Do something differently often – a step of happiness

Have you noticed yourself feeling stuck in a rut? Does each day seem much like any other day?

Here’s a simple step towards happiness you can take that will freshen things up a bit: Do something differently often.

Although there’s a scientific explanation, you don’t need to be a brain scientist to benefit. We’re creatures of habit.

Some habits are positively formed – based on doing more of what works. Who can argue with that? After all, once we’ve found a way from Point A to Point B, why would we want to go another way?

Other habits are formed by avoidance. We avoid pain, fear, and the unknown. These types of “safety” habits don’t actually serve us, because they build up our defenses and end up insulating ourselves from living. We end up focusing more on what we don’t want than what will serve us best. This in turn limits our liveliness and happiness.

The brain scientists tell us that our thoughts follow neuronal pathways, the paths that neurons take through our brains and nervous system. These, too, can form ruts, and reduce the number of new pathways and connections we’re making.

Try this (not while you’re driving!)

Fold your hands in front of you, and then notice if your left thumb and fingers or right thumb and fingers are on top. It doesn’t matter which ones are on top.

Now, unfold your hands and fold them differently, so that your other hand’s thumb and fingers are on top. Notice how difficult or easy that was. Notice how that feels to fold your hands differently than usual.

You’re noticing your resistance to change and also how easy (or hard) it can be to make a small change in habit.Courtesy Wade Kelly under a Creative Commons license

Other simple steps of happiness

  • Drive or commute a different way.
  • Hold your toothbrush or hair brush with your other hand.
  • Have something different for breakfast.
  • Order something new the next time you’re in a restaurant.
  • Put your shoes on in a different order. If you typically put your left shoe on first, then try first putting on your right shoe.

What this step of happiness does

These are examples of simple steps, and I encourage you to make up your own. By themselves, they may not change your entire life and get you closer to happiness. You may or may not be fully present during each step, and the times that you are mindful are happy moments. As you start doing more new and different things, you’ll start to notice other things you’re doing out of habit. Also, the act of living less out of habit will bring you closer to awareness and mindfulness. You’ll start to notice little things more often. It may not be comfortable at first, and that’s because growth isn’t necessarily about comfort.

Related ideas, quotes, and resources

My entire list of 108 Steps Of Happiness is in a post on this blog – ViewPacific

A related post: Run From What’s Comfortable

If you’re curious about additional resources to cultivate your happiness, here are two books:

Improv Wisdom, by Patrician Ryan Madson

  • Sixth Maxim: Pay Attention
  • Tenth Maxim: Make Mistakes, Please

Finding Joy: 101 Ways to Free Your Spirit and Dance With Life, by Charlotte Davis Kasl

  • 41. Be Less Careful
  • 59. Remember, You Get You Make Mistakes
  • 96. Walk Through Fear, Again and Again



22 thoughts on “Do something differently often – a step of happiness

  1. This is all very sound advice I think Vincent; if I may say so. Your little exercise with the hands rather reminds me of a postural training system called The Feldenkrais Method which similarly utilises alternative ways of moving so as to create new neural pathways in the brain and un-condition habituated movements of the limbs and body generally. As a whole, this cultivates mindfulness of the body, even to the point of noticing one’s intentions to move in this way or that rather than letting habituations run their course. This, of course, is all excellent work in the service of bringing attention into the immediacy of our present situation, which is generally considered the gateway to contentedness, or, if you like, happiness.

  2. I usually click “like” without a comment. Here I am posting, moving my left fingers over the right 🙂 Thank you for the great mindful change up suggestions,V!

  3. Thanks for trying it, noticing, and sharing with us so quickly. Isn’t it simple to do something just a little bit different, and then notice the odd feeling? Some say that’s like using a muscle which has been idle. To me, the key is in the noticing of whatever’s different. Enjoy!

  4. These are great exercises. I like that! Ever tried writing with your less dominant hand. I am a right handed and for fun I use left hand. It takes great awareness to make the left hand move to write. Pay Attention, indeed.

  5. Yes, that’s a great exercise to stir things up. I’ve tried it, too, and it does take attention to write as well as read what’s been written (or scribbled!)
    The same hand switching could be tried with eating, brushing hair, or even waving to friends. Simple things, and yet our habit energy can kill us back to sleep.

  6. Wonderful piece. I am aware of what a creature of habit I am and I like mixing it up whenever I think about it. This piece made me think about it, so thank you.

  7. YES!!! Love this, Vincent. I try to practice this as often as possible, and I believe that the stimulation and unfamiliarity are major reasons why I am so committed to taking other folks’ dance classes: not surprisingly, other dancers make different choices from mine all the time. Sometimes I can feel my brain just bubbling away with all the new information…and admittedly there are days when it can be overwhelming and brain frying :). Thanks so much for inspiring vibrancy in our lives. xoxo

  8. Now this was an interesting post and has me looking at a few other odd things to do differently… by the way Diana sent me over and I’m glad she did….

  9. Thanks, Diana!
    I’m grateful that you’ve visited, read, and clearly understood. I’m delighted to share that many of your ardent fans have already dropped by and joined in the conversation. We’re all better for that.

  10. Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Feel free to come back anytime, and share what it feels like after you’ve tried those “odd things”, or things done differently.

  11. When I do mix it up and do something different, I sometimes feel fear. It’s not always easy giving up my safe place and sticking to that which is familiar.

  12. Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you and welcome!
    Yes, little steps can lead to bigger steps, or when taken together can add up nicely.
    If you do try doing little things differently, share back with us whatever comes up for you.

  13. Yes, that happens to about everybody. Trying or thinking about something can be uncomfortable. The Buddhist nun Pema Chodron even wrote a book about that: Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change.
    I’ve been trying different things and fear still arises, just less often and not as strongly. It’s so much easier to handle change when I made the choice. It’s harder when I feel changes have been thrust upon me.

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