50 Steps to Simple Happiness

Illustration by Jim Stoten

With apologies to Jay-Z, the current Empire State of Mind might not be something to brag about—at least according to the recent study ranking New York as the least-happy state in the nation. In the nation! Which seems, to us, rather unbelievable. Yes, nearly half of the state’s residents live in a city that’s inordinately stressful (expensive, noisy, crowded, pushy). Yes, it’s hard to find a peaceful place to sip coffee, much less live. But on the flip side—everything else! Still, mired in the middle of January, you may need a little mood enhancement. What to do? On the following pages, you won’t find long-term, expensive fixes like therapy, pharmaceuticals, or a three-week jaunt to the Maldives. What you will find are quick, easy, and affordable ideas for feeling good in body and spirit, as well as bits of modern folk wisdom, some goofier than others, from a range of experts. So: Try a little self-administered acupressure. Eat an ounce of dark chocolate. Say yes to more sex. Break the silence in the elevator. Exercise. If a 3 a.m. ginseng soak isn’t your thing, keep reading. You’ve got 49 other chances to find your idea of bliss.

1. “When you’re stressed, press two fingers to the acupressure point right under the middle of your collarbone and breathe.” —Roberta Mittman, Acupuncturist

2. “Make your bed. Go figure, but outer order contributes to inner calm. Especially if you’re living in a small space—but even if you’re living in a gigantic loft. Start each day with a concrete, albeit tiny (and therefore manageable!), accomplishment.” —Gretchen Rubin, Author, The Happiness Project

3. Exfoliate and inebriate simultaneously. Okeanos’s two-for- one Platza treatments are accompanied by unlimited shots of premium vodka ($50; 211 E. 51st St., nr. Lexington Ave.; 212-223-6773).

4. “Leave your mouth in that slightly upturned position it takes after saying ‘Cheez Whiz.’ It’s a relaxed, confident look that will convince other people you know what you’re doing.” —Debra Benton, Executive Coach

5. Attack muscle groups you didn’t know you had at SoulCycle’s Bands class held at the spinning studio’s new Tribeca location starting this Friday. Resistance bands hang on sliding tracks above each stationary bike, letting you work abs, back, chest, shoulders, and arms while your legs do the pedaling ($38; 103 Warren St., at West St.; 212-406-1300).

6.Try what I call the poor man’s massage. Roll out all the muscles from your hips to your knees with a foam roller—use the black ones with the harder foam—for two minutes on each leg or until it doesn’t hurt anymore. It opens up your IT bands, glutes, and hip flexors and relieves the tension that’s pulling your pelvis and lower back out of alignment.” —Ari Weller, Personal Trainer, Fitness Results

7. Submit to Anatol Ritsevsky’s painful-now-blissful-later Hallucination Deep Tissue massageat Spa H inside the Murray Hill gym Club H. Ritsevsky will press and lean into your tensest areas until those knots are gone ($110; 222 E. 34th, nr. Third Ave.; 212-779-1020).

8. “Never show up for drinks on an empty stomach, or for that matter let yourself get so hungry you’ll eat street meat.” —Kristin Mcgee, Pilates and Yoga Instructor

9. Become the most popular person at work. Sign up eleven of your highest-strung co-workers for the dirt-cheap in-office massages ($12.50 for fifteen minutes!) offered by Oasis Day Spa, one of the only city spas that will send its massage therapists directly to businesses (minimum three hours and twelve people; 212-254-7722).

10. Offer to help a stroller person up the stairs.

11. Block off several weekend hours—hell, even a whole day—for what may be the loopiest place in all five boroughs: the sprawling indoor-outdoor all-ages water-park oasis known as Spa Castle in Flushing, Queens. For $45 you get unlimited access to a labyrinthine complex of waterfalls, indoor pools, saunas, color-therapy rooms, and a bar and grill (131-10 Eleventh Ave., nr. 131st St., College Point; 718-939-6300).

12. If you see a parking cop working his or her way up the street, put a quarter into someone’s expired meter.

13. “Just say yes every time your partner wants to have sex. It’s only twenty minutes out of your day, and it makes you both feel better. If you’re not in a relationship, say yes to your own private date night at least three times a week.” —Claire Cavanah, Co-Founder, Babeland

14. Disappear into a fluffy robe and comfy slippers in the ever-elegant Great Jones Spa’s water lounge. The $50 three-hour pass is one of the better spa values in town (29 Great Jones St., nr. Lafayette St.; 212-505-3185).

