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Illustration by Brittany England

You know how one person can change the energy of a room?

Like when you’re sulking in bed and your friend bursts in with a latte and a 2-year plan to get rich with a wine-and-cheese food truck. Well, that’s us. And we come bearing the secret sauce for feeling freakin’ awesome in 2021 — on your own terms, of course.

Let’s start with a simple perspective flip, and focus on what we have. Chances are, it’s a lot. And as your friends with health benefits, we have no choice but to share our “haves” with you.

Thanks to the year-that-shall-not-be-named, some of our favorite acts of wellness are gaining momentum. We’re talking about a renewed love for cooking, getting more sleep, having time for hobbies, and making health and happiness more attainable for everyone — no exceptions.

And while some things are inherent to feeling good — eating nutritiously, staying active, sleeping, being mindful, and having a sense of community — that freakin’ awesome feeling comes in a variety pack; there’s a favorite flavor for everyone!

Each individual has a unique feel-good formula, so we thought we’d share our insider recipes.

Here’s what works for team Greatist.

My feel-good formula:

“You’re at your best when you’re over-scheduled,” my mom would say throughout my adolescence. At the time, as I struggled with ADHD and tween angst, my ballet recitals, theatre rehearsals, tennis games, voice training, piano lessons, and job in a pizza joint lulled me into a blissful and confident rhythm.

On its face, this advice may seem pushy or insensitive. But I’ve grown to appreciate how true it’s been for me all along. In the last few years I’ve cultivated a career while working multiple side hustles, getting my athletic training on, earning a master’s degree abroad, getting married, buying a house, and still having fun.

But my schedule’s been lighter than normal during this “year of the plague,” and unsurprisingly I’ve felt well short of my best. Without me realizing, the sudden lack of structure has taken a toll on me. But moving into 2021, I’m determined that it won’t happen again.

I plan to stick to my pre-Covid lifestyle and ramp up the discipline with things that make me feel confident and challenged — playing music, teaching fitness, reading, learning French, and taking classes. I’m tired just thinking about it, but that makes me feel pretty freakin’ awesome.

Feel-good formula:

Ah, I remember the halcyon days of 2019, where feeling good entailed sitting around with a few pals and bevvies, recounting old “Anchorman” quotes or whatever it is friends do when they’re in a room together. 2020 can eat pants, as we all well know.

However, as a musician, 2020 took on something of a different flavor — while I miss performing, I’ve been able to fill my days with music in different and exciting ways. And this is absolutely my route to feeling good.

In the absence of live shows, consuming music endlessly and aimlessly has been a massive release (without having to actually drop a massive release).

This has led to deep, deep dives into my music streaming service to discover new and old music, too — whole discographies every day.

My feel-good formula is simply that of soundtracking almost every waking moment and filling your day. Even if you’re sitting around doing nothing, your world still has a little bit of texture and color. And even when you’re not in the mood to listen to music, hum a little bit or drum on a desk.

Feel-good formula:

There’s this great quote in “Under The Tuscan Sun” that I think about often. It’s attributed to the famous Italian director Federico Fellini (which I cannot confirm, so don’t quote me quoting this quote). But here goes: “You have to live spherically, in many directions. Never lose your childish enthusiasm and things will come your way.”

And ain’t that the truth? When my days start to feel very adult, with my big girl job and big girl responsibilities, I sprinkle in a bit of childish enthusiasm and it never fails to make me feel whole.

Sometimes it’s as simple as running outside to laugh in the rain or taking a moment to marvel at something (anything!). Other times, it’s doing something illogical just because it feels right — like moving to New York alone with two suitcases, no job, a closet-sized sublet, and $1,000 in the bank (true story).

The moral here is that regardless of the rewards, which are usually pretty great, childish enthusiasm is an emotional exercise in opening ourselves up, surrendering control, and learning to believe again. It’s about stepping off the ledge and giggling as you freefall into the unknown. It’s about gratitude and freedom — but most of all, at least for me, it’s about hope. The deep-in-your-bones hope that the best is yet to come, and it’s right around the corner.

Feel-good formula:

At 29 I’ve unearthed a totally unoriginal, totally life-changing secret: if I keep my body feeling good, the rest will follow.

