The Pursuit of Happiness: 60 Ways to Have Your Best Year Ever
Photo: Shutterstock/Syda Productions
Want more happiness in your life? Deciding to pursue it is half the battle.
Aristotle said happiness depends on ourselves. The Buddha maintained that happiness is learning to let go. Abraham Lincoln thought most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. And Lucille Ball said that just being able to recognize what makes you happy is a helluva start.
But what is happiness, really? And how do we go about pursuing it?
In putting together this package about how Houstonians can be happier than ever in 2020, we at Houstonia grappled with these questions, hoping to take over where the above great thinkers left off, before finally deciding to talk with an expert, Matthew Gallagher, an assistant psychology professor at UH who has dedicated his life to figuring out what this happiness business is all about. His answer?
“Well, it’s complicated,” Gallagher explains. “There’s been a lot of work in recent decades to try and pin down how happiness works, how you define what is happening for someone who is flourishing. But we’ve found that happy people tend to have certain things in common.”
And those things are almost breathtakingly obvious. Happy people often feel good about their lives. “They have a sense of purpose, the feeling that they are living meaningful lives,” Gallagher says.
They also have a solid baseline level of emotional well-being, Gallagher explains, and don’t let themselves get too weighed down by sadness or anxiety. This doesn’t mean they don’t ever feel these emotions, of course, but they generally have good coping mechanisms, ensuring they won’t stay down for long.
Finally, they have strong relationships—partners to lean on after a bad day at the office, friends they can call when a Tinder date has turned out to be both cheap and pungent-smelling. It’s these connections that help people get through hard times, and also laugh and celebrate when things are good, Gallagher says.
Though it often seems otherwise, happiness is far from an innate trait. Assuming your basic needs are met, Gallagher says that you can teach yourself to be happy, cultivating it within your mind so that eventually it becomes a habit. You can’t control life, but you can choose how to look at things, and how to respond to what life throws at you.
“Curiosity, hopefulness, and gratitude can be such a help to people,” he says. “It’s not something where because a person is blindly hopeful and open, things automatically go great, but when a person believes things can go well, that there’s a chance, they’ll work toward their goals. And even if things go wrong, they’ll stay hopeful. That can make all the difference.”
So in 2020, stay open, stay adventurous, and stay hopeful, dear reader. And keep this issue handy, as we’ve put together 60-plus ways for Houstonians to cultivate joy in the year ahead, culling these ideas from experts, scientific studies, and our own experiences. —Dianna Wray
1. Hire a maid.
According to a recent survey, 80 percent of Americans feel more relaxed in a clean room and 72 percent feel more productive. But who says you have to do the cleaning? Get some help, and you’ll have more time for the other activities on this list. “We service people of all ages and all social backgrounds,” says Rob Arcos, GM at MoreHands Maid Service. “It helps them stay at ease, and they look forward to being home and enjoying their space.” morehands.com —Laura Furr Mericas
2. Log off.
Seriously, take a breath, put down the phone, take off the Apple watch, and walk away. The average person checks her smartphone more than 150 times, and spends 1.72 hours on social media, each and every day. That’s more than 12 hours per week (and 627 hours per year!) that we spend staring at screens instead of engaging with the world around us. So break the cycle. Leave your phone at home for a few hours. Look around. Enjoy the view from your corner of the universe. The digital world will still be there when you get back. —DW
3. Eat something good for you.
Nutritional psychiatry explores the very real connection between mind and gut, and according to some studies, a healthy diet reduces depression. Nearly all serotonin, also known as the happy chemical, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract, which means that the digestive system not only breaks down food, it directly informs our mood. For an instant pick-me-up, our go-to is the massive harvest salad at Local Foods, loaded with market veggies and seasonal fruit plus goat cheese, nuts, and tangy fresh herb vinaigrette. If food is fuel, this thing is super-premium. Multiple locations, houstonlocalfoods.com —Abby Ledoux
