If you’re seeing something long and challenging, remember that having an alcoholic drink beforehand is asking for trouble. So be sure to do it.
Decorate a room as if you’re a set designer, letting your imagination run wild. As William Morris said, bin whatever isn’t useful or beautiful.
Study your favourite standup and learn their best joke off by heart. It’s not just about making your friends laugh: comedy teaches confidence and communication.
Feeling sad, happy, angry, nervous? There’s a showtune for that! From Evan Hansen to Alexander Hamilton to Mary Poppins, find a character whose feelings mirror yours – then unleash that emotion.
Improvisation isn’t just some zany thing comedians do on telly. It’s a philosophy, as Pippa Evans’ recent book Improv Your Life shows. When you’re thrown a curveball, deviate from your standard script. Instead of “No but” say “Yes and”. Your positivity will be rewarded.
Offer yourself to companies that provide TV audiences, eg SRO. You could see your favourite comedians for free, and hear your own embarrassingly loud laughter when the show airs.
Improve your mood by improving your posture. And what better example than all those upright spines in ballet? The Silver Swans videos, by the Royal Academy of Dance, are aimed at over 55s but could work for anyone. It will be one giant leap not just in stance, but in how you view your body, every single energised bit of it.
Stop idly googling at mealtimes. Go down a better YouTube hole and be uplifted by superhuman spinners. Recommended: Mikhail Baryshnikov’s 11 pirouettes in White Nights, Tamara Rojo’s 32 fouettés in Swan Lake or the uncountable headspins of 14-year-old B-girl Terra .
Learn two lines of a Shakespeare soliloquy every day while brushing your teeth, morning and night. Within a month, you’ll have the whole thing – an entire party piece!
Off on a first date? Ask what would Romeo or Juliet would do. Worried about a presentation? Work out how Mark Antony would handle it. Turning down a romantic proposition? Channel Yelena’s glacial spirit in Uncle Vanya. Want to take confrontations to the next level with your irritating spouse? Think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
When you feel a slump coming on, watch dance sensation Hannah Lowther’s supermarket routines on TikTok. High kicks and twizzles in the tinned soup aisle, all in a Tesco uniform.
Need a timer? Use music instead. Find a song you love that’s the right length, hit play and enjoy the countdown for once.
Put your fate in the hands of a friend whose taste you trust – or even that you’re sceptical about – and ask them to bring you to things they love so you can see the world through their eyes.
Just as interesting as any musician’s imperial period are the times where they got it wrong. Make a beeline for their weirder albums, the ones that history has cast aside – and decide whether the critics were right. Edgar Wright’s comprehensive Sparks documentary is a great primer.
Listen to radio from around the world. There are umpteen apps, but there’s something satisfying about the Radio Garden website, boasting an image of the world you can rotate, in order to find thousands of live broadcasts from anywhere on Earth. Spin it at random, or alight on a place you’ve always wanted to visit – and discover what their daily soundtrack involves.
Make mealtimes more evocative by soundtracking your dinner with music that shares its origins with your food. Lasagne and Nessun Dorma were made for each other!
Explore The Internet Archive’s audio collection, a vast library aiming to give “universal access to all knowledge”. Its fascinating, head-spinning hoard of audio files has got the lot: digitised 78RPMs, hip-hop mixtapes, old rave-era DJ sets, early demo tapes by artists both famous and completely unknown.
Read music writing on Substack. A lot of the biggest newsletters found there are either curated by artists themselves (Tegan and Sarah, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Perfume Genius) or are hyper-specific: “Essays on every Phish show from 1994 onwards.” Sometimes it provides a home for fantastic writers exploring areas few mainstream outlets would consider: Ted Gioia’s Honest Broker blog is an endlessly intriguing, opinionated, eclectic stream of ideas about all areas of music; Nelson George’s Mixtape offers a collation of archive material, playlists and musings (there’s a fabulous evocation of an African-American house party circa 1967 alongside a report of a recent, random conversation in a coffee shop with Outkast’s André 3000).
