The list might be boring, but it may still inspire you to fill a gap in your wellbeing

A routine built on this list mightn’t come with tinkling bells or chanting monks but it could change your life

It’s odd how the things that are good for us can seem so, well, boring when you list them out.

Once, when asked to talk about the effects of bullying in the workplace I lost my audience pretty quickly for that reason. I pointed out that people bullied at work often suffer more because the stress leads them to eat less healthily, stop exercising, maybe drink too much and, in general, stop doing what’s good for them.

The faces of some of the group suggested that the thought going through their minds was, what’s this, home economics? I plodded on.

Let’s look at the list anyway. It may inspire you to fill in a gap in what you do for your wellbeing.


First, green spaces.

A recent study reported in The Lancet found that women who have more green space nearby have a lower risk of postnatal depression. Other research has shown that walking in green spaces lifts people’s mood more than walking in built-up areas. The Lancet research – conducted in California – found also that the more tree coverage an area has, the lower the risk of postnatal depression.

One explanation is that people who live near green spaces tend to get more exercise which is also on our list. Exercise, we know, is a mood-lifter in itself quite apart from its physical benefits. It increases the level of the “happiness hormone” serotonin in the nervous system. When you add its benefits together, it’s almost a miracle drug.

Of course greenery and exercise mean more contact with people, another factor in wellbeing. If you are a dog walker for instance, you’ve probably noticed that other dog walkers will greet you.

Not only does exercise lift people’s mood but social networking research suggests that when people close to you are happy, you are more likely to be happy. Moods affect each other.

The importance of social involvement is underlined, in a negative way, in this extract from a 2019 report of Tilda, The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing: “Both emotional loneliness and social isolation were associated with poorer physical and psychological wellbeing, as well as quality of life. These differences were particularly stark in relation to emotional loneliness... we found that susceptibility to emotional loneliness, even when accompanied by strong social integration, was the most deleterious to wellbeing among older adults.”

So social involvement and connection really matter. But ideally it needs to be actual involvement – not just being in the same place at the same time – because you can be lonely in a crowd.

Spunout has a page on handling loneliness that’s worth a read if you are affected by loneliness. Like this article, it outlines a series of ordinary measures – nothing exotic – but if you did all of them, you wouldn’t be lonely any more.

Tilda notes that people are least likely to report loneliness in the 50-68 year age group. After that, loneliness increases so it’s important to keep up or make connections in later years.

Next on my list is food. The UK mental health charity Mind has long pointed to the relationship between good food and mental health. For instance, wholegrain bread and other healthy foods (look up for its Food and Mental Health page for more examples) release energy more slowly and help you avoid the blood sugar slump which brings the mood way down.

Finally, a word about breathing. Breathing from your belly and making your out-breath a little longer than your in-breath will switch on the soothing function of your nervous system and help you de-stress. Try it during gaps in the day: waiting for a bus, just sitting and looking around you, before you go to sleep at night, when you wake up during the night and so on.

Everything on this list is doable for most of us.

A routine built on this list mightn’t come with tinkling bells or chanting monks but it could, in a gradual and unspectacular way, change your life.

Padraig O’Morain (@padraigomorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Acceptance – create change and move forward; his daily mindfulness reminder is available free by email (