4. Eat something bad for you.
Indulging in something cheesy, gooey, or chock-full of carbs from time to time can be truly wonderful—it’s called comfort food for a reason. We’re talking the kind of food that has little to no nutritional value but can catapult us back to childhood with a single bite. BCK specializes in this edible nostalgia, and the “pot brownie”—a melty chocolate and peanut butter skillet brownie with cocoa cereal crust, served à la mode—is even better than the dessert you loved as a kid. The Heights, eatbck.com —AL
5. Go to the movies. Alone.
Seriously, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it, especially if it’s a rainy afternoon matinee. “Movie theaters are like yoga studios to me. It’s very relaxing,” says Houstonian Najla Brown, who catches solo flicks regularly, usually at River Oaks Theatre, with its indie selection, art deco architecture, and intimate feeling. “Going with people is fun, but going by myself is more meditative,” she says. “Plus, more popcorn for me.” River Oaks, landmarktheatres.com —AL
6. Do nothing.
7. Try a new gym.
Elle Woods said it best in Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t just shoot their husbands!” —AL
An outpost of this pioneering West Hollywood–based boutique fitness concept landed in River Oaks last summer, finally offering Houstonians that famous Barry’s burn beloved by Meghan Markle and the Kardashians alike. River Oaks, barrysbootcamp.com
Alex Rodriguez has a hand in this Vegas-based concept. The Houston location’s 12,000-square-foot studio offers more than 200 classes a week—yoga, barre, cycling, Pilates, cardio, boxing, and more. Uptown, trufusion.com
Southern Flow Yoga
Try two variations on classic yoga practice at this new women-owned hot-yoga studio: “Sculpt” classes incorporate weights and cardio with traditional practice, while “Stretch” classes engage the core and improve flexibility and circulation. Washington Corridor, southernflow.com
For a science-based workout, look no further than this studio’s heart-rate-monitored group classes, and its state-of-the-art equipment like the InBody 770, a medical-grade scale that measures everything from metabolic rate to muscle-to-fat ratio. Sugar Land, rev365.fit
This Houston-based concept offers 50-minute, high-intensity interval training classes that target alternating muscle groups as well as one-on-one training sessions and open gym hours, all in an inclusive environment open to all fitness levels. Midtown, elevate-strength.com
8. Buy yourself a gift.
Banish any shame about treating yourself: Studies show that shopping can legitimately improve moods and fight feelings of stress or sadness. “I wish retail therapy was covered by my health insurance,” jokes Shannon Martin, franchisee of two Hemline boutiques. “A little piece of jewelry always makes you happy.” CityCentre, the Heights, River Oaks, shophemline.com —AL
9. Go dancing.
Drag queen? Yuppie? Misfit? Everyone is welcome to let loose under the glittering disco ball at Numbers, Houston’s longest-running and weirdest nightclub. “Classic Numbers” Fridays are like explosions of intergenerational joy, summoning both folks who have been dancing to their own beat since the place opened in 1975 and teenagers alike. Montrose, numbersnightclub.com —Morgan Kinney
10. Get a facial.
“If you have to go to the doctor to fix your heart, you’d pay any amount of money, but it’s a little challenging when it comes to the skin,” says Carla Poli, lead esthetician at Hiatus Spa + Retreat. We carry tension in our faces, and monthly facials offer both physical and emotional benefits—a chance to refresh the skin and “just relax and detach,” Poli says. “It’s almost like a reprogramming for us to learn that it’s very important.” Tanglewood, hiatusspa.com —AL
11. Play some bingo.
Held each Thursday in a Czech lodge, Bingo in the Heights is the rare low-effort, high-reward outing where you can show up with some Domino’s cheesy bread and a bottle of Jameson and automatically be the most popular person in the room. Roughly 700 players gather for each 10-game edition, with prizes for the luck-based game ranging from $125 all the way up to $600. The Heights, lodge88.org/bingo —MK
12. Go to the park.
Whether you’re mountain-biking the 30 hilly miles of “Ho Chi Minh” trail; playing golf on the 300-acre municipal golf course; partaking in tennis, soccer, kickball, or volleyball; walking through the Arboretum; or jogging the 3-mile Seymour Lieberman trail where wild bunnies come out after dusk, you’re certain to find an activity in Houston’s beloved 1,500-acre Memorial Park, reducing stress and improving your memory along the way. And with the park’s $70 million gift from the Kinder Foundation—which will fund a 100-acre Eastern Glades area and a natural land bridge, among other super-cool things to be completed over the next couple of years—Houstonians soon will have even more reason to get out and move. Memorial, memorialparkconservancy.org —Gwendolyn Knapp