Never play a song in the car without singing along at the top of your voice. It’s like karaoke but without the hangover in the morning.
Scour YouTube’s archive of music documentaries. We’re living in a great era for new ones, such as Summer of Soul and 1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything. But YouTube remains an unbeatable source, from a 1979 South Bank Show about Talking Heads, to a downbeat 1967 doc about Duke Ellington struggling to keep his orchestra on the road. Then there’s LDN, the definitive 2017 history of UK rap, drill and grime, not to mention every episode of BBC2’s legendary low-budget early 90s indie/dance show Snub TV.
Music festival lineups are so stacked, it’s tempting to create a laminated spreadsheet and plan your day as a series of gigs interspersed with power-walking and scarfed-down pies. But it’s better to slow down. Pick a couple of must-sees, then meander the rest. You’ll come away with some accidental new favourites, and it won’t feel like you’re mirroring a busy day at work. Chill!
Achieve your 10,000 steps plugged into Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, the work Wagner described as “the apotheosis of dance”. It will still be boosting your mood on your 100th listen.
Some operas are easier than others. Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Janacek’s Jenufa and Philip Glass’s Akhnaten are ideal gateways to worlds of wonder.
Seek out Ingmar Bergman’s charming and idiosyncratic film of The Magic Flute. Filmed on a set that painstakingly recreated Stockholm’s 18th century Drottningholm Palace Theatre, with props and backdrops mimicking the opera’s first ever production in 1791 Vienna, Mozart’s fairytale story and its glorious music sparkle afresh in this loving and intimate made-for-TV movie.
Attend a chamber music concert, preferably a string quartet. If the audience seem a bit staid, don’t be fooled. Huge emotions stir beneath polite exteriors when Beethoven gets going. Sit close and let the music wash over you. Chamber music rarely costs much more than a tenner and it’s the perfect balm for a Sunday evening.
Who says clubbing has to be a late-night pursuit? You often get reduced (or even free) entry when the doors open. The floor will be yours to fill and the DJ will still be going for it (or at least pleased to see you).
Alone in the house for a bit? Lie down, close your eyes, crank the volume up to 11 and listen to a classic album in its entirety. It’s what it, and you, deserves.
Explore the catalogue of a band/artist/genre you’ve seen mentioned a lot but have never heard. From Steely Dan to Neu!, from drill to early sludge metal, fortune favours the brave.
There’s more to Discogs Music Marketplace than flogging records. The evergreen database, constantly updated by ardent collectors and dealers, is a goldmine for new discoveries. Type in your favourite album, scan the recommendations and hunt down rare releases and forgotten hits.
If you played an instrument or sang as a kid, go back to it. So what if you’ll never be as good as you were. Doing something incredibly difficult slightly well is still honourable. If you can afford it, send yourself to a summer school like Dartington. You will be rewarded with joy, friendship and the intoxicating feeling of experiencing music from the inside.
Look up! The most interesting bits of buildings are often above you.
Never cross a patterned (ie non-grid) patio without inspecting the craftsmanship. Only two corners should ever meet, as four creates a cross that stops the eye. Look for mortar spills, too (called snot in the trade).
Walk across cold marble floors in bare feet, slide across polished concrete floors in your socks, and always take the stairs.
Open both halves of a sash window. They are designed to create a convection current.
See how many different brick-laying patterns you can spot, from running bond (common) to diagonal basket weave (rarer) to whorled (super-advanced).
Keep your eyes peeled for “vermiculated rustication”. That’s stonework carved to look like its been eaten away by worms.
Buy a fun door-knocker. You’ll smile every time you come home, especially if you’ve painted your kitchen yellow.
Go to the movies alone on a Monday after work. If it’s a fancy cinema, treat yourself to a cocktail. Your attentiveness to the film will be all the better for not being confused with socialising. Communing with a big screen is a great way to start the week.
