Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

What Makes You Feel Better?

Filling out medical forms the other day, I came across these two questions:

  • What makes you feel better?
  • What makes you feel worse?

These are the quintessential questions, aren’t they?  They apply not only to our physical well being, but to our emotional, mental, and spiritual health as well.  They empower us to transform the negative into the positive; unhappiness into contentment.

In his book, Adrenal Fatigue, the 21st Century Stress Syndrome, Dr. James L. Wilson offers a similar exercise to determine what contributes to your health and what detracts from it.

He suggests taking a piece of paper, dating it, and drawing a line down the middle.   Write the heading “good for me” at the top of the first column; write “bad for me” at the top of the second column.  Then let you stream of consciousness pour onto the page in a simple list format.

About the “good” things, Dr. Wilson says:

“These can be physical or leisure activities, eating patterns, exercises, relationships, work, family, emotional patterns, attitudes, beliefs, dietary supplements, and any other things that make you feel good and contribute to your sense of well being.”

Most importantly, he advises,

“Do not list things that ‘should’ be good for you, or which you do not really find pleasurable or beneficial.  Do not idealize and put what ought to be good for you.  Reach into your heart and find what makes you feel good and what you love in life.  List all the things that bring you pleasure and add to your life, even if you haven’t done them for a while.”

Following the same advice, next – without reservation –  list what’s “bad” for you in the second column.  If something has both “good” and “bad” aspects, list each of those aspects in their respective column.

Use two or three pages if you like.  Take all the time that you need.  It might take a few attempts till you have a complete list of both the positives and the negatives.

Creating Better Health and Well Being

The next step in the exercise is to examine the items on your list and circle the 5 most important entries in each column.  Then boil it down to the number 1 item for each column.  This may take take some time and reflection.  It’s also helpful to explore precisely why a particular action or attitude is harmful to your well being. This will give you more fuel for change.

  • What’s the number 1 activity or attitude that makes you feel better?  How often do you engage in it?
  • What’s the number 1 activity that makes you feel worse?  How often do you engage in it?  Why is it so harmful to your well-being?

The simple way to create better health and overall wellness is making a commitment and a plan to regularly engage in the top “good” activity on your list.  At the same time, make an effort to gradually eliminate the top activity that makes you feel worse.

Once those actions, activities, or beliefs are firmly rooted in or removed from your life, move on to the #2 items on your  list.  Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to take on too much.  Just slowly chip away at the major offenders.  As you gradually proceed through your list, the positive activities and attitudes will gradually submerge the unwholesome ones.

Be Honest with Yourself

The key in this exercise is to be honest with yourself.  And, to also reflect in a deep way.  It’s not the superficial activities of life that bring true happiness.

But it’s also important to create the relative circumstances that will sustain our health and well being, especially if your health has taken a dive.  Far too often, we resist when illness sets in.  Usually, we try to continue with the same old activities at the same unhelpful pace.

This is a short list of what popped into my mind upon reading the first question, “What makes you feel better?”

Just remembering these wholesome activities and attitudes made me smile and feel better.

The natural question that followed in my own mind was:   “How much time do I actually spend on the positives?”  Once the stream was uncorked, more ideas flowed freely throughout the day to add to the list.

It was also interesting to consider what didn’t appear on my list.  While connection is important to me, it didn’t jump out in my mind on the first go.  I felt isolated in my childhood.  It’s a tendency that still creeps into my life.  So considering what didn’t appear on my list was another way to counter this old habit and give priority to connection and relationships.

Review and Update Regularly

Review  your progress once a month.  Or more often, if you wish. This will keep you on the direct track to feeling better and more whole.  You can always update the list too as you discover more actions, activities, and attitudes that empower you and positively influence your well being.  And of course, you’ll want to add any one’s that drag you down so you can tackle them – in due time – once and for all.

This is a simple, but powerful exercise.  It will help you to get to know your self and stop acting out of old, unhealthy habits and deceptive brain messages.

At the same time, it’s important to hold our preferences lightly.  Being too attached to your preferences can also bring suffering into your life.

Life challenges are also important material for profound transformation.  The idea of this exercise isn’t to create more attachment and aversion, but to discover what creates the most benefit in your life so you can act positively for both yourself and others.

Have you ever done an exercise like this?  Do you know what makes you feel better?  Worse?  Do you organize your life around what makes you feel better?

Image:    wrobell


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  1. hi Sandra – I would put filling out medical forms as one item that makes me feel worse:) Good points here – if we can find the things that make us feel better and do them regularly, we can live fulfilling lives. But we spend so much time doing things that make us feel worse – is it because we can’t say ‘no’ to them?

  2. Hi Vishnu,

    Ha, ha! So true. It would be nice to have an online medical history that we can update instead of having to fill out all those forms all the time!

    It is sad that most of us spend time doing things that makes us feel worse. Why is that? This is an excellent question and one that would be fruitful to reflect upon for all of us no doubt. I agree that our inability to say “no” is likely to be an aspect for many of us. I suspect there are many factors though like fear, for example.

    Thanks for this stimulating question, which will get us all thinking!

