Nineteen tips for cheering yourself up — from two hundred years ago.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 19 tips for cheering yourself up—from two hundred years ago.

While reading a biography of English writer Sydney Smith, Hesketh Pearson’s The Smith of Smiths, I stumbled across this letter. In 1820, Smith wrote a letter to an unhappy friend, Lady Morpeth, in which he offered her tips for cheering up.

I have my own variety of tips lists for cheering up, and I was interested to hear what someone from two centuries ago would recommend. Most of Smith’s suggestions are as sound now as they were almost 200 years ago – though a few are amusingly odd, and it might be tougher today to work “good blazing fires” into everyday life.

“1st. Live as well as you dare.
2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75 or 80 degrees.
3rd. Amusing books.
4th. Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.
5th. Be as busy as you can.
6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th. Make no secret of low spirits to you friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th. Compare your lot with that of other people.
11th. Don’t expect too much from human life—a sorry business at the best.
12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th. Make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness.
17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th. Keep good blazing fires.
19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana.”

A thoughtful reader sent