains in the muscles are ground away and when I leave, I feel like my legs are made of Jell-O.

Also, do it irregularly. I don’t get these every day or every month, for if I did such massages would lose much of their value to me. Getting them very irregularly makes such massages special and leaves me feeling amazing, rather than making such pleasure routine and thus expected as a matter of course. Don’t be afraid to invest the time and money in something like this on occasion, as it will do far more for you than you might ever believe.

Do things for others because these acts make you feel good.
If you have an opportunity to help someone, help them just because you can, not because that person might be able to benefit you. When you walk away, ask nothing in return – you’ll feel great for doing it.

There are many opportunities for this in your daily life if you look for it. Most of them just take a few seconds – holding the door for an elderly person, stopping a bouncing ball from going out in the street, or paying a kind word to someone. Most of them don’t merit anything in return, either, and you shouldn’t expect it.

However, you’ll find that little acts of kindness do in fact return something to you, something you’ll sense and feel inside. This is one of the best natural mood lifters around.

Forgive the people in your life for their mistakes.
One final aggravation and mood reducer, for me, is people. There are people in my life that I have a very hard time being around, usually because I’ve witnessed them doing something foolish or wrong that’s bothered me quite a bit. If I hang onto this, every time I’m around them my stomach is full of bile.

The best solution is to try to forgive that person by realizing that everyone is human and has failings. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable around someone because they’re a loudmouth, or maybe you witnessed a person taking a truckload of stuff from the office supply closet. These people made a mistake, and quite often that mistake is a result of their human failings.

Do some honest introspection and realize that you have failings, too. Others may see these failings in you and feel uncomfortable around you. It’s no different than how you feel about this person that’s bothering you.

Once you’ve done that, it’s often easy to forgive most people. You’ll see that the person you despise is just a person, warts and all, just like you are, and it becomes much easier to not be filled with negativity when they’re around.

If you’d like to investigate more on these topics, I strongly recommend the book Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. It’s a very sound review of the scientific literature on positive psychology written for a general audience and broken down into some very clear and very applicable steps that people can apply to their lives. This, of course, is in stark contrast to most pop psychology books, which are mostly collections of platitudes about positive thinking and relationships with very little concrete application.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.