Changes to make in your 30s for a forever happy life

By Anna Brech

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Press reset in your 30s with these key happiness habits

Like a long-haul flight somewhere exotic, your 30s hails in a time that is exciting but also turbulent. Yes, sunny Belize is lurking on the horizon; but you’ll need to navigate a few air pockets to get there. Factor in the bumps along the way, and you’ll soon engineer your way to a smooth landing.

Here are eight key changes to make in your 30s that’ll set you up for a lifetime of happiness. They’re not necessarily practical moves, like saving for a pension (though you should definitely do that, too). Rather, they represent a series of small yet pivotal steps that take advantage of the 30-something pendulum of change.

Practised well, these moves have the potential to revive your outlook in work, relationships and beyond, and place you on the right course for years to come. Here’s how:

Prioritise your simplest relationships

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How it’ll change your life: more support

The flaky friend who cancels last-minute – every time. The Tinder date who won’t commit to an actual meet-up. The needy relative who leaves you feeling drained.

One of the best changes you can make in your 30s is to start being proactive about your relationships. Take a good hard look at your life and filter out the people who mess you around. What once was alluring behaviour (the suspense! the drama!) is now simply a waste of headspace. You don’t have time to play games.

By leaving the manipulators by the kerbside, you’ll have a lot more time for the people who do count. Make room for simple, straight-forward relationships where you absolutely know where you are. These people will carry you forward (and you them) and fulfil the true meaning of “friend”.

Live with less, know yourself more

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How it’ll change your life: more clarity

When you’re surrounded by clutter, it’s difficult to think straight. You buy more and more – but since new things quickly lose their novelty, you never quite reach what you’re craving. Meanwhile, you have more belongings to tidy up, distract you and quietly corrode your bank account.

A dramatic clearout, of the scale advocated by tidying guru Marie Kondo, will allow you to reclaim your relationship with things. It’ll set the stage for a lifetime habit of only buying what you want or need – a savvy financial move. And, surrounded by fewer things, you’ll naturally feel less stressed. Instead, you can invest on experiences; something that conjures up far greater happiness via the lasting power of stories and memories.

Most importantly, you’ll put the focus back on yourself. Rather than defining yourself by the objects you own, you’ll get to know who you really are: unhampered by clutter and “stuff”. The effects are potent: try it and see.

Interrogate your career values

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How it’ll change your life: more meaning

What really makes you happy in your career? Is it a fat paycheck and chasing the next promotion, as you’ve been taught throughout your 20s? Or is it something else entirely?

Your 30s is the time to redefine your career, and shift the focus back to what *you* want. You’ve had 10 years or so to build up a good picture of the working world, so make a list of everything you do and don’t like within that.

This can include anything from big issues to incidental stuff. Get it down, then assess whether you’ve got the job that is adhering to those values. If it’s not, what can you change? Make this line of questioning an ongoing process that you revisit and act on at least twice a year.

The result is a really important transition that’ll take you from being governed by outside forces (pleasing other people, e.g. your boss) to within (pleasing yourself). By putting yourself in the driving seat, you’ll form the framework of a career with integrity and meaning. And you’ll also give yourself the autonomy to shift gears at any point, depending on how you feel.

Be kind and be cool

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How it’ll change your life: more groundedness

Of all the draining emotions out there, guilt and anger have to be at the top. Both leave you feeling exhausted for hours/days afterwards, along with obsessive dwelling on who said what, and what could have been handled differently.

Being kind is one of the easiest ways to sidestep guilt. It’s also a massively undervalued trait in its own right. When you reach for kindness as your default setting, you resist the urge to snark online. You build people up whenever you can. You show up, step in and help out. If this sounds a bit like Brownies – and also head-bashingly obvious – consider that it’s also quite a rare way to behave in today’s world. Make kindness your MO in your 30s, and reap the happiness effect.

Staying cool, meanwhile, means you whittle down the potential for regrets. Anger can be a powerful tool, but only in moderation. Save your anger for when you really mean it, and stay cool like ice – taking time to process your reactions – the rest of the time.