For many years, I was a pleasure-seeker. I lived on impulse, letting my emotions make all the calls. My life had pretty much no structure or routine. I worked when I ran out of money and changed locations whenever I got bored. At the time, I felt so lucky — so free — but I’ve learned that freedom is a double-edged sword.

The freedom I had at 23 gave me no impetus to think about how my physical health impacted my day-to-day. And as a result, my moods were all over the place. I was either lethargic and unengaged or spinning out with excess energy. My main coping strategy was to distract myself, whether that meant going thrifting or smoking a spliff.

But full-time employment has changed that. I can’t just change activities when I feel bad now. I have to manage my moods while still doing my job. The main way I do that is by revolving my life around getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.

I know how boring that is. I wish I had a more exciting answer. But this small revelation has brought me closer to my best self than I’ve ever been. And that, in itself, feels really good.

Feel-good formula:

I never get enough sleep. I’m a night owl who gets a burst of energy around 11 p.m. every night without fail. My best work is done in the midnight hours. And while I know this is not the healthiest pattern, it’s how I’m wired. My body’s circadian rhythms are what they are. So maybe it’s not surprising that my ultimate feel-good formula is a day when I can sleep in as long as I want.

I’m not ashamed to say I can easily snooze until noon. Zero guilt — IT FEELS AMAZING! I love waking up and not having to drag myself out of bed, not having to caffeinate myself into action, not having to rush or hustle (or even get dressed). Double feel-good points if the day is a Sunday and triple points if it’s a rainy Sunday. I live in LA so those days are incredibly rare but when they happen, they’re pure magic. I feel peaceful, rejuvenated… happy.

Every few months, I announce to my three teenage kids and my husband that I’m “off the clock” all day. They know what that means: I’m staying in bed — as long as I want. My son delivers room service — coffee with a splash of half-n-half. My cats take up posts on either side of my bed. Pillows are fluffed. Comfy sheets swaddle me. I grab a good book from my bedside table (currently rereading The Poisonwood Bible which never gets old), or fire up my laptop to binge watch something (don’t even start “Le Bureau” if you don’t want to be sucked in — it’s amazing!).

As simple as it sounds, a sleep-in day… a lazy lounging-in-bed day… it’s a feel-good formula that fills me up when I feel depleted and reminds my night owl alter-ego that sleep is, indeed, a powerful thing.

Feel-good formula:

For me, mindfulness is going to be something I practice more intentionally in 2021. It’s something I’ve worked on a lot in past years and found very helpful, but with all the stress layered on in 2020, I’ve felt the need to rediscover mindfulness practices anew for where I’m at now.

And it’s not just one thing that increases mindfulness, but a blend of several things that bring me joy, help to center and ground my energy, and refocus my thoughts so that I can live from a place of the present moment more often than worrying about the past or future (thanks, anxiety).

I personally find journaling, daily tarot and oracle card practice, reading, walking in nature, and guided meditation to be very helpful. But also allowing myself time to explore fun creative projects with no pressure attached — whether that be blending a new perfume formula, jotting down notes for a new novel, making little terrariums from collected moss, or playing with polymer clay for an hour. When I allow the creative curiosity to flow, I’m in my most authentic state and feel expansive, nourished, and hopeful.

These are some of the things that reinforce my life with glimmers which help me to create a sanctuary within, and forge my best path forward.

Feel-good formula:

For me, feeling my best is all about staying active. During the pandemic, that has meant lots of outdoor and at-home workouts, since I haven’t felt comfortable going to the gym.

Movement has been especially challenging since late November, when the funhouse of 2020 brought me one last obstacle: a broken arm. As a result, listening to my body (and, of course, my healthcare providers) will be essential in 2021 as I manage my injury and slowly get back to my usual activities. In the meantime I’ll be doing plenty of hands-free yoga practices and getting extra comfy on my indoor cycling bike.

The other key ingredient in my feel-good formula — especially during these times of isolation — is getting outside once a day. That can be tough in the winter, but with the help of a super warm coat, I hope to keep going for walks whenever possible to get a boost of serotonin and vitamin D.

