Living in the moment, being spontaneous, taking a mental break from work — these are the things that make free time so special.
What you do choose to do with your free time is important; once you spend it, you can’t get it back. Frittering it away by binge-watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram won’t bring you long-lasting happiness. Instead, it will likely leave you feeling languished or mired in mediocrity.
The happiest and most successful people make the most out of their free time — on weekends, especially — by incorporating healthy habits that have been scientifically proven to improve our physical and mental well-being.
To live a happier and longer life, try doing these 3 simple things on weekends:
1. Spend time with friends and family
Weekends are the best days of the week — not just for the employed, but also for the unemployed, according to a 2014 study from Stanford University. Researchers found that emotional well-being increases by about 15% on weekends — and that number rises the more we spend time with family and friends.
“People who spend weekends alone get very little of the boost in emotional well-being,” said Cristobal Young, an assistant professor and co-author of the study.
Social time is especially important for those who are unemployed, the researchers also noted. People out of work spend most of their extra free time alone. Often, their time might be spent doing household chores or watching daytime TV.
“Weekends are a break from unemployment,” Young added, “because on Saturday and Sunday, other people are available to spend time with.”
The world’s most successful business leaders, like Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg and Bill Gates all make exercise a priority. Not only can a healthy cardiovascular system improve your memory and learning ability, it can also release endorphins that elicit a “feel-good” effect.
A 2018 study, published in The Lancet, found that people who are physically active have a greater sense of well-being than those who are inactive. “Individuals who exercised had 43% fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise,” according to the study.
Social exercises (i.e., team sports and running with a friend) had higher positive effects, although cycling also ranked highly. This all leads to one simple reminder: Find out what form of physical activity motivates you most and make time for it. As the study’s authors wrote, “All exercise types were associated with a lower mental health burden.”
Several studies have found that, in addition to helping lower the risk of health issues that stem from stress (i.e., psychiatric disorders and migraines), practicing mindfulness and meditation can increase overall happiness in life.
If you’re too busy Mondays through Fridays, meditating even for just 15 to 20 minutes on weekends can provide an array of mental health benefits.
“The most important thing is consistency,” Sharon Salzberg, author of “Real Happiness,” said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s much better to have a smaller, realistic commitment that you will actually fulfill, than thinking, I’m going to sit and meditate for eight hours.”
Oprah Winfrey says she meditates for 20 minutes in the morning, and 20 in the evening. “It’s an energizing yet calming experience,” Winfrey wrote in an Oprah.com article. “I walk away feeling fuller than when I came in. Full of hope, a sense of contentment and deep joy.”
Commentary by Deepak Chopra and Kabir Sehgal
Kabir Sehgal is a New York Times best-selling author. He is a former vice president at JPMorgan Chase, multi-Grammy Award winner and U.S. Navy veteran. Chopra and Sehgal are the co-creators of Home: Where Everyone Is Welcome, inspired by American immigrants.