Visit an elderly relative and show them the BFI’s Britain on Film player, which finds movies by location. Ta-da! Instant nostalgia.
Stick the subtitles on. This is not just about muddy sound – it’s amazing how much neat dialogue is easily missed.
Look up the film you’ve just seen on Movie-Locations. You may have trouble recognising the setting: it’s amazing how quickly and dramatically places change – and how ingenious film crews can be in making use of an environment.
Watch public domain films on YouTube or archive.org. There are early cinema masterworks, such as The Lodger and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, as well as quirkier stuff like Reefer Madness and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Night of the Living Dead is even out there, stalking the internet after its original distributor failed to renew its copyright.
Read the novel a great film was based on. You will then understand the adage that it often takes a bad book to make a good film.
Play Screen Test with your partner. Watch a film in the cinema together, each storing half a dozen factual questions such as: “What was the name of the heroine’s cat?” Then afterwards in the pub, fire the questions at each other.
When you’re on holiday, visit a famous movie location. In Mull, go to the red telephone box from I Know Where I’m Going. In Rome, visit the Trevi Fountain (as featured in La Dolce Vita, although you can get in trouble for climbing in).
Using the iMovie app on your smartphone and the 8mm app that creates faux-Super 8 footage, create a montage of clips of you and your partner walking around looking thoughtful to the music from The Way We Were.
Stay to the very end of the credits in a film. There could be a post-credits sting. Even if there isn’t, the music copyright namechecks are dependably valuable and interesting.
When you go the cinema, just before you are told to turn off your phone, search YouTube and loudly play the music to the old Pearl & Dean advert: “PAH-pah-PAH-pah-PAH-pah, pah-ah-pah-PAH.” Always gets a big laugh from nostalgists in the audience.
Love still lifes but can’t afford a Cézanne? Arrange yourself a lovely bowl of fruit instead. It’s tastier, better for you and cheaper.
Gather together all those self-improvement books claiming Titian Will Change Your Life or Rembrandt Can Cure Your Troubled Soul and then dispose of them.
Want to make yourself giddy with pleasure? Look for those little patches of colour in the otherwise almost entirely white paintings of US minimalist Robert Ryman.
Thank your good fortune that you are not counting grains of rice in one of Marina Abramović’s art workshops.
Plan a trip to a museum in a town you have never visited before in order to look at a single artwork. Do not look at anything else and pay particular attention to your lunch – and, if you are staying over, your dinner too. You will remember your little adventure much better if you eat well and don’t overdo the art.
Nourish your mind but care for your bottom. An inflatable cushion is a wise investment for video installations, which are almost always furnished with hard benches. If there is no seating, lie on the floor and rest your head on the cushion.
If you visit the room containing Rothko’s Seagram murals at London’s Tate Britain, ask the attendants to turn up the lights for a better view. If they refuse, which is likely, use the torch on your phone to illuminate random passages of brushwork, occasionally crying out “Ah-ha!” like Sherlock Holmes finding a clue.
Even if you think you cannot draw, keep a sketchbook handy. Make little sketches, even cartoons, while visiting an exhibition. Write down overheard conversations or, failing that, shopping lists. People will think you are serious and interesting.
Give up your job, raid your children’s inheritance, and set yourself up as an artist in a town where no one knows you. Make deep pronouncements about your art but never show it. Cultivate a reputation as an undiscovered genius. Soon, critics, dealers and collectors will be clamouring at your door. When the time comes to show and tell, say the whole thing was a spoof and that that is your art. Articles will be written, TV interviews conducted, a place in history assured. At the height of it all, slip away and resume your former life.
Pick a partner and stroll the streets like Gilbert and George, the suit-wearing couple whose walks and lives are their art. Keep an eye out for historic graveyards and rude street names.