Pandemic time has seemed to pass in a flash (wasn’t it April, like, yesterday?), and I know that soon enough spring will be here. The arrival of warmer weather and more daylight always brings me positive vibes. ☀️

Feel-good formula:

I always thought of myself as a raging extrovert. In high school I was involved in every club, hung out with friends every night, and never missed a dance. So it took me a long time to figure out why filling up my spare time with outings and hang outs was feeling more stressful than stress-relieving, even pre-quarantine. As I get older, I’m finding that my feel-good formula has changed.

Now, I make sure I schedule myself a few nights each week where I plan on not making any plans. Sometimes I use this time to work on a project I’m excited about like crocheting a sweater or writing a book. Other times, I just want to get on my comfiest pjs, cook some pasta, and watch romantic comedies (or 5 hours of Simpson’s reruns).

Feel-good formula:

I’ve always been a planner of organized chaos, juuuust teetering on the edge of control freak. I’m the person who buys a house, trains for a marathon, and gets married the same year. I thrive off being uncontrollably busy. Then 2020 threw a lot of my plans for the year in the trash and there was no way to be “in control.”

For the first time I finally gave into uncertainty and learned to live without so many expectations and plans. I learned to slow down and stop worrying so much about what I expected from 2020 and just took what it gave me. Evaluating what I “should” do and want I “wanted” also became easier. It also just made me a lot happier.

I started walking every day, soaked up more vitamin D at the lake, and actually sat down to read a book. I stopped being so uptight and just let myself be free of ultra planned expectations. It was pretty liberating.

This lesson in giving up control is what I’m carrying with me into 2021. Life can be unpredictable and change is inevitable. And while I’m definitely still a planner, I’ve learned to just stop being so stringent on my expectations and truly go with the flow of life.

Feel-good formula:

As an INFP on the Myers-Briggs chart, I often find myself living in the space between social exhaustion and creative outlet starvation. I don’t dislike being around people, but I love being creative and I love being at home. So, unlike my extrovert friends, many of the adjustments from living in a pandemic weren’t so jarring for me at first. That said, (while Zoom acting troops might sound interesting) I’ve had to be extra creative when finding ways to be creative with others.

I believe empathy is one of the keys to creativity, especially when it comes to acting. And I find that I feel good when I spend some time in someone else’s shoes. How do I do that at home? By reading aloud to my kid.

Reading a kid’s book to my son for 10 to 25 minutes every day has turned out to be one of the most cathartic habits of my week. Sure, for a while, I would just read a short picture book to him before he went to sleep while doing nothing much beyond showing him the pictures. But lately, these reading sessions have gotten closer to one-man stage productions. I’m talking full voice-acting with facial expressions and hand movements. I haven’t gone to costumes (yet) but the stories have gotten a lot more fun for me to read — and I enjoy seeing my son’s gleeful reactions. It’s become a great time of bonding and stress relief to just lose myself in the silly characters and get nostalgic about the bedtime stories of my childhood.

We’re in the middle of a chapter book right now and I’m challenging myself to make all the characters sound distinct. I’m having varying degrees of success on that, but this feel-good formula is definitely doing the trick.

Feel-good formula:

If therapy in 2020 taught me anything, it’s that in order to work my feel-good formula, I have to have my ducks in order and my marbles in one place so I don’t lose them. I, for one — and despite my successes on paper — had none of that in place. I didn’t realize I was constantly battling Big Depression Energy, which prevented me from feeling good, no matter what the “just do yoga” voices of the internet proposed.

Turns out my “feel-good” formula, especially in the face of depression, is to feel my emotions. The whole spectrum of it, from identifying what I’m feeling to where I am feeling it in the body (hello, anxiety poop).

By being in touch with my emotions, I also felt myself starting to get more in touch with my body and its needs. I’m still working on figuring out the difference between thirst and hunger (which I’ve messed up badly, thanks to intermittent fasting and keto) but the times I do, there’s something very satisfying about it.

It sounds like a simple formula but when you’re like me (a deadly combination of depressed, introverted, people-pleasing, and anxious), fulfilling a need, especially your own needs, on your own, is like navigating around an iceberg. How much of the problem is surface and, if you tackle it, will you be addressing all that floats underneath? I ask myself this to get in touch with all my emotions before I start tackling anything “problems.”

And after nearly a year of being able to address the root cause, fulfilling my needs is finally starting to feel pretty damn good. Like burnout-is-less-on-the-horizon good.