Happy News for the Miserable

How to win yourself over to the bright side with five easy rituals.

Amanda Jones


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Americans seem to love forced self-care. If you don’t give up alcohol for a period of time, you’re made to feel like a spineless addict. If you don’t lose a few pounds every now and again, you’re supposed to feel icky about yourself. 

Here at Kikoko, we don’t vow to give up anything, and we attempt to drop not an ounce. Instead, we decide to focus on happiness. If you can pull off being slightly happier, you’ll be a lot healthier, right? 

Mental illness has never been more ubiquitous than it is right now. Whether or not you suffer from a diagnosed condition, we’ve all experienced some measure of downturned mood recently. 

And who can blame us? It’s been a shitshow of flopping between hopelessness, fear, panic, feigned calm, rage, denial, incredulity, and very deep connections with the people who matter—and the shedding of those who no longer do. (For a comic take on all that we’ve lived through, watch Death to 2020 on Netflix. Mockumentary madness at its finest.)

Cannabis played a very large role in getting me through 2020. I am not what would be considered a heavy user. I don’t smoke weed (my lungs!), and during workdays I refrain from everything but Kikoko’s microdosed Focus and Calm mints. But post work? I’ve replaced alcohol with cannabis. Well, 85% replaced. Cannabis immediately lifts me out of a funk. I find myself more present with those around me. I have more meaningful conversations. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I sleep more deeply. And I think I’m just a nicer person to be around. 

For another example, take my very conservative 91-year-old mother-in-law. Covid isolation took its toll and low mood and anxiety besieged her. I kept giving her low-dose Kikoko products and she kept hiding them in the back of her cupboard. 

Recently, she called me to tell me that she was feeling so down that she was willing to try it. She drank a cup of Sympa-Tea (3mg THC/20mg CBD) and called me back 30 minutes later. “I love this feeling!” she enthused. “I should have been doing this all along.” I refrained from the obvious retort. 

Cannabis, when sensibly dosed, can help with mood. But the truth is that there are other simple practices that, according to clinical research, make us happier. 

I first heard about the science of happiness when I met Shawn Achor, the guy who teaches Harvard’s most popular class of all time (Positive Psychology 1504). The author of The Happiness Advantage, a popular TED speaker, the founder of GoodThink, and all around happy pundit, Achor researches how our environment can lead to negative thinking, and how we can train our brains toward positive thinking. 

Positive thinking has a myriad of proven benefits, including better relationships, career success, emotional resilience, better use of our intellect, more creativity, stronger health, longer lives, and the list goes on. 

According to Achor, there are  five things you can do for 21 days to retrain your brain to scan the world for positive content rather than absorbing all the negative that’s thrown at us. They are:

  1. Identify three things you’re grateful for. Things like “my house” won’t cut it. Acknowledge more detail, such as: “I’m grateful for the way the sun comes through the front windows and warms the room.” Or, “I’m grateful for the love my husband showed in picking flowers for me.”
  2. Write in a journal. (Yes, you can cheat and write about your gratitude.)
  3. Exercise. It boosts serotonin.
  4. Meditate. However works for you.
  5. Commit random acts of kindness. A study had people write one email a day to praise someone or give them encouragement, which is an easy way to perform kindness.

Admittedly, it took me a while to agree to do these five things every day. When I read that this required meditation and journaling I thought, “Hell no.” 

I found it intimidating to be locked in a room with lotus-legged, blissed out people while every joint in my body swore at me and my mind swung from the ceiling like an orangutan. I mean, who can sit for an hour like that? 

Journaling wasn’t my jam either. I did it for years when I traveled as a journalist. I had to. It was called work. 

But then I did the 21 days and I’ll be damned, it worked. I learned to meditate (lying down), I often cheated on journaling (bullet points work, right?), and I listened to the Happiness Lab podcast during my hikes. But these things, combined with actively practicing kindness and recognizing all that I have to be grateful for, restructured my brain. 

I wish I could claim to be the happiest person you’ll ever meet. I am not, but I do know how to pull myself up by looking for the positive, being kind, and recognizing how lucky I am. 

Try it and let us know.