15. Tone your midsection in transit. “When standing on the subway, knit your front ribs together and zip up an imaginary zipper as if you had on a very tight pair of jeans. Or when you’re in a cab, tighten an imaginary seat belt from hip bone to hip bone. You’ll end up with a strong midsection, toned abdominals, and a strong back and spine.” —Kristin Mcgee, Pilates and Yoga Instructor

Illustration by Jim Stoten

16. “Eat one ounce of dark chocolate a day. It’s the new superfood.” —Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, Integrative Medicine and Nutrition

17. Socialize with the convivial, rosy-cheeked crowd at Dandelion Wine in Greenpoint. Come for Friday-night tastings or newly arrived wines (153 Franklin St., nr. India St., Greenpoint; 347-689-4563).

18. “Don’t be afraid to change up your style. Your hair is your best accessory. Besides, what are you afraid of? It will always grow back. And invest in a Mason Pearson brush, with a mixture of boar bristle and nylon tufts. It’s worth every penny.” —Sally Hershberger, Hairstylist

19. “Give the people pushing in the subway or rushing in the streets the benefit of the doubt by imagining that it is really important for them to get where they are going.” —Rabbi Irwin Kula, President, National Jewish Center for Learning And Leadership

20. Don’t even leave your apartment: Claire Mullen of Refresh Body, a favorite of the beauty-editor set, will take over your living room and put you through a 60-minute, $135 massage that’s one part excruciating and one part sublime (212-242-4379).

21.Forget the brown-rice sushi. The Japanese are some of the most long-lived people on the planet, and they only eat white rice.” —Dr. Oz Garcia, Nutritionist

22. Respect the nostrils: The pleasures of scent are undisputed. Aphrodisia Herb Shoppe owner Joann Pelletieri—who has assembled seemingly every herb known to man—will mix essential oils to treat whatever’s irking you ($8 to $20 for a third of an ounce; 264 Bleecker St., nr. Cornelia St.; 212-989-6440).

23. “When you’re in an elevator, put down the BlackBerry and engage in small talk. There is simply no social-networking site that can replace that connection.” —Faye Rogaski, Professor of Communications, NYU

24. If street noise keeps you awake, download Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön reading her book When Things Fall Apart. Her soothing voice will have you asleep in moments.

25. “Take two to three grams of fish oil per day for inflammation and at least 2,000 I.U.’s of vitamin D. We don’t get enough sun in the Northeast, and we need it in order to compensate.” —Dr. Alexander Kulick, Integrative Medicine

26. Work out while you work. “At your desk, take five minutes to do back exercises—scapula retractions. Put your arms straight out in front of you and pull your shoulder blades together to get blood flowing and reduce tightness. Do shoulder rolls back and forth to increase circulation.” —Robert Morea, Personal Trainer, Great Jones Studio

27. “Move your body for 45 minutes three times a week. Doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you’re doing. Just keep moving.”—Julie Rice, Co-Owner, Soulcycle Spinning Gym

28. Ratchet up the intensity at Clay’s newest class, fittingly called Sweat, launching January 18. The instructors switch from cardio to resistance to flexibility training, so students’ bodies can’t adapt to the routine (day pass $35; 25 W. 14th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-206-9200).

29. Acknowledge you have a short attention span and sign up for Exhale’s new Core Fusion Cardio classes, starting in February. The classes will keep you so busy with jump-backs, medicine-ball tossing, ab sculpting, and strength and flexibility work that you won’t have time to think anything but Where’s my water bottle?($35; 60–70 Spring St., nr. Lafayette St.; 212-249-3000).

30. Enjoy the views at the new Soho location of 24 Hour Fitness, which has big windows overlooking the surrounding rooftops. Memberships are month to month, so you don’t have to commit to a year (136 Crosby St., nr. E. Houston St.; 212-918-9811).