  3. Hi Sandra.

    Oooh, I like this activity and it is so applicable to my life right now. Thank you. I immediately started performing it in my mind but I’d like to include this in my “notebook.”

    Currently, I am focusing on generative activities — ones that really nourish all my parts. What I realize is that I may be able to meter my pace but need to be more mindful with the intensity and frequency of these activities. For example, I love to be physically active outdoors and I love to engage with my friends, one-to-one. But too much of these and I’m craving for quiet, reading, yoga, writing, desk work because I start feeling a little buggy! Just today, I started thinking about being more pro-active regarding the composition and balance of activities.

    Your post comes at a perfect time! Thanks so much, Sandra.


    • Susie,

      I’m so happy this exercise resonates so strongly for you. You have a fabulous head start by already focusing on generative activities. Seems like you’ve aced column one. This is a great inspiration for all of us! I hope this exercise can help you fine tune a bit one and find the right balance of activities. Your challenge highlights how even good activities can turn bad for us if we are not fully aware of their impact. Thanks for sharing your process with us.

  4. What a great exercise….
    But I know that when I list the things that are bad for me that list will include one or two of my friends, people that don’t support what I do, who I’m dating or even who I am! Letting go of people is much more difficult than things, even when you know they are bad for you.
    Any ideas?

    • Vishnu

      Jen (and Sandra)- why do things that make us feel worse? – fear, wanting to please others, obligation, tradition, repetition, loyalty, family, friendship…I’m sure there’s more. I like being a loyal person but I think I’ll just have to accept I’m going to feel worse for it. How would we put up with family otherwise? lol Just kidding (somewhat)

    • Hi Jen,

      You’ve raised such an important point! Thank you. This exercise is simple in one sense, but it can also bring out the challenges you mention.

      The first step is recognizing that there are people in your life who aren’t supportive, which you’ve done already. The next step might be to look more deeply at what keeps you in these relationships. Vishnu outlined some possibilities below. Then again, people are often in our life to help us learn a life lesson. You might consider if there’s a lesson to be learned from these relationships. Once you’ve integrated the lesson, it might be easier to let go. The key point is to focus on your own learning rather than on considering the other person as the problem. Creating an intention is also powerful; for example, to release unhelpful people from your life.

      In any case, I don’t think it helps to put pressure on ourselves or to bring things to a sore point. Understanding is always the first step in change and intention is also another powerful aspect. Then finding ways to let go with love instead of resentment will also help. It’s also possible to simply allow these people to be a part of your life, but not to let yourself be negatively influenced by them.

      Those are just a few thoughts. Hope something here is helpful to you. I wish you the best in working through this.

  5. Hi Sandra,
    I’m in the process of trying just to focus on thoughts that make me feel good and find it critical to start with the first thoughts of the day. Unfortunately not all positive thoughts make me feel good. It does seem to work in that it usually raises my spirits and makes for a better day. I don’t mean to say that I walk around in a state of perpetual bliss or euphoria but I just simply on balance feel better.

    • Hi Riley,

      Very inspiring! When we can get down to the level of working with thoughts so much positive change can come into our life. It’s interesting that you find that not all positive thoughts make you feel better. I’m curious about that. Balance seems grounded and positive to me. Euphoria and bliss are usually just passing mental states; ones that I don’t strive for or cling to as best I can.

  6. What a great exercise. Like Susie, I immediately started doing this in my mind. I look forward to doing it more formally. At the top of my “good for me” list would be exercise, yoga and meditating.

    My children are here for the summer. So, I have kind of had to do this informally and whittle the “must do’s” down to the minimum and make sure they get done.

    It has also been enlightening and freeing to me to see that the other things which I feel so compelled to do are not really all that necessary on a daily basis.

    I had a hard time thinking of a “bad for me list,” (good thing!) but, I think, at the top of the list here would be wasting to much time and energy on the computer. I can spend a lot less time I am finding. And, while my kids are here….unhealthy eating would also be on the list, but not normally.

    • Debbie,

      It seems like you are a model of doing this exercise in motion for the past few years! You’ve brought so many of the positives into your life and submerged so many of the negatives. It’s always great to revisit the exercise though and see how much further we can fine tune!

      I’m so happy your children are with you for the summer. It’s wonderful how making time for your children has clarified how all the “must-do’s” are not necessarily “must-do’s”. And also that you are finding that you can spend a lot less time on the computer. I hope you will share your lessons on your blog sometime! This is an area so many of us feel challenged by.

      Thanks for your thoughts. They are always edifying.

  7. What makes me feel better?

    * Eating delicious food
    * Sleeping
    * Water aerobics
    * Biking

    What makes me feel worse?

    * Thinking about the future of this planet

    • Hi Nancy,

      As always, you bring clarity to the question at hand. These look like incredibly fun activities.

      I think so many people feel the same way as you do > thinking of the future of this planet can get them down. That’s a challenging one.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  8. This is challenging to me but a welcome challenge. Without giving it much thought; my positve is living in the present, enjoying now, my negative is thinking about the past and rehashing it over and over.

    This post comes at a difficult time for me and is a great reminder for me that it is the presence I live in and it is a good time, what was in the past is done with and is not part of now.