In a museum, wander without purpose, unfocused, until something snags you or tiredness overtakes you. In front of an artwork, do not try too hard. Let your mind drift. Things will come in and out of focus. Do not be troubled by your incomprehension. Being baffled is good. If you are bored, move on.
Eat like an artist. Out, in other words. For some reason, artists have a heightened appreciation of restaurant grub. Or at least the rich ones do.
Smoke a pipe like Vincent van Gogh, who claimed it was the best way to stay calm and happy. Of course, he was neither so it’s probably bad advice.
Lose entire weekends by spending Friday afternoons drinking absinthe, the lurid green liquor consumed in dangerous quantities by French artists in the age of Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Forget the Da Vinci Code. Adopt the Da Vinci Diet. Repelled by dead flesh, Leonardo was a vegetarian who gorged on beans, accompanied by wine from his own vineyard. All that protein may give you a brain as big as his.
Eat as much cheese as you fancy, in the manner of Michelangelo, especially Tuscan stinkers. Then work off the calories by hammering a large block of marble.
Visit a museum for 20 minutes. Enjoy just a handful of works, absorbing enough beauty and power to give you a lift. A concentrated burst beats an exhausting trawl.
Explore a new artist every week. Look them up online, read a book about them, seek out their work. Not only will this deepen your experience of art, you’ll soon feel more confident in your tastes.
If you’re feeling stir crazy, join a virtual tour of somewhere you’re never going to get to in person. Take a virtual drive along the silk road at St Petersburg’s Hermitage museum, or plunge into France’s Chauvet Caves and peer in well-lit close-up at the miracle of prehistoric art.
Only look at art you love. If something seems massive, boring, obscure or irrelevant, fear not. Most art is! Find what moves you and enjoy that in small doses, often.
Indulge in repeated contemplation. Return to a gallery over and over to look at the same thing. The rewards of “learning” an artwork, playing over it and unlocking it without pressure, are immense. If you need more convincing, read Hisham Matar’s A Month in Siena.
Give yourself a fresh view of the Muslim world with The Muslima Project, a collection of inspiring work created by women. There’s something for everyone: street art from Afghanistan, satirical painting from Iran, women’s football from Zanzibar.
All art is conceptual. Get over it and lead a happier life.
TV and radio
Make laughter a part of your morning routine. The rise in 15-minute BBC comedies (think Zen Motoring or wry romcom Cheaters) makes a quick burst of first-thing fun easy.
Raid the Desert Island Discs archive on BBC Sounds. Everybody needs to hear Maya Angelou’s harrowing, incredible life story. And she’s just one of thousands. Plus, the music choices are shorter on the web versions, a good thing with footballers.
Adopt Curb Your Enthusiasm life hacks. Wear a MAGA cap to repel social approaches, never pause toast, and always jump queues using the “chat and cut” technique.
If the news is too overwhelming or the wittering too tedious on your morning listen, switch to Radio 3’s Breakfast show. It’s fab and won’t send you demented. And on Saturday, try Building a Library (part of Record Review, from 9am). You don’t actually have to build one: just listening to different versions of the same piece discussed is a great way to build up knowledge. Stay tuned for Music Matters at 11.45am.
Lean into the need for a good cry, using trashy YouTube videos of great TV scenes. There’s Will’s dad leaving in Fresh Prince, Marissa’s death in The OC, Homer’s “do it for her” ode to Maggie in The Simpsons. Hankie!
Forget Duolingo. Learn a new language on the sly by watching foreign dramas. That way, you might one day be able to inform a South Korean that they are being chased by a zombie.
Bored with chart-toppers and sick of ad breaks? Switch to grassroots radio stations. For deep sonic excursions and specialist talk shows, try NTS, Worldwide FM and Radio Alhara.
Watch CBeebies. Even if you don’t have kids. It’ll restore your faith in humanity.
Want to read lots of amazing novels but are running short on time? Stick them on Audible at 1.3 speed. But be warned: 1.4 is too fast!
