Come Friday, you're ready to relax and recharge -- but too many of us sabotage our weekends by cramming in a month of chores or going zombie in front of the TV. Either way, the weekend is a bust. If you want to feel truly refreshed by Monday morning, take to heart the findings of a study showing that in addition to eating, relaxing, and sex, women enjoy themselves most when they're socializing, engaging in spiritual activities, and exercising.
To make the most of your weekend, be sure to pencil in one activity from each category, and let the rules work for you.
Use Your Social Network
Even if you cherish "just for me" time, organize at least one weekend endeavor where you can bring along a friend.
"Feeling connected and loved are among the biggest predictors of happiness," says Cassie Mogilner, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who specializes in happiness research.
Another bonus to socializing? It encourages us to spend our time and money on experiences, which research shows make us happier than material objects.
"When something is sitting on your shelf, you get used to it very fast," says Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, the author of The How of Happiness. So plan a Saturday-night outing to a play you've read about, or sign up for a cooking class with a pal. You'll enjoy the advantages for weeks or months to come.
Feed Your Soul
The more frequently that people attend religious services, the more content they are, according to a 2008 study in the Journal of Economic Psychology. Faith and prayer, regardless of religion, satisfy a basic need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves -- and it turns out that volunteering can have a similar effect. "People derive a lot of pleasure from helping others," says Lyubomirsky.
If prayer and volunteering aren't for you, try meditation or a restorative yoga class instead. New research shows that spiritual practices, such as regular mindfulness exercises, can actually change brain structure in a way that promotes a sense of well-being. So as a part of your weekend, set aside some time for prayer or meditation, or volunteer to spend an hour or two at your local animal shelter. It'll lift your spirit—literally. (Find the right feel-good fits for you with Meditation To Match Your Personality.)
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Break A Sweat
"Exercise sparks the release of feel-good endorphins, but it also satisfies something more profound: the human need to perform and excel. Exercise helps you feel like the captain of your own ship," explains Lyubomirsky.
Although any fitness activity you enjoy is good, you'll enhance its benefits even more by taking it outdoors. A review of 11 studies published in Environmental Science & Technology found that people who exercise outside feel more energetic and are more inclined to keep at it. This is good news, because the rewards of physical activity are cumulative: The more you exercise, the clearer your mind. So as you arrange your weekend, schedule a trail walk, a bicycle ride, or a Sunday-night dance class with your partner. You'll close your weekend energized and ready to tackle the week.
Compress Your Chores
To avoid having your to-do list take over, carve out 2-to 3-hour blocks for errands. "It allows you to say, 'There's a time for chores, and it's not that time,' " says Cassie Mogilner, PhD. Also consider whether there are things you can outsource -- or ignore. Can you get your groceries delivered? And does the living room really need to be vacuumed once a week?
After a week of making decisions, channel surfing can seem like just what the doctor ordered, but TV is less enjoyable than we think. Sociologists at the University of Maryland found that unhappy people watch 30 percent more TV than very happy people. Limit your Web surfing, too, since it comes with the added peril of checking work e-mail, which may invite stress into your time off. (Can't miss your shows? Try our Couch Potato Workout.)
Rethink Sunday Night
Research shows that we remember unpleasant experiences as significantly worse if we expect them to recur, which may explain why so many of us ruin Sunday evening by dreading the week ahead. Instead, plan one of the above activities for Sunday night: You'll fall asleep with a fond new memory -- not a crash of nerves.
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