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By Eric Barker
February 17, 2016
IDEAS
Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Everybody talks about morning rituals to get the day started right. (Even I have.) But ending the day right can be even more important. Why?

Because your mind ain’t perfect when it comes to happiness. It cheats.

Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, has shown that your brain really remembers only two things about an event:

  1. The emotional peak
  2. The end

Via The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less:

If your brain is gonna cheat, you should cheat back. Let’s game the system. If you structure your days so that the peak is awesome and the ending is awesome you’ll fool your imperfect noggin into a happier life.

How? I am so very happy you asked. Let’s get to it…

 

1) Have a “Shutdown Ritual”

Workday is over. But your mind is still going and going and going. You gotta get your brain out of “work mode” to relax.

A simple ritual can help. Have a consistent little routine that let’s your overactive brain know “we’re done.”

From Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World:

Bestselling author Dan Pink gives similar advice:

Research shows writing down what you need to do the next day relieves anxiety and helps you enjoy your evening.

(To learn the six things the most productive people do every day, click here.)

Now you’re out of “work mode.” You want to get happy, right? Wouldn’t it be great if every day was a Saturday? Impossible?

Wrong, dear reader…

 

2) Turn Weeknights Into Weekends

First let’s ask: why are weekends so great? Research says the big reason is more time with friends and family:

So don’t just sit on the couch by yourself when you get home. Spend 2 hours with friends or family and you just turned a dull Tuesday night into a happy Saturday.

(To learn how to make your weekends more awesome, click here.)

Okay, you can’t go out and see friends every weeknight. What else makes evenings more enjoyable?

 

3) Mastery, Not TV

Research shows that “mastery experiences” are also key to helping people recover from the workweek.

So what’s that mean? Doing stuff you’re good at and trying to get better.

Actively engage in a hobby, don’t passively sit on the couch.

Most of us seek unscheduled free time for our leisure but given your brain’s lazy nature, research says you’re likely to waste that time doing what’s easy vs what’s really fun.

Via Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life:

(To learn what Harvard research says is the secret to being happier and more successful, click here.)

Okay, you’re actively engaging in a hobby. But your brain does not have an easy “off” switch.

If you want a good night’s snooze you need a ritual that helps you wind down and lets your mind know it’s sleepy time…

 

4) Wind Down, Don’t Collapse

Dim the lights and turn off all screens at least an hour before bed.

You wouldn’t walk around in bright daylight before trying to sleep for eight hours, would you? Well, when you stare at screens late at night, that’s pretty much what you’re doing.

When I talked to Richard Wiseman, professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and bestselling author of Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep, he said:

(For more on how to get an amazing night’s sleep, click here.)

So no screens. And if you want to maintain a happy relationship, what should you never do before bedtime?

 

5) Don’t Go To Bed Angry With Your Partner

Karl Pillemer of Cornell University interviewed nearly 1500 people age 70 to 100+ for his book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. What did they recommend most often for a happy relationship?

Via 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans:

Why might this be so powerful?

Via 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans:

Not going to bed angry doesn’t mean “stay up and fight.” Just let it go. Kiss and make up.

(To learn the four most common relationship problems — and how to fix them, click here.)

And it’s probably no surprise that the single most proven method for increasing happiness is something best done before bed. Here it is…

 

6) Write Down The Good Stuff That Happened

I’ve mentioned this a bunch in the past. But if you’re still not doing it, you need to start. This is all you have to do:

  • Put a notepad and pen by the bed.
  • Before you go to sleep each night, write down three things that happened that day which you’re thankful for.
  • Then write a sentence about why each happened.

This technique has been proven again and again and again. Here it is, explained by its originator, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Research shows the more you think about happy things the happier you’ll be. Simple but true. So reminders are powerful.

(To learn how to make your life better by sending 5 simple emails, click here.)

Now your brain may cheat when it comes to happiness but it can also be your best ally. Sometimes dreams are far better than reality. How can you use that to your advantage?

 

7) Schedule Something To Look Forward To

Studies show anticipation can actually be more enjoyable than getting the thing you’re anticipating.

From The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does:

People who devote time to anticipating fun experiences are happier.

From Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage:

Schedule a meal with a friend or designate a time the next day to indulge yourself with something simple that you love to do. Then be excited about it. That’s all it takes.

(To learn the four rituals neuroscience says will make you happier, click here.)

Okay, let’s round all this up and learn the easiest way to get started…

 

Sum Up

Here’s your new evening ritual for happiness:

  • Have a “shutdown ritual.” Write down worries and make a plan for tomorrow. Work is over.
  • Turn weeknights into weekends. Weekends are happier because of time with friends. So see friends. Not hard.
  • Mastery, not TV. Hobbies make you happier. Spend nights getting awesome at something.
  • Wind down, don’t collapse. No screens. No coffee. No skydiving.
  • Never go to bed angry with your partner. Kiss and make up. And kiss. And kiss some more.
  • Write down the good stuff that happened. Force your brain to think about the good and life will be good.
  • Schedule something to look forward to. Anticipation is like 401K matching for happiness. Double the happies.

Your brain cheats. Cheat back. Plan a good thing for tomorrow to have an emotional high point, end the day right and you can trick your mind into happiness.

And don’t wait. Right now, send this to a friend and plan something fun for tomorrow. That way you’re half done.

As the saying goes, “All’s well that ends well.” So end the day well, my friend.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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