13. Get a massage. Regularly.
Plenty of reputable studies support what Bergamos Retreat owner Marylyn Reed already knows: Regular massages can alleviate muscle tension, ease stress, improve sleep, and even help with anxiety and depression. In our book, there’s no better way to treat yourself than with a deep-muscle massage on the crystal amethyst quartz table at Reed's day spa, which employs a modern version of ancient Egyptian hot sand therapy that feels like being enveloped in a warm, gentle hug. Friendswood, bergamosretreat.com —AL
14. Get a hobby.
How can you be blue if you’re spending a couple of nights a week tapping your toes like Ginger Rogers in a TapHappy class? Wait, is that just us? Well, whatever you’re into, make time for it. People with hobbies have lower blood pressure, BMIs, and cortisol levels, with smaller waistlines to boot. They’re even happier at work: A study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that employees with hobbies are more engaged, creative, and satisfied, both with their jobs and with life in general. The Heights, taphappydance.com —DW
15. Drink more fresh juice.
A produce-rich diet is key to preventing chronic illness and just generally feeling better, yet fewer than a third of Americans get their recommended nine daily servings of fruits and veggies. Raw, made-to-order elixirs are a surefire way to up your intake, and at JuiceLand flavors like Tree of Life (carrot, coconut water, beet, turmeric, ginger, lime, and cayenne) and Pleasant Valley (orange, watermelon, pineapple, lemon, and lime) mean getting healthy never tasted so good. Upper Kirby, Montrose, and Heights, juiceland.com —AL
16. Try crafting.
You need not be a trained artist or DIY pro to flex your creative muscles. Taking a stab at cross stitching, say, or making that bath bomb you’d normally pick up from Target, can provide a unique satisfaction. “It’s all about creativity and using a different side of your brain,” says Amara Aigbedion, a full-time engineer and co-owner of crafting workshop Love & Make. “Everyone can have a great output. It’s something that can be taught.” Rice Village, loveandmake.com —LFM
17. Get fresh flowers.
According to Psychology Today, sighting fresh flowers, whether in nature or at home, releases “happy brain chemicals” such as dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. So, yes, better pick up that snapdragon from Cornelius Nursery. Memorial, calloways.com/locations/houston-cornelius —LFM
18. Speak with your elders.
I was wandering through IAH on Christmas Eve in 2018—having arrived two hours early because I was so nervous about spending my first Christmas with my boyfriend’s family—when I decided to pull out my phone and call my Aunt Marnella. While I’d only meant to wish her a merry Christmas, I soon found myself pouring out all my worries about the impending trip. She listened, then told me about how she’d navigated the holidays with my Uncle Ray more than 50 years prior. We talked about the man I was flying off to see, how we’d lived on different continents for the past two years. Then she got real. “This is exciting, so enjoy it! Listen, hon, you love him, and he loves you, and we love you, and we’ll be here if you need us,” she said. “Now go have a wonderful time.” I ended the call when the airplane doors closed and the flight attendant insisted. As the plane hurtled down the runway, I leaned back in my seat and smiled, letting all of her good advice sink in. —DW
19. Experience weightlessness.
To float for an hour inside a pod filled with body-temperature water and 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts is to feel all your worries melt away—or, more accurately, to feel nothing at all. Sensory deprivation tanks like the ones at Urban Float can help with stress, pain relief, and athletic recovery—just ask JJ Watt. The Heights, urbanfloat.com/houstonheights —AL
20. Get a therapist.
Think you don’t need therapy? We suppose that’s possible, although it’s the rare bird who wouldn’t benefit from setting aside a little time to focus on mental health. “It’s a place where people can go untangle the messiness of their lives,” explains Steffanie Brand, a therapist at Heights Family Counseling. “It’s a safe space. You can express yourself freely, without fear of judgment, and an unbiased person can listen and validate what you’re feeling.” The Heights, heightsfamilycounseling.com —DW
