The Essential 7 are the seven categories that most desirable habits for happiness fall. By establishing good habits in each of these categories, you can boost happiness and live a more healthy, engaged, and fulfilled life.

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I’m a big fan of personal development and self-improvement books (or “self-help” as my husband likes to call it). To me, “self-help” sounds like a genre for people struggling with destructive vices or suffering from psychological disorders, basically making it sound like a social taboo. But personal development is so much more than learning coping strategies! It’s about empowerment, self-awareness, and developing habits that enhance your quality of life.

Gretchen Rubin is the bestselling author of The Happiness Project that writes about habits to promote happiness, but she also has a podcast called Happier that I discovered earlier this year. Each episode is more like a casual conversation with her sister, Elizabeth, but provides some practical tips and advice on implementing good habits to boost happiness. This lively yet light-hearted podcast is my favorite to listen to during my commute each day.

Recently while reading a blog post over on Peanut Butter Fingers, she talked about one of Gretchen’s episodes from last year called The Essential 7 For Happiness and Good Habits. I immediately went back into the podcast feed and listened to this episode (number 90). After listing the seven categories that most desirable habits for happiness fall, Gretchen and her sister discuss each category and apply them to their own lives.

I know November isn’t typically the time for big resolutions, but why wait 6 more weeks until the new year?! Even though Thanksgiving and Christmas (and my birthday) are my favorites times of the year, they’re also stressful with work getting busier, family obligations, Christmas shopping, holiday celebrations, and travel, which translates into hardly any downtime on the weekends to relax. So I resolve to make these last few weeks of the year happier than ever by applying habits from the essential 7 to my own life!

The Essential 7

(copied from the Happier show notes)

1. Eat and drink more healthfully (give up sugar, eat more vegetables, drink less alcohol)

2. Exercise regularly

3. Save, spend, and earn wisely (save regularly, pay down debt, donate to worthy causes, make purchases that contribute to happiness or habits, pay taxes, stay current with expense reports, take classes to expand career options)

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (pursue a hobby instead of cruising the internet, enjoy the moment, stop checking email, get enough sleep, spend less time in the car, take time for myself)

5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress (practice an instrument, set aside two hours daily for uninterrupted work, learn a language, maintain a blog, keep a gratitude journal)

6. Simplify, clear, and organize (make the bed every day, file regularly, put keys away in the same place, recycle, give away unused clothing)

7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world (call family members, read the Bible every day, volunteer, spend time with friends, observe the Sabbath, spend time alone in nature)

My Essential 7

1. Eat and drink more healthfully 

Limit sweets.

I won’t completely give up sugar, but I will try to calm my sweet tooth. I have a tendency to eat healthfully most of the time, and then “reward” myself with a giant dessert, which inevitably leads to guilt and a big tummy ache. I will plan my indulgences and make them worth it… a slice of pie on Thanksgiving (not one of each flavor), a piece of cake on my birthday (not half the leftover cake!), and 1 or 2 small treats at Christmas parties. I think moderating my sweets will allow me to truly enjoy each bite without making me feel like I’m missing out on the celebration.

2. Exercise regularly

Take 1 fitness class each week.

I’ve always been really good about exercising regularly and planning it to make sure it fits into even the busiest days. So my happiness habit for exercise will be to schedule in some classes on the weekends to mix it up, keep things fresh, and spend some time with friends. I typically lift weights or do cardio at home at 4:30 am which can get kind of lonely. Making exercise a social date instead of just a health obligation will hopefully allow me more social adult-only interaction that I sometimes feel like is in short supply as a mom.

3. Save, spend, and earn wisely 

Make purchases with intention.

Oh boy! This one will be tough (just ask George!); I’m really guilty of buying random things. I will be more conscious of only buying household necessities or things that will truly contribute to my happiness – books I will actually have time to read, services that will allow me to spend more time with my family, or restaurant meals for social enjoyment (not because we failed to plan dinner). And with Christmas coming up, I will only buy thoughtful gifts for others that I know will bring them joy. Sometimes I just want to fill stockings with “stuff,” even though I know it’s actually junk, so I will not burden friends and family with it either

4. Rest, relax, and enjoy

Get a pedicure.

This is the busiest time of year for my work, but I will make time for myself and treat myself to at least one pedicure at The Woodhouse (the most luxurious spa!). They have an incredibly calming “quiet room” with soothing music that I will actually utilize to relax in after my pedicure instead of jumping right back into my chaotic life of parental obligations. My husband and girls will be ok for 10 more minutes! And they will probably benefit (just as much as me) if I take the time to rest and relax.

5. Stop procrastinating, make consistent progress

Don’t use any devices in bed before going to sleep.

I usually have such good intentions to go to sleep early, but then want to check “just one more thing” on my phone. Quickly looking up something usually turns into checking email, Facebook, and Instagram. I love seeing baby and life updates from friends, but I inevitably get sucked into threads from my neighborhood moms group or start shopping the buy/sell pages, and before I know it 30 minutes is gone! I know I need that time sleeping much more than I need social updates!

6. Simplify, clear, and organize

Declutter for 5 minutes each evening.

Seeing clutter around the house makes me so stressed! It doesn’t bother my husband at all, but it overwhelms me. After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I have plans to eventually declutter the entire house, but I know we won’t have an entire free day or weekend with childcare to accomplish this huge task anytime soon. I feel like I can’t relax until things are back in their place, which of course doesn’t happen very often with a 3-year old that takes things out and doesn’t always put them away. So, I will take 5 minutes at the end of each day to declutter (and I’ll ask my husband to help me). I think 5 minutes will be enough to make a good dent in the daily clutter accumulation without feeling like another time-consuming chore. If I have time, I will choose one small area to organize (junk drawer, craft closet, nightstand, etc.) each weekend.

7. Engage more deeply—with other people, with God, with yourself, with the world

I will engage more deeply with my husband.

In this hectic time of year, I will take the time to slow down and hug and kiss my husband goodbye every day before I leave for work. I will try to get the kids to bed on time so we can have some time together in the evenings. Sometimes I get so rushed or so focused on the kids that I forget to do these little things to show my affection.

Because George owns his own business and works from home, his mornings are much more leisurely than mine, often relaxing in bed with a cup of coffee before the girls wake up. I frequently joke that I can’t be as leisurely as he can be. But why not?! Sure, I actually have to leave the house by 6:30 am to make it to work on time, but why can’t I spend just 5 minutes with him in the mornings. I already wake up early and have a morning routine I like to follow, so I will add in these 5 minutes to slow down, cuddle for a few minutes, or just drink coffee with him.


Ok, so there are my 7 habits I will work on for the rest of year to promote happiness. I’ll follow up later to see how I did and if the habits worked.

What about you?

Which of the essential 7 categories resonates most with you? What habits could you change that would have the biggest impact on your happiness?