Happier, healthier, sexier: how to live your best life in 2018

There's a feeling '18 is going to be a good year. Shanthini Naidoo explores some of the ways to make it so

28 January 2018 - 00:00
Exercise is meant to increase dopamine levels, not decrease them by upping stress. So if your fitness tracker is making you anxious, turn it off.
Exercise is meant to increase dopamine levels, not decrease them by upping stress. So if your fitness tracker is making you anxious, turn it off.
Image: iStock

Wondering why you're feeling positive about 2018? Maybe it's because it's the year that ''Cyril" replaces ''Jacob" on the most popular baby name lists. The year is great for a lot of other good reasons, too. It's the year of quitting quinoa (it's so bland) and stocking up on purple potatoes and non-meat, no-guilt burgers.

You'll hear your friends extolling the virtues of Nootropics instead of complaining about their expensive vitamin pee.

You'll be downloading television series apps rather than subscribing to WiFi-dependent streaming services. Mamma Mia 2 will be coming out soon and with any luck, your boss will suggest that you follow President Trump's lead and start taking ''executive time" - read: come into work at 11am.

You may even be thinking of signing up for cooking lessons with the dagga couple, Julian Stobbs and Myrtle Clarke, to learn how to use a little pot.

But all of this new-year hype can get confusing - especially after those cooking lessons. So we're here to help you discover what you can do, think, create and throw away to make you a happier, healthier, sexier and more productive human in 2018.

WHAT TO DO

There isn't only one kind of person who wins at life.

There are the Rich People of Instagram (former Steinhoffs); successful business types who have denounced wealth after coining it (we're talking to you, Oprah); the blissfully contented but not wealthy creative types we love to hate; and the terminally ill who have found peace before making their exit, like Aussie blogger Holly Butcher.

So how should you redirect your energies to be rich, successful and popular or at the very least unburdened by envy and fomo?

Philosophers from the dawn of civilisation have said that it's all about creating a meaningful, worthy and purposeful life. And it comes down to one thing: making sure the basic human hierarchy of needs is covered ... and then exceeded.

If you're safe, fed, dry, healthy and have slept well, you can take on the world

If you're safe, fed, dry, healthy and have slept well, you can take on the world.

Any of these not in order? Then start at the beginning.

Love and emotion come after the basics are met - this is where your friends, lovers and social life come in.

Your curated social media profile should follow far down the line of priorities.

The question is how to get to the top of Maslow's pyramid and then bust out of the top.

WORK LIKE A ROBOT, THINK LIKE A HUMAN

Almost 100 years ago, John Maynard Keynes, in his essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, foretold a future of "technological unemployment" and 15-hour work weeks.

Despite the impending infiltration of AI and the rise of the robot, our work weeks don't seem to be getting any shorter (unless, of course, you're Potus).

In fact, the opposite is happening. Computers and robots have increased our work load by adding complexity to the working environment. Even the dawn of sex robots seems to be exhausting rather than relaxing us.

People are living longer, and this means there's more competition for resources and jobs.

At the same time, "technology is transforming the nature of work and forcing organisations to redesign most jobs", says a Deloitte Future of Work survey, meaning we constantly need to adapt.

The survey suggests ''lifelong learning", which is more fun than sudoku in warding off dementia. Take up macrame as a fall-back career if it interests you - the hipster-beloved craft movement is still in full swing.

There's more good news.

Deloitte says the reconfiguration of jobs will leverage uniquely human skills: empathy, social and emotional intelligence - which means that people aren't obsolete just yet.

PS. If you can't get no satisfaction at work, check out forgood.co.za where you can do nice things for other people, for a break from climbing macrame ladders.

GIVE UP!

Walk by a Zara store three times a week and there will be different clothes in the window each time. They fly in new styles biweekly. Why? Because you asked for it!

The consumerism wheel is spinning so fast it makes heads spin.

Recently, media mogul-turned-life guru Arianna Huffington said that she doesn't buy new clothes, even for high-profile interviews. "There's nothing immoral about enjoying fashion or shopping, but we have to acknowledge that it comes at a price," she said - and the price is time, anxiety and energy.

#Repeat is about reusing things of good quality.

And it isn't just about fashion. It's about how much of the earth's resources, like water, we use.