21. Get your car cleaned.
Some days feel like one long series of disasters. Maybe you can’t control those, but there are things you do have power over, like, oh, your messy car. Head for Mister Car Wash, hand over your keys, ask for the works, and feel a sense of calm descend. When you get it back, freshly scrubbed and gleaming, everything will feel better, and there’s a reason for that: Princeton researchers have found that having a disorganized, visually cluttered area causes distraction and stress, and elevates levels of cortisol, also known as the dreaded stress hormone. Multiple locations, mistercarwash.com —DW
22. Eat all the free ice cream.
When Tia Maria’s set up its complimentary soft-serve machine and cones near its entrance in 2017, the treats were intended for kids, “because all kids love free ice cream,” says manager Cindy Lopez. “But I think the adults might love it even more.” And if reciprocity—the idea that humans respond to a positive action with another positive action—is real, you can bet that these adults perform postprandial good deeds, like letting someone merge in front of them on the ride home. Find free soft-serve at Candente, Gringo’s, and Mi Sombrero, too. Spring Branch, tiamarias.net —GK
23. Try acupuncture.
Believe it or not, sticking a bunch of needles in your body can do wonders to reduce stress and, in some cases, relieve allergies and chronic pain. But don’t take our word for it; head to Phoenix Rising Acupuncture to experience the benefits of the ancient Chinese practice, which employs super-fine needles—only about as wide as a human hair—to relieve energy blockages throughout the body. River Oaks, phoenixrisingacu.com —AL
24. Buy a stranger’s coffee.
As I approached the counter at Third Ward’s Doshi House to order my latte, I decided to pick up the tab for the stranger who happened to be in line next. It’s a popular ritual said to unleash a caffeine-fueled butterfly effect of good vibes. Yet to me it felt kinda awkward.
The older gentleman behind me seemed to feel the same, answering my offer with a bewildered stare. I cracked a smile to reassure him: No, I really mean it. A beat passed before I received a nod, as well as a gruff ’preciated from my new acquaintance before he ordered his iced coffee. Each of us lingered by the bar with an air of mutual respect as the barista served up our orders.
It’s possible there’s some world where Doshi customers kept buying each other’s coffee for days on end, or this stranger became the best man in my wedding, but alas, that didn’t happen this time. Which is fine! He grabbed his drink and tossed me a finger salute as he exited onto Emancipation Avenue. While my small, generous act didn’t change the world, maybe it made his day a little brighter. It certainly did that for mine. Greater Third Ward, doshihouse.com —MK
25. Take a walk.
“Hiking around Houston makes you feel like you’re home here,” says Tom Peacock, never mind strengthening your core and improving your heart rate and mood. Each weekend Peacock takes long treks through the area as a group leader with Houston Area Trails & More, and, like the city itself, he says, “the terrain is tremendously diverse.” Take Buffalo Bayou. “You can hike in the city—it’s beautiful around downtown—or outside the Beltway, all the way to George Bush Park, all the way out to Katy.” But his favorite route, through Sam Houston National Forest, is four hours of easy shaded trails. hatsandmore.org —GK
26. Pay yourself a compliment.
In a famous SNL skit, the character Stuart Smalley used to look in the mirror and offer himself affirmations. It was a good laugh at the time, but looking back, old Stuart wasn’t wrong. It’s not dumb or egotistical to acknowledge your own positive traits. If you do something well, why not congratulate yourself? After all, you are good enough, smart enough, and, doggonit, people like you. —Jeff Balke
27. Read a book.
“Reading does so much,” observes John Dillman, the owner of Kaboom Books. “No matter what you read, the act of it can be a great comfort to us, and books can be as loyal to us as our dogs.” He’s not wrong: A 2009 University of Sussex study found reading just six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 68 percent. Another study, from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that older people who read regularly are less likely to contract Alzheimer’s. On top of that, it will give you a better vocabulary, a sharper memory, and stronger empathy, in addition to the sheer pleasure of devouring Anna Karenina, your newly arrived issue of Houstonia (ahem), or one of the following books on happiness itself. The Heights, kaboombooks.com —DW
The new one:
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott, published in 2018, is a perfect reminder that while there is life, there are a million reasons to have hope.
