Sometime last month, one of my favorite socks developed a big hole in the heel. This is worth mentioning because there is a definite pecking order in my sock drawer. Some socks are softer, warmer, and not too thick or thin. They don't feel scratchy or bunch up under the arch of my foot. Many of them are from a batch I bought a year or two ago. When I found the hole, I thought, "But these are new! Oh, the injustice!" So the next time I went to Target, I treated myself to six pairs of socks. Six! I admit that it gave me a seemingly disproportionate boost--but that feeling, I realized, is that I am human. Those comfortable, hole-free socks remind me that I spent a few minutes and a few dollars on myself, just because I can and I should. And you should too. A little act like buying socks can end up making a huge difference to our sense of contentment, says Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, which chronicles her year test-driving various experiments in how to be happier. "You don't have to do something radical to improve your life. Making a change to your ordinary routine is more manageable," she says. We asked moms to share their most effective ways to do it. Incorporate them into your life, and see how your routine suddenly gets a little nicer.
Buy the beverage or salad dressing you like best, even if no one else in the house will drink or eat it. Get them their own! My family knows that my iced tea is mine. They may make fun of me for compulsive stockpiling of my favorite brand and flavors, but they never drink any of it.
Keep a journal, even if you only write one sentence a day. Rubin calls this lowering the bar, noting that "a journal entry of one sentence a day is better than three pages never." The same goes for exercising, entertaining, cleaning, and so on. Maybe you can't commit to a one-hour yoga class, but could you take a ten-minute walk?
Add something you enjoy to something you don't. I started looking forward to my daughter's early-morning skating practices when we tacked on a once-a-week, mother-daughter Starbucks date. My friend Katherine keeps DVR'd episodes of her favorite shows on her kitchen TV, so she can watch them while she's making every one of her family's 20 brown-bag lunches each week.
Set yourself up for success. Mom of four Debbie Briggs came up with the idea to stock both of her family's cars with folding chairs and waterproof blankets. "Now for all of the kids' millions of games, I don't have to schlep chairs in and out of cars or worry about which car has chairs in it. They are there in both, and they never leave," explains Briggs, who lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts. "For the amount of time I sit on the sidelines of soccer, lacrosse, and baseball fields, I want to be comfortable."
Fix, recycle, or toss a possession that's taking up too much physical or psychological space. Or make a plan to complete a project that's been hanging over your head. "Tackling nagging tasks can free up mental energy," says Rubin. "I was overwhelmed by my digital photos. I decided to spend 15 minutes a day on them--I set a timer and just did it. Now I have albums and it wasn't a big deal. I just had to figure out a way to approach it."
Make something prettier. "I finally bought some big, matching coffee mugs to replace the chipped, random logo mugs we had for so long," says Briggs. "They actually bring me a little joy when I drink my morning coffee."
Take advantage of the library. "Books make me so happy," says Amy Borrell Berner, who has a daughter and lives in Brooklyn, New York. "Putting in a big order for books to be held for me is very cheering. They come in at different times and it is always a fun little surprise." Amy Jo Jones, of Milwaukee, takes her two boys with her whenever she goes to the library. She relaxes with a stack of magazines for a little while as her sons devour Star Wars stories.
Check in with a friend. "I hop on Skype for two minutes. Seeing a friendly face brightens any dreary workday," says Shaun Dreisbach, an Essex, Vermont, mom of two. "I could yap away on the phone forever, but I'll Skype my sister or my husband or a friend just to say, 'Hey, how's your day going?' or to work out a little detail, like what time to meet for drinks. It's more intimate and personal than texting or e-mailing the same information."
Freshen up your surroundings. "On 'Wacky Wednesdays,' I treat myself to a $3 car wash with free vacuuming--my main reason for going," says Germaine Ehlinger, who lives in Atlanta and has two children. "Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than getting rid of all the crushed crackers, dried apple peels, and various crumbs that accumulate over the course of a week when you have two preschoolers."
Take advantage of freebies. Dreisbach's local jewelry store cleans her rings for free while she browses, so she heads over there every so often. "It's sort of like going to a museum--the art just happens to be diamonds and platinum and sapphires. And I leave with sparklier hands," she says. I recently got around to taking advantage of our dry cleaner's free pickup and delivery service, which cuts two errands out of my life every week or so.
Eat in, but make it special. Heather Miller and a group of friends, all stay-at-home moms in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, take turns hosting group lunches. "We get together once a week, and we prepare something nice that we wouldn't be able to serve to our families. The kids who join us have a PB & J picnic." Run a bath--when you need it most. "I take a quick soak almost every night after dinner, while my kids watch TV or play a video game, which is one of the only times they're allowed screens. Then I find myself back into the family fray with a lot more patience and positivity," says Dreisbach. She also highly recommends bath bombs over regular bubbles. "They're a little pricier, but there's just something happy and refreshing about the fizz of them."
Originally published in the October 2013 issue of Parents magazine.