    Definitely going to work on my lists.

    • Patricia,

      This is a simple exercise, but not necessarily easy! I understand why you feel challenged, and am glad you welcome the challenge. Your spontaneous list really cuts to the core in a profound way! At the same time, it’s not easy to let go of this age-old habit of following after thoughts. I’m your partner on this profound path. May your practice of being in the present flourish.

  9. Hi Sandra,
    Interconnection isn’t high on my list of things that make me feel better, either! There are definitely days on which the cat ranks higher than the spouse — human relationships are just more work. My list is primarily solitary; sitting at the potter’s wheel with clay up to my elbows, baking bread (or reading while waiting for it to rise), going for a walk in the woods, reading a novel from cover to cover.

    The list of things that make me feel worse is short, but the top one must be comparing myself to other people. Followed by going to the dentist.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      It think it’s the case that some of us are more introverted than others. I too really value solitude and feel there are many benefits in have the guts and capacity to be on one’s own. In my own situation though, I see there’s a sense of disconnection that I would like to heal to some degree.

      Comparison is deadly! Great reminder. Thanks for your thoughts.

  10. I love the way this was inspired by questions on a medical form! This sounds like an excellent exercise and I’m going to try it. The closest thing I’ve done to something like this was The Passion Test. That process helps you identify your top five passions, and outlines steps for making them priorities in your life. Excellent way to become more aware of where we put our energies. Thanks for this–I bet I’ll find some surprises. Did you?

    • Clearly, it’s not your typical doctor although he is a medical doctor! Thanks for the tip on the Passion Test.

      I was a little surprised that blogging didn’t pop into my mind. I do enjoy blogging and having these wonderful connections on the internet, but it was first on my list. Then of course, it was interesting to see what I didn’t include!

      It will be interesting to see what your surprises are!

  11. My gut reaction to those to questions are:
    Feel better right now: Acceptance
    Feel worse right now: Rejection
    I guess I’m coming from the writing/publishing world which proves to be far more stressful than I thought. It’s almost like a 24/7 cloud that is not easily pushed away.

    • I feel for you, Sonia! Hope and fear can be the worst enemies and they certainly come to the forefront in the writing and publishing world. I know it’s not easy. If you can master this, you will be able to teach us all. Good luck!

  12. Hi Sandra, this is a great idea for me! I’ve been doing this informally because I’m trying to better understand the triggers for my symptoms. I don’t always see a pattern in them. I think it would be very helpful for me to write things down so I don’t forget, and also to make sure I’m not spending too much time on the “bad” list and not enough on the “good” one.

  13. Hi Jennifer,

    I’m so glad you’d like to try out this exercise. I really empathize as I’ve found it very difficult to trace all my triggers. Biochemically, I have different types of reactions and reactions in different systems so it can really get confusing. Good luck. I hope this helps. I’d like to hear what you discover if it’s helpful.

  14. What makes you feel better?


    What makes you feel worse?

    Not writing!

  15. You are so clear, Jonathan! Actually, writing often makes me feel better too. Thanks for that reminder.

  16. Hi Sandra,

    I have never given this exercise much thought. But I do see the wisdom behind it as it helps to identify actions and beliefs that are good and harmful for us.

    I would suppose that communicating with someone I love makes me happy and I try to do it regularly, almost daily in fact. It is the connection with the person I love that matters.

    Worrying would have to be the most harmful activity for me because it distorts my perception of reality and clouds my judgment and effectiveness. With this clarity, I can take steps to address this issue so that I will feel better overall.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier

    • Hello Irving,

      I would have to agree that worry is a counter-productive. I appreciate the way you explain that it clouds your judgment and effectiveness and distorts your perception of reality. I’ve never heard it explained like that.

      Of course, we can’t go wrong with love!

      Thanks for your contribution. Be well!

  17. Hi Sandra,

    your excellent post reminds me of a saying by Judith Delozier that many of the pathologies of modern age can be attributed to internal dialogue, foveal vision and excess tension.

    By dropping these 3, we can come much more into the Now and experience things as they are.

    – We can breath into our belly, and really witness every tension in our body to relax.
    – We can widen and soften our gaze to be much less selective about our usually so focussed attention
    – We can pay full attention to our senses, especially our hearing in order to let go of our “eternal soap opera” in our head.

    Thanks for a great articles,


    • I like this threesome, Jonas! Thanks for sharing it with us. I don’t know what “foveal vision” is but I definitely get widening and softening our case and not being overly concentrated. These are three wonderful approaches to practice.

      • Hi Sandra,

        sorry, I am currently very much reading about perception, so I didn’t even notice how jargony I sounded 😉
        “Foveal vision” is focussed vision with the central area of our retina – the fovea. The oppositve of foveal vision would be peripheral vision.


  18. Dear Pawula,

    Lot of people think smart but they still worry, Nature never allow the bad things to grow up forever, it is only take time to show the bad things a punishment.
    Think smart and allow nature be with you forever.
    Nature = good things = right things=beautifull things=forever things=pure things=bright things=clean things=etc.


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