Viktor Frankl, the famed Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, takes what he learned from observing human nature in the camps and shares it in Man’s Search for Meaning, concluding that while we can’t control life, we can control how we respond to it.
The local fave:
If you find yourself in need of some encouragement, check out The Gifts of Imperfection by Houston’s own Brené Brown, and be reminded that you are enough, just as you are.
The one with the eastern philosophical angle:
Everyone who meets the Dalai Lama describes him as a joyful person, and The Art of Happiness, which he cowrote with Dr. Howard Cutler, explains how he got (and stayed) there.
The one people have been recommending for years:
Just give in and pick up a copy of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz; even if you only read the four agreements and skip the rest of the book, you’ll be the better for it.
28. Have a museum day.
One of Lili Bauerlein’s favorite paintings is František Kupka’s The Yellow Scale, hung in an upstairs gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It’s a self-portrait of the artist reclining on a deck chair, smoking a cigarette with mellow intensity. “A big mood,” says Bauerlein, an artist herself. She visits the Kupka most Thursdays, when MFAH admission is free, lingering for hours in the vast Impressionist galleries before holing up in the café. “It’s the only way I know how to recharge, feel inspired, and honestly stay sane,” she says. Museum District, mfah.org —MK
29. Skip the news for a week.
(Except Houstonia. 🙂)
30. Purge your closet.
The Marie Kondo Effect is real—just ask professional home organizer Gayle Goddard, who’s witnessed the life-changing magic of tidying up for more than a decade now as The Clutter Fairy. Among other things, Goddard helps Houstonians sort, purge, and donate their clothes before reorganizing what’s left by season and style to simplify the process of getting ready each day. “Your house is the place where you want to be able to be peaceful and rejuvenate,” she says. “Anything you can do toward making it a place where you feel comfortable is good for your mental health.” clutterfairyhouston.com —AL
31. Plan a picnic.
There are myriad places for an al fresco meal at Hermann Park: The 80 acres of land along Brays Bayou, the Lake Picnic area full of tables and grills, and the beloved hill at Miller Outdoor Theatre, for starters. Natural light boosts both Vitamin D levels and moods, making an impact after as little as 15 minutes, so you’ll feel better even if your picnic is a quick one. The Museum District, hermannpark.org —GK
32. Hire a babysitter.
We get it, new parents, finding a sitter can be daunting, but as Gabriela Gerhart of the Motherhood Center points out, once you’ve done your due diligence—she advises a background check and having the sitter over for a test run—going out for a date night is good for the whole family. “There will be mommy and daddy guilt,” Gerhart acknowledges. “But you need to take care of yourself and that partner relationship.” Montrose, motherhoodcenter.com —Timothy Malcolm
33. Make a new friend.
As a Newstonian, I’ve been in search of new friends. I have a few now, and just as the research said it would, making these connections has given me a greater sense of belonging and, yes, happiness. Moreover, according to science, I apparently will be living longer, with a stronger immune system and reduced chances of dementia. Sweet! In the market for new buddies? Here’s what worked for me:
Share your interests:
My love of yacht rock—and talking about it on the internet—got me a friend. Find a club for the hobby you love most. Meetup.com is a good place to start.
Get a new interest:
Always wanted to try curling? Or crocheting? Or home mixology? Take that class! Find it at coursehorse.com.
Think that co-worker is cool? Invite him or her for a coffee at Tropicales (tropicalestx.com) or Cavo Coffee (cavocoffee.com).
Use your connections:
Ask people already close to you if they know anyone who shares your interests. —TM
34. Throw a party.
It doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. Krystal Williams, professional party planner and owner of Poppin Parties, says you need to have just three things sorted out beforehand:
Theme: “It’s gonna set the tone for you,” says Williams, “whether it’s Havana Nights, Great Gatsby, or as simple as a house party with wine and cheese.”
Venue: “Wherever it is, ‘How am I gonna serve the food? How many people can I fit?’”
