How To Design A Happier, More Fulfilling Life

Happy Woman

“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it’s something you design for the present.” ~Jim Rohn

A few weeks ago I found myself having a bad day. The frustrating thing was that on the outside everything was okay, nothing had explicitly gone wrong, but inside everything was a mess. It was one of those days where you’re in a constant battle with yourself.

At the beginning of the year I saved up enough to be able to quit my job and focus on building my own online/writing career. But on this particular day I felt nothing but doubt.

I couldn’t get my head straight, my creativity was drained, and with everything I attempted I came up against a mental block.

In silent despair, I sank into my office chair and stared blankly across the room. As I gazed ahead, I looked at pictures from my travels stuck on the wall. Each was a reminder of good times I’ve had and things to look forward to in the future.

To the left, Steve Jobs’ biography sat staring at me on the shelf. It’s tactfully put there, so that on days where I feel like I’m incapable of producing anything worthwhile, I get a reminder of what’s possible.

I’ve recently been experimenting with incorporating things in my daily life to add extra inspiration. Things that give extra motivation when days are good and provide a weatherproof layer for the days when things aren’t going so well.

If our routines and everyday life occur by chance, it’s unlikely that they set us up to have the happiest, most meaningful and productive days that we’re capable of. So I’ve started being deliberate in how I sculpt my days and routines. I guess you could call it happiness architecture.

Of course, true lasting happiness takes practice. It’s a long-term commitment of expressing gratitude, being aware of our negative self-talk, and developing the ability to see the world around us with more optimism.

So, while designing your days isn’t a quick fix for instant happiness, it’s a way to help cultivate a fertile environment for happiness to grow.

Here are some of the things I’ve been toying with:

Physical space

The easiest place to start sculpting a happier life is with your physical space. Design your surroundings so they inspire you. This doesn’t mean you have to move to the Himalayas or to a villa beside the sea, but instead craft your current surroundings so they make you happier.

The reason Disneyland is considered one of the happiest places on Earth isn’t by chance, but because around every corner is a Mickey Mouse, a Disney Princess, or another deliberately crafted inspiring moment. Craft your own daily Disneyland.

This is the reason for my strategically placed biography of Steve Jobs. It’s the reason I drink coffee out of a mug that reads “Follow Your Dreams.” It’s the reason for the inspiring quotes and messages all over my walls and on the wallpaper of my computer.

Have daily reminders of your goals dotted around the house. Surround yourself with plants, paintings, colors, and other visual elements that make you happy.

Anything that can help ensure that not a single day goes by without some sort of visual kick-up-the-butt to inspire you to be happier.

Little surprises

You know the feeling when you find money down the back of the couch? Or when you find something that you totally forgot you had? What if you could manufacture your life to have more positive experiences like these?

I’ve been experimenting with this too. I’ve tried setting random calendar notes or reminders for several weeks’ time, each with a short positive note or inspirational message to myself. Both add a nice surprise to the day when you receive them out of the blue.

Perhaps order yourself a gift to arrive in the distant future and totally forget about it until it arrives. Or maybe leave hidden notes in completely random places all over the house.

Get creative, because anything goes.

Even better still, begin crafting these little surprises for others too. A couple of times a month think of somebody close to you and figure out a way you can help them.

Maybe that’s with a call or a surprise visit. Maybe that’s a thoughtful gift or simply paying them a genuine compliment.

The world needs more pleasant surprises.


The people you spend time with can either raise or squander your energy and positivity. If you want to be happier, be deliberate in choosing who you spend your time with.

I’m not the most extroverted of people, so who I’m spending time with can be the difference between me coming across as some crazy, passionate guy or a timid, bashful guy. The latter of which tends to leave me questioning myself—“What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I so quiet?”

Very few of us are fortunate enough to be able to spend 24/7 around inspiring people who light us up, but we can craft opportunities to spend time with (or at very least call) somebody who inspires us a couple of times a week.

We often default to whatever company is available to us, just to avoid being alone. We don’t pay any attention to how negatively that company might affect us.

Be totally honest with yourself and ask: does spending time with these people make me come away feeling better or worse? If the answer is worse, then maybe it’s not worth it after all.


Perhaps most importantly, we need to be very deliberate with how we spend our time. It’s so easy to fall into a routine and stay there no matter how counter-productive or negative it may be.

I try to do something I’m passionate about every single day. For you, this could be taking an action that contributes toward a big goal, or maybe it’s knitting, playing an instrument, or another activity you love to do.

You don’t have to spend long on it, but there’s a lot of satisfaction that can be had knowing that no matter how manic and stressful life may be, you are still working toward something that is meaningful to you.

Make time to lose yourself in a book. Give yourself a sacred fifteen minutes every morning to savor and enjoy a steaming coffee.

Make time to meditate, to enjoy the moment and to feel gratitude for all that you have.

Dedicate a part of your day to going out into nature and noticing the sound of the birds, the crisp bite of the wind, or simply the gentle crunch of the leaves beneath your feet.

Your time is the most precious thing in your life. Without it, nothing else could exist.


With that in mind, just adding more positivity to our days will always have limited success without eliminating the negative too.

I find it useful to eliminate the news from my life—I found that watching it caused me to see the world with so much more fear and negativity. That’s not to say I turn a blind eye to that which is happening in the world, but instead I choose to ignore the negative slander that the news puts on everything.

Look at your own day and try to figure out what you can take out. What needs pruning?

What routines or habits have you got that add nothing to your life—or worse, which ones actually have a negative effect?

Maybe you find the traffic always leaves you angry on the way to work, so search for a different route instead. The road through the countryside may take you longer, but if it inspires you more and leaves you more positive, then it’s time well spent.

Take the time to notice the other stressors in your life. Which of these can you remove completely? And if you can’t remove them, how can you reduce their impact?

Life is short. We all have a limited time here, so it’s so important that we’re deliberate in how we use it. That means being intentional and designing our lives to leave us as happy and fulfilled as possible. Don’t leave that up that chance.

Woman jumping on the beach image via Shutterstock

About Tom Norman

Tom Norman runs The Art Of Being Thoroughly Used Up, a website that explores what it takes to make the most of our precious time here on the planet.

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