Enjoying each day to the fullest and having everything you want -- impossible, you say? Not at all. We asked our most trusted experts to share their best tips for living a healthier, saner, and more satisfying life. So kick back, cuddle under your favorite blanket, and get inspired to follow your dreams, save money, heal a rift, ask for help, find energy, stay positive, feed your spirit, and much, much more.
Break Out of a Food Rut
You don't have to be a trained gourmand to turn average, boring meals into inspiring creations. Just ask Sally Schneider, author of the "The Improvisational Cook." Her suggestion: "Tackle a few base recipes that lend themselves to many other things. For example, you can transform slow-roasted tomatoes into sauce, soup, jam, or a condiment." If you want to have a little more fun in the kitchen, don't be afraid to make a few mistakes. Plan an experimental night to take an easy recipe that your family already loves and change only one or two ingredients. When things go awry -- and they will --chalk it all up to the learning process. After all, Schneider says, there's always tomorrow night.
Get More Energy
For sure, skimping on ZZZs can make you feel sluggish. But sleep is only a piece of the energy puzzle. The other pieces, says Dr. Mark Hyman, lurk in our cupboards, freezers, and refrigerators. "Fatigue can result from five common food allergies, such as gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, and peanuts," Hyman says. On its own, Celiac disease (an extreme intolerance for gluten) affects an estimated one out of 133 Americans. To figure out if one of these foods is taxing your energy, Hyman suggests a weeklong detox, which he spells out in "The Ultrasimple Diet." Then test the waters, reintroducing the potential allergens one by one. "By eliminating them all and slowly bringing them back systematically, you'll know instantly what makes you tired and what gives you more energy."
Heal a Rift
To put out a fire --no matter who lit the match -- you need to be clear and forthcoming, says life coach and Body+Soul columnist Cheryl Richardson. "One thing that will kill a relationship faster than anything else is unspoken hurt or anger." Before you grab the extinguisher, determine what you ultimately want out of a reconciliation. Pleasant exchanges at the annual holiday gathering? Deep, soul-bearing conversations? Plan to talk to the person you're having a conflict with, but first find an uninvolved person to practice what you want to say. Then arrange a meeting with your estranged friend or family member. Explain how you were hurt, what you want from the relationship, and what needs to change for you to be engaged in his or her life again. Listen with respect to that person's response -- and let the conversation flow. "Our relationships are the most important thing we have," she says, "so they're worth the time and energy it takes to help make them work."
Recycling paper and plastics? Check. Buying compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and sustainable clothes? Check. Now how do you turn your fling with bamboo and low-VOC paint into a full-fledged, all-out green relationship with real significance? Graham Hill, founder of treehugger.com, the go-to blog for all things eco, suggests turning sustainability into a social activity. "We need to do things together within each of our communities to help build a society that's not dependent on fossil fuels," Hill explains. Lead friends and family in a push to buy sustainable, locally grown food, use public transit, and support green initiatives from utility providers --these can all make a big dent in your community's environmental impact. As you spread the word, however, it's best to avoid preaching, says Hill. Rather than telling friends to go to the farmers' market, invite them to dinner -- one bite of fresh-picked produce is more effective than 1,000 guilt-trips.
Follow Your Dream
Having a dream is easy. Making it happen isn't -- at least not always. Career consultant Maggie Mistal says you don't have to suffer a huge pay cut to make your fantasy a reality. Her advice? Multitask. Start your business or new career on the side while keeping your day job to pay the bills. "You may be busier, but you'll be more motivated as you watch your new life take over," she says. Build your resume and gain a head start by volunteering (visit idealist.org for some possibilities). That way, when the right time comes, you'll move seamlessly into a new profession. "The irony is, following your dreams can be easier than not following them," she says. "If you don't, you have to live for a paycheck rather than for your true passion -- and that can ultimately make life seem more difficult." If your current job is anything but fulfilling, revisit your passions to see if you can create a career doing something you love.
Give Stress a Rest
They were the butt of the joke when uttered by Stuart Smalley, the self-help guru from "Saturday Night Live." Kidding aside, affirmations are a powerful way to combat stress. "They bring you back inside yourself instantly, making you calm and focused," says Kathleen Hall, CEO of the Stress Institute and author of "A Life in Balance." If the idea of chanting a self-affirming mantra makes you cringe, consider this: A study published in Psychology Science showed that affirmations reduced cortisol (a stress hormone) responses to stress. Use a positive statement that speaks to your particular need. If your stress is fear-based, try "I'm protected and guided." If you're feeling anxious, think, "I'm calm and balanced." Repeat the words to yourself until you feel your outlook take a turn for the better.
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