Menu: “I always suggest self-serve,” says Williams. “That allows people to walk up and customize their own plate.” poppinpartieshouston.com —TM
35. Commune with the dead.
Make peace with those who came before you—and remind yourself to make the most of the one life you’ve been given—during an afternoon at Glenwood Cemetery. The oak-lined 84-acre oasis situated along Buffalo Bayou is the final resting place of thousands of Houstonians, including oil tycoon Howard Hughes, Astrodome champion Roy Hofheinz, and Charlotte Baldwin Allen, the so-called Mother of Houston. Washington Corridor, glenwoodcemetery.org —MK
36. Have good sex.
“People tend to focus on this idea about how frequently they should be having sex, but what’s more important is the quality,” explains Emily Jamea, a sex therapist at Revive Sex Therapy & Healing in Montrose. “People who have good-quality sex generally have better health, while there’s also a strong correlation to happiness and to feeling your life is meaningful.” So, what makes sex good sex? “What is very important is mutual pleasure,” says Jamea. “When you’re with your partner, do you feel like your needs are being met? Do you feel like you can speak up and express your needs and desires? If you’re with someone you feel safe with—so that you can really talk to them about what you want—that’s crucial.” Montrose, revivetherapy.com —DW
37. Get your hair done.
Look good, feel good is an adage for a reason. “When your hair is done, you know you’re ready for anything that might come up,” says Ashley Scroggins, co-owner of Cutloose Hair. Plus, it’s a chance to carve out real time for yourself in an increasingly busy world. “So many of our clients sit with their eyes closed for an entire blowout,” she says. “For some it’s the only time they get to themselves.” Montrose, cutloosetx.com —AL
38. Write a letter.
Even better: Write it in calligraphy. “When people get something in the mail, they go, 'Oh my God, I’m going to frame this!'” says Patricia Leith, who’s been teaching Houstonians the artform since the mid-1990s through her business, Calligraphy by Patricia. Leith’s classes are one-on-one, and students go at their own pace as they perfect the alphabet in a selected style of calligraphy—say, the one used to write the Declaration of Independence. In a time when everything is electronic and temporary, sending someone a beautiful missive is sure to make that person smile. You will, too. calligraphyandcards.com —TM
39. Eat some (quality) chocolate.
Eating chocolate releases endorphins, but you have to pick the right stuff. “People think buying grocery-store chocolate has those benefits, but U.S. regulations for chocolate are really sad,” says Annie Rupani, owner of local chocolatier Cacao + Cardamom. “Dark chocolate” means only 36 percent cacao, which won’t give you that happiness boost everyone loves to talk about. “I eat an 85 percent cacao truffle every single day,” says Rupani. Uptown, cacaoandcardamom.com —TM
Studies suggest meditating for just five minutes a day, five days a week will help you to live a happier, less harried life, and these days apps like Headspace make it easy to practice mindfulness and breathing. Kat Cordes, a local actor and theater teacher, meditates regularly. “I do it to try and find an ounce of patience or inner peace, and I think I might finally have at least one,” she says. “So there’s that!” headspace.com —MK
41. Get a new job.
If you’re having vivid fantasies of destroying a printer, Office Space–style, it may be time to get a new job. Life is short, after all, and the typical American will spend around 90,000 hours, or a third of her life, at work. Knowing this, why stay in a position that’s making you unhappy? We suggest seeking out that next opportunity by hitting up the next Houston Young Professionals event and forging connections with others within your industry. houstonyoungprofessionals.com —DW
43. Make martinis.
Mix up a batch of James Bond’s favorite cocktail for an instant mood boost. You can’t go wrong with this recipe from Linda Salinas, one of Houston’s top bartenders, who teaches the Hotel Alessandra’s Saturday mixology classes:
- 2 oz Martin Miller's gin
- 1/2 oz Grey Goose vodka
- 1/2 oz Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aéro d’Or aperitif wine
Combine ingredients, shake over ice until well-chilled, then strain into martini glass or goblet. Garnish with lemon peel. Downtown, hotelalessandra-houston.com —TM
44. See theater on the hill.
Recline on your blanket on the towering hill overlooking the stage at Miller Outdoor Theatre, where every Tchaikovsky symphony, Julius Caesar production, and Queen cover band is free to all, and let a show, a play, or a transcendent piece of music lift your spirits while the kids find their own joy rolling down the hill into Hermann Park proper. Shakespeare with a few grass stains—what’s better than that? Museum District, milleroutdoortheatre.com —MK
