5 Cheap Activities That Will Actually Make Your Life Better

A confusing trend has plagued Western countries over the last decade or so: though technology becomes ever faster and more convenient, it seems we have less time than ever. In fact, modern life is so rich with information and distraction, making the best of our time and money has never been more challenging.

If you ever feel like you’re treading water rather than moving forward, here are five things you can do that are almost never a waste of time. They might not fix everything overnight, but doing them regularly will definitely yield greater returns than, say, binge-watching Riverdale.

#1 Write down things you’re grateful for

Taking things for granted can be dangerous. Taking your health for granted, for instance, can lead to a poor diet. Taking a friend for granted can lead to treating them badly. And taking an election for granted can lead to Donald Trump.

Practising gratefulness, on the other hand, not only makes you more mindful of all the great things in your life, it also has a ton of scientifically proven benefits. These include better sleep, higher self-esteem and an easier time making friends.

The easiest way to practise gratefulness is to regularly sit down and write about the things you’re grateful for. That might sound like a bore, but research has shown that writing just a few sentences per week can markedly improve your outlook on life.

#2 Prepare a healthy meal

Whether you’re hungry or not, cooking a healthy meal is always a good idea.

Meal preparation is a commonly neglected part of domestic life, but it’s one that holds big benefits. Research has found that people who spend less than one hour a day preparing meals not only tend to spend more money on fast food, they’re also more likely to miss out on the essential nutrients found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

Cooking can yield psychological benefits as well. Done calmly and with purpose – rather than at the last minute when you’re starving – it promotes mindfulness, and can alleviate feelings of time-poverty, stress and anxiety. Not only that, but self-prepared meals tend to taste better to the people who make them.

While it’s easy to become discouraged when you see health websites advocating specialty cooking tools and bizarre or expensive ingredients, there are a ton of simple, nutritious meals you can whip up in a moderately provisioned kitchen.

#3 Learn something new

Quite apart from the obvious benefits of learning a new language, craft or computer program, learning a new skill has been shown to improve memory and awareness. Like a muscle, the brain only grows when it’s challenged.

One good thing about living in the Age of Information is that there are tons of free online courses out there, for everything from French to origami to Photoshop. You might have to try a few things until you find something you really enjoy, but once you do, being persistent with it will sharpen your brain like a whetstone.

#4 Exercise

I know you’ve heard it a million times before, but exercise really is an investment in your future. It’s good for your health, your mind, and your medical bills.

Even if you don’t have a gym membership, there are heaps of great exercises you can perform at home with your own bodyweight. If you can, try exercising outdoors; being amongst nature has been shown to improve mood and lower stress.

If you truly hate exercise, a good way to get motivated is to make it personal by coming up with a goal. For instance, let’s say you’re interested in indoor rock climbing, an activity that requires a lot of core and upper body strength, and you’d like to get better at it. When you look at sit-ups and chin-ups as “getting better at rock climbing” rather than exercise for the sake of exercise, pushing out those reps will tend to feel more personal and less chore-like.

#5 Call a friend or family member

The strength of a person’s relationships is widely accepted as the greatest indicator of their overall happiness. Having a strong social network makes us far more resilient to adverse circumstances – like losing a job or becoming ill. And yet, surveys show that we are currently experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, both in Australia and around the world.

It’s safe to say that reaching out to your nearest and dearest is never a waste of time.

So instead of liking your friend’s or your parent’s Facebook status and calling that a connection, get a little 20th century on their ass and give them a call. They are there to help you make sense of the mess of everyday life – and God knows we all need that sometimes.

Joel Svensson is a Canberra-based writer originally from Melbourne. He’s written more latté-fuelled stories about first-world problems than he cares to admit, and can be found coping with misleading hashtags at @le0jay.