Still taking your phone into the bathroom? Keep a book in there to occupy you during, er, more sustained visits and learn something first thing in the morning instead of doom-scrolling.
Even if you have no ambitions to become a professional writer, take a writing class, especially poetry. It will make you a better, more critical reader, will cure you of embarrassment (after you’ve read aloud your first sonnet, nothing is scary any more) and will find you new friends. It will also improve your everyday written interactions.
Pay a virtual visit to the British Library in London, where you will find beauty, scholarship and historical rarities. In person, you’d usually only see a single page of precious manuscripts in semi-darkness. Online, you can read William Blake’s diaries, leaf through Mercator’s atlas, or examine the draft score of Handel’s Messiah – and all in your own good time.
Make a conscious effort to read a novel by a writer who has had dramatically different experiences from your own: someone from another country, or of a different gender, race or class.
Walk the Birks of Aberfeldy, the glorious gorge trail in Perthshire named after Robert Burns’ poem, which made it famous. Its full of boulders, rockpools and waterfalls but Rabbie’s right: it’s the countless birks, or birches, that make it ravishing.
Add literary sparkle to your day by sprinkling your Twitter feed with poetry. Start with @Larkinquotes and @Yeats_Quotes. More currently, Ian McMillan’s tweeted asides and observations from his daily travels are a joy.
If you’ve got a week on a beach with a few hours a day to really concentrate, forget the fluff and attack that massive tome you’ve always wanted to conquer. Chomping through Roberto Bolaño’s 2066, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate or George Eliot’s Middlemarch will make it a holiday to remember.
Encourage any teenagers in your life to read all the chewy books and see all the arthouse films they can. They have the time and attention span, or at least more so than later in life.
Keep a careful note of what you’ve seen and read, including its impact on you. This will remind you of what you’ve enjoyed and hopefully lead you to other great stuff.
On holiday, read a book to do with your destination: in South America, read In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin; in the Big Apple, try The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster; in Yorkshire, treat yourself to Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
In Grand Theft Auto Online, find a friend, create your own private game, and go for a hike up Mount Chiliad or a long walk along beaches, taking in a sunset. You’ll see a whole new side of the game and won’t have to worry about getting run over.
Be a tourist in your favourite game. Sail the oceans in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, yomp to Jorvik in Valhalla, people-watch around Tokyo in Yakuza. Don’t think about achieving anything. Just enjoy the sensation of being somewhere else.
In a game that lets you dress your character, always choose something you’d never wear in real life but that nonetheless makes you happy. In Animal Crossing, why not walk around in yellow boots and a galaxy-print hoodie?
Rediscover the games of your childhood by picking up an old console and some fondly remembered games on eBay. There’s no better way to transport yourself to simpler times.
Never board a long flight without a Nintendo Switch.
Got a spare 10 minutes? Get into ambient gaming. Make petals drift on the breeze in Flower. Let dolphins pull you through gorgeous oceanscapes in Abzu. It’s mindfulness – with a control pad.
Design your dream home in The Sims, unencumbered by concerns about affordability, practicality, or getting your partner to agree to a feature wall or leopard-skin living room bar.
In Mario Kart, Street Fighter or any other competitive game, play on the lowest difficulty and leave your (computer-controlled) opponents in the dust. It’s the perfect way to feel good on a stressful day.
Put on a soundtrack from a favourite old video game while you work. You’ll be surprised at what memories it brings up.
Forget games with tyre-shredding fast cars. Go equestrian instead. Ride a horse across a desert, through a forest, or up a mountain. You’ll need a game with a gee-gee obsession: Red Dead Redemption 2, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, or Shadow of the Colossus. Giddy up!
Turn the difficulty level down to easy. Nobody is watching.
This article was amended on 26 July 2022. Rothko’s Seagram murals are currently at London’s Tate Britain, not at Tate Modern as an earlier version said.