45. Try essential oils.
People have used oils for calm and relaxation for centuries, which is to say, aromatherapy is not a Glade plug-in: “Natural scents work efficiently with the body to help it balance itself,” says Fran Higgins, Source Vital Apothecary’s longtime in-house aromatherapist. “Synthetic scents don’t do that.” Higgins suggests adding a drop of lavender to a warm bath or onto your pillowcase, or mixing up your own concoction. “There’s a little sorcerer’s apprentice in all of us,” she says. Uptown, sourcevital.com —AL
Few activities in life feed the soul like doing good things for others. Don’t know where to start? Try Interfaith Ministries’ Volunteer Houston, which connects Houstonians to opportunities such as school mentoring programs, Meals on Wheels initiatives, and pet adoptions. Our prediction? You’ll be right there with the 94 percent of people who reported an improved mood after volunteering in the past year. Downtown, volunteerhouston.org —JB
47. Cook dinner.
For some reason, actual studies have been conducted to prove what everyone knows already: Cooking at home is cheaper and healthier, and families that make time to eat together are happier. So what are you waiting for? Learn the ropes at Central Market’s Cooking School. “It’s just a lot of fun,” says school manager Juan Gonzalez. “You’ll learn a lot”—knife skills, pan sauce recipes, maybe how to make an egg roll—“and you get to meet new people, which is really cool.” River Oaks, centralmarket.com —TM
48. Give CBD a whirl.
Does your back hurt? Feeling stressed? Non-THC cannabidiol, derived from hemp, is said to ease everything from aches and pains to anxiety and chronic sleeplessness. Consider stopping into one of the shops that have popped up in Houston lately and giving it a try. —TM
This chain, which aims to open dozens of Houston locations this year, proffers oils derived from Kentucky-grown hemp in a soothing atmosphere complete with flute music. Multiple locations, cbdamericanshaman.com
The locally owned CBD-only shop, the first of its kind in Houston, is the only Texas seller of Charlotte’s Web, one of the country’s most popular cannabis strains. Expect lounge seating and new age music. Multiple locations, elevatedwellnesstx.com
The Smoking Pot
While it opened last April as a CBD coffee shop, this place now focuses less on caffeine and more on CBD and smoking paraphernalia. Also available: “Be Someone” hoodies. Spring Branch, the-smoking-pot-coffee-shop.business.site
49. Get a dog.
Less stress, companionship, a fluffy reason to get fresh air:
Scientists say a dog can be the answer to your prayers.
Pups can fit your lifestyle, whether it’s fast or slow,
Some are just little critters; others have more, well, gusto.
To find your perfect doggo, you don’t need to roam.
There are thousands here in Houston who need forever homes.
Barrio Dogs, for one, provides some pups in need with care.
Adopting one is work, but worth the excess of pet hair. East End, barriodogs.org —LFM
50. Make your kids happy.
Rachel Kimbro, a family sociologist and professor of sociology at Rice University, stresses that getting out with the kiddos sets the stage for them to thrive. “Family outings, even simple ones, create excitement and fun for families and get us out of our routine,” she says. Kimbro name-checks Buffalo Bayou, Hermann Park, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Houston Zoo as good choices, adding that the options are truly endless. “Parents should also try non-traditional outings that kids love, like riding the METRORail or METRO bus,” says Kimbro, “or visiting Asiatown for a meal or just going to the grocery store.” Houston Museum District, houmuse.org —TM
51. Get away for the night.
Book a stay at the Carr Mansion, one of Galveston’s most buzzed-about island retreats, and step outside of your regular life, straight into a renovated 1860s Greek Revival oasis where you can relax on the breezy front porch or in the pretty parlor surrounded by dreamy paintings of ships. “I find people in there all the time reading a book, talking to each other, not on devices,” says proprietor Joellyn Moynahan. Some guests get out and walk 10 blocks to the Seawall or 13 blocks to the Strand, but plenty choose to stay on the grounds. “Is it the mattress? Is it the good vibes of the house? I don’t know,” Moynahan says. “But everybody has a good night’s sleep.” Galveston, carrmansion.com —GK