31.“Collect visual memories of moments when you were incredibly happy, and close your eyes and picture them when you need a boost. The mind needs images to access feelings.” —Edwige Gilbert, Wellness And Stress-Management Coach

32. “Carry yourself more erect. Poor posture is a self-fulfilling prophecy of gloom. You can improve your outlook and confidence simply by improving your posture.” —Eva Pelegrin, Founder, Attune Holistic Fitness

33.“Start an old-fashioned correspondence with a friend. Handwriting a letter forces you to express yourself in a totally different way.” —Jonathan Arnold,General Manager, Dempsey & Carroll Stationery Engravers

34. “Diversify your cognitive portfolio: Museum Mondays, Tennis Tuesdays, Writing Wednesdays, Tango Thursdays, Learn-to-Frittata Fridays, Socializing Saturdays, Socrates Sundays. We need to rotate activities weekly to fire up different brain regions.” —Dr. Gayatri Devi, Neurology and Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine

35. Download In C Remixed,the new tribute album to Terry Riley’s Minimalist stoner classic conceived on a San Francisco bus in 1964 and still your brain’s best chill-out soundtrack.

36. Put back a complimentary Colt 45 while you sketch a nude model’s contours at the Wednesday-night Drink-N-Draw events at Williamsburg’s 3rd Ward (BYO drawing tools). The open sessions are emceed by artist Adam Collison, who plays everything from old-school hip-hop to hair metal ($15, $10 if you bring a friend; 195 Morgan Ave., nr. Stagg St., East Williamsburg; 718-715-4961).

Illustration by Jim Stoten

37. “Eat strained Greek yogurt with blueberries, almonds, and a teaspoon of agave nectar. You will lose an average of twelve pounds at the end of the year.” —Dr. David Colbert, Dermatologist

38. Zero in on the typical trouble zones—stomach and butt—at Soho Sanctuary’s new Bootcamp Spa series, which aims to lift and tone using a combination of lymphatic drainage, glycolic peels, algae masks, and pumice scrubs (starts Feb.; $125 for 60 minutes; 119 Mercer St., nr. Prince St., third fl.; 212-334-5550).

39. Spend some time with animals; pet the felines in the “cat loft” at BARC, a no-kill animal shelter in Williamsburg. Or volunteer to walk one of the 40 or so dogs (barcshelter.org for details).

40. Embrace insomnia with a 3 a.m. soak in one of the warm, ginseng-infused baths at Juvenex, the city’s best all-night spa ($65 for three hours; 25 W. 32nd St., nr. Fifth Ave., fifth fl.; 646-733-1330).

41. “Never clean your plate at a restaurant. New Yorkers eat out more than anyone, but they can choose to eat less.” —David Kirchhoff, CEO, Weight Watchers

42. Take a long lunch on a Tuesday and go to the free hour-long performance by Juilliard musicians (Tuesdays at 12:30 at 180 Maiden Ln., nr. Front St.; 212-769-7406).

43. “Consider using a bright light box at breakfast; it’s a springtime light boost that can last through evening.” —Dr. Michael Terman,Director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms, Columbia University Medical Center

44. “Think like a shark, act like a 5-year-old. Our bodies are meant to be in motion. Don’t stay in the same position for more than 30 minutes at a time.” —Dr. Jeffrey Gross, Rehabilitation Medicine, NYU School Of Medicine

45. Find a spare seat on the mostly tourist-freeleft side of the Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library, and read—not from a mobile electronic device or a newspaper or even a magazine. Read an actual book (Fifth Ave. at 42nd St.; 212-340-0908).

46. Score the pampering trifecta: manicure, pedicure, and bubbly. The boudoirlike Back Room Hand & Foot Spa is newly offering manicures, pedicures, Champagne, and strawberries for a mere $25 (24 W. 125th St., nr. Lenox Ave.; 212-828-6717; through January 24).

47. “Paint your walls yellow, a color associated with cheerfulness and sunlight—not a bad thing in the dreary days of winter.” —Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director, Pantone Color Institute

48. “Surround yourself with things that smell like green apple or cucumber, two scents that have been proved to reduce anxiety and boost mood. Candles, shampoo, lotion—anything.” —Dr. Alan Hirsch, Neurological Director, The Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation

49. “Pause. Allow your neck to relax, your nose to slowly lower, and the crown of your head to rise. Release your whole spine into length. Notice extra tension and release it. Breathe fully and slowly; smile. Begin your morning with this, end with it, use it as many times during the day as possible.” —Mark Josefsberg, Alexander Technique Teacher

50.Take a very different kind of yoga class: one accompanied by a live multipiece dream-jazz ensemble at new Yoga Vida NYC Vinyasa studio (99 University Pl., at 12th St., sixth fl.; 212-995-5553).

Reporting by Molly Bennet, Sarah Bernard, Aja Mangum, and Beth Shapouri.

50 Steps to Simple Happiness