Say yes to scary decisions

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How it’ll change your life: more freedom

Fear is there for a reason. So if you’re waiting for that magic point where you don’t get butterflies in your stomach, spoiler alert: it’ll never happen. Instead, get used to harnessing that queasiness, and using it to your advantage.

Everyone experiences fear, but it’s how you deal with it that counts. Once you’re aware of the way it gets in the way of most major decisions, you can get into the habit of working through it (hence the phrase “feel the fear and do it anyway,” coined in Susan Jeffers’ self-help classic).

Your 30s – a time you get to really know yourself – is a natural juncture to begin facing your fear. Whenever you face a scary decision – be it travelling the world, quitting your job or opting out of a relationship – factor in the fear that’s holding you back. For the most part, the unconscious role that it plays is actually an argument for action.

The scarier decision is nearly always the better one; leading to an opportunity that will enlarge you. Instead of letting fear get in the way, ride the feeling out. Listen to your gut and act on it.

Eat generously and with relish

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How it’ll change your life: more enjoyment

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook,” so says the inimitable Julia Child.

Diets are a fool’s game; they’re impossible to maintain and what you gain in shedding a few pounds, you lose in destroying the pleasure of eating.

In your 30s, do yourself a favour and reframe your relationship with food. Stop with the calorie counting and meal diaries. Start eating well. This doesn’t mean going overboard with a mountain of doughnuts and burgers. Rather: just trust yourself to know what’s best.

Reinvest in the ceremony of eating: dine at a table, with others, in candlelight if the mood calls for it. Go for the foods that nourish you but don’t overthink it. And if you want a treat, that’s OK, too; don’t waste hours of your life worrying about it.

Forget clean eating, a sweet life is measured by GOOD eating – the food, the company, the top-notch flavours. Savour it.

Workout in a way that works for you

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How it’ll change your life: more strength

Now, if you want to eat with relish (and we’ve ascertained that you do), you’re going to need to work out. Not only that, but daily exercise will boost your mood, energy levels and ability to live a long life. It’s pretty much a win–win.

Since we so often look on workouts as a chore, however, it’s important that you snuffle out something that really chimes with who you are. If you work out in a way that you enjoy, you’ll be one hundred times more likely to keep the habit up long-term.

You might have a real competitive streak, meaning team activities such as volleyball or tennis offer you a ticket to freedom. Perhaps you’re more motivated in company, in which case it’s time to join your local running club, or hire a personal trainer. Maybe you need a goal to spur you on; something like climbing the highest mountain in North Africa, or hitting the 5,000-metre mark in Nepal. If you’re looking to exercise as a means of winding down, try swimming or yoga sessions.

If you haven’t found what gels with your inner workout self yet, stick at it. Sooner or later, you’ll get there. Whatever it is, it’ll form your foundation for a better life; so it’s worth searching around for.

Leave work on time, every single day

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How it’ll change your life: more balance

Spending too much time at work is a top deathbed regret, according to this viral article. We’re all aware of the debilitating effects of stress and overwork, so why do we end up doing it? Mostly, it’s not a conscious decision but rather a slip-and-slide effect that gains momentum over time. But the good news is, you can fight back with a similar series of small yet important steps.

Start by taking your lunch break. Take an hour every day, and get outside (something that’ll always feel better). Make this the rule, not the exception; it won’t be easy at first, and you may need to move things around to accommodate it. But keep at it, and your fightback against workplace tyranny will have begun.

Then, more important than anything: leave work on time. The UK and the US, along with other countries, are in the grips of a toxic overtime epidemic which values presenteeism above all else. Do you really want to be that person who is frittering away hundreds of hours in unpaid work a year, exhausted and sapped of life?

Much better to be super-efficient with the hours you’re required to work; then carve out enough time away from your desk so that you return refreshed. That way, you’ll be at your most productive and energised, with the added bonus of a life beyond the grind.

Images: Shutterstock, Sarah Dorweiler and Justin Snyder Photo on Unsplash

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