52. Invite an old friend out to dinner.
Invite that good buddy you haven’t seen in a while to meet up, perhaps over a bowl of pho and some spring rolls at Vietnamese favorite Huynh Restaurant. Bring some wine—God bless BYOB—and laugh about old times until your cheeks hurt. Oh! And before you leave, get out your calendar and schedule your next hang. Downtown, huynhrestauranthouston.com —JB
53. Watch the (other) bats.
The Mexican free-tailed bats that fly nightly from Watonga Bridge on White Oak Bayou in T.C. Jester Park are the same species as the popular Waugh Bridge colony, but with fewer crowds, easy parking (at Watonga and De Milo Drive), and gorgeous views of the sunset. —GK
54. Grow tomatoes.
“Gardening in general makes people happier,” says Heather Buchanan of Buchanan’s Native Plants, but never is this more evident than during our two tomato seasons. Newbies in search of all the good feels should try planting cherry tomatoes in early February for spring (or in August for fall). “They’re fun to share with the neighbors, and you’ll get hundreds in a season,” she says. The Heights, buchanansplants.com —GK
55. See a local concert.
Heights resident Sarah Kennedy recently took in a show from funky Houston trio Khruangbin at White Oak Music Hall, with fellow local supergroup The Suffers as the opener. “There was this incredible sense of Houston pride and community,” Kennedy says of the moment when she started belting back Suffers lyrics alongside the rest of the crowd. “I sound dramatic, but it really was a moment of effervescent joy.” The Heights, whiteoakmusichall.com —MK
56. Hit up the farmers market.
A trip to Urban Harvest Farmers Market isn’t just about grabbing a breakfast taco from El Topo, sausages from Tejas Heritage Farms, and all the greens and macarons your heart desires. “There’s a big social aspect to the market that’s a lot of fun,” says volunteer David Leftwich. “You start seeing other people you know. You get to know the vendors and talk to them every week.” Chat with them as you stock up on local provisions, and feel the joie de vivre well up within. River Oaks, urbanharvest.org —GK
57. Visit senior cats … or adopt one!
If you aren’t allergic, make a beeline for the senior cat room at no-kill shelter Friends for Life. Sit down and wait for the sweet, pudgy furballs to approach you and, often, climb right into your lap. The oxytocin will start to flow as you bask in the unconditional love from these sweet felines. Adult animals, by the way, make some of the best adoptees. They know how to live with people—and, frequently, other animals—and just want to be loved. So consider taking one of your new friends home with you. You won’t regret it. The Heights, friends4life.org —JB
58. Take in a comedy show.
As it turns out, laughter really is the best medicine, decreasing stress and increasing the number of immune cells in the body. So enjoy a set by an amateur improv group or a professional comic at the Secret Group, and cackle your way to a happier you. EaDo, thesecretgrouphtx.com —JB
59. Hop your dream flight.
“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in 10 seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” Heed Ray Bradbury’s advice and book a nonstop flight from Houston to one of these bucket-list destinations:
Ethiopian Airlines recently launched this flight to serve the oil and gas industry, but who doesn’t want to visit the birthplace of voodoo?
Sure, it’s a 17-hour flight on United from IAH, but you know you want to visit the Sydney Opera House, tour the Harbour Bridge, try all the restaurants in the Barangaroo, and visit iconic Bondi Beach.
Turks and Caicos
Take off on this new United flight from IAH at 10 a.m. and arrive on Providenciales, the entry to this 40-island archipelago, a little after 2 p.m. No biggie. Book an all-inclusive and slather on the sunscreen. —GK
60. Surround yourself with nature.
“It’s scientifically backed that nature lowers stress,” says Christine Mansfield of the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center. In fact, spending 90 minutes outdoors actually lowers brain activity linked to negative thoughts, so go hike that Ravine Trail, join an Owl Prowl (screech owls abound in winter), find that Arbor-gator, and listen to the frogs and cicadas. “It’s such a boon that a place like this exists in the middle of the city,” Mansfield says. “You don’t even have to go far.” Memorial, houstonarboretum.org —GK