The Guardian's Wildlife Photograph of the Year 2017 was of a sea horse clutching a pink, plastic ear bud in murky ocean water, begging the following questions:

  • Are you still buying plastic ear buds in 2018 when there are recycled paper ones available?
  • Have you joined the rest of the world and stopped using drinking straws?
  • How much plastic are you eating if there's that much of it in our waters and inside our fish?
  • Are you living by Immanuel Kant's maxim "We are not rich by what we possess, but by what we can do without"?

LIVER LITTLE

If you're happy with your lack of sobriety, no worries. But if you've handled the start of the year by rereading Charles Bukowski's Guide to Surviving a Hangover Without Your Boss Noticing (in summary: hair of the dog) then you may want to seek help from a non-barfly source. Janet Gourand runs WorldWithoutWine workshops, teaching how to quit or moderate your drinking.

Gourand says the guideline from the UK is a bottle and a half of wine a week, and advises you to give your liver three non-drinking days to recuperate.

Her advice is relevant to any vice. Addictions are all about dopamine levels and Newton's law always applies: what goes up must come down.

In terms of modern afflictions, though, smartphone addiction may be taking over from drinking ... quite sobering

In terms of modern afflictions, though, smartphone addiction may be taking over from drinking. So much so that apps like Moment exist. It tracks your phone usage and cajoles you about it at the end of the day, alerting you to how many hours you spent looking at your phone instead of at your children.

Quite sobering.

But as you revel in your added energy, clear head and uninterrupted sleep, try not to become self-righteous, sanctimonious and insufferable.

SELF-EXAMINATION

A DNA test on my diet said cauliflower and dairy are possible irritations and cause inflammation.

But I knew this. I've hated cauliflower au gratin for years. Now I have an excuse to never eat it again.

A while ago, health gurus thought that all fat was bad. We know better now, and that different people react to different combinations of protein, fat or sugar.

DNA analysis can tell us what works best for our individual health, and there are blood tests and screenings that earn you Vitality points.

But more and more health practitioners say that your body knows what it loves and hates. Listen to it.

GET ME BODIED

Something nutritionist Ashleigh Caradas said to me changed how I think about food. Her mantra is:

eat food

more plants

not too much.

Food = whole food, the unprocessed kind. More plants is obvious. "Not too much" is the one so many of us battle with.

Also, remove guilt from what you put into your mouth. If you're thinking of going flexitarian for ethical reasons, start slowly, like eating bivalves (creatures that don't have a central nervous system and ostensibly don't feel pain).

As for jumping on the superfoods bandwagon, first research those "healthy" choices - some ancient grains and nuts, for example, are being over-farmed and are creating food shortages in the countries of their origin.

Swapping cow's milk for almond milk may be ethical for the bovines, but the increased almond production has added to the drought in California.

Local, seasonal and as natural as possible is the ideal.

FEEDING THE SPIRIT

Most happiness experts say the world is becoming, on average, a much better place for everyone.

Organisations like the Art of Living and Heartfulness.org exist to prove the point. The positive energy of meditation, breathing and conscious living have become more than Oprah Chopra-isms.

Forget the Danish concept of hygge: ikigai - the Japanese concept of finding purpose in our lives - is the trend of 2018.

''Your ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing," says Hector Garcia, co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

AND FITNESS? DON'T SWEAT IT

When people share workouts and those PBs on your timeline, your heart rate races for all the wrong reasons.

Screw keeping up with the Joneses - we've become over competitive. While this shouldn't mean we should turn into the Big Lebowski, despite the fact that marijuana is becoming legalised in more and more countries, perhaps we should chill out a bit more on the competitive app front.

If your fitness device is giving you anxiety, notifying you that your friend completed their third Pilates workout of the week, turn it off.

Swearing makes people experience strong feelings, which can be healing

Exercise is meant to increase dopamine levels, not decrease them by upping stress. Tell your device to shut up. Better yet, use a profanity - it will lower your stress levels.

In Swearing is Good For You, Emma Stern writes that swearing makes people experience strong feelings, which can be healing: "Its effect on our emotions makes swearing an excellent candidate for an analgesic."

KEEP IT RACY

Speaking of fitness, this is an interesting year for the bedroom.

There's a leaning towards advanced, intuitive toys: homemade filming; responsive AI; all sorts of strange measurement devices with the singular aim of keeping people happy and the robots out of the bedroom.

Lonely singles and irritable partners, fear not: it is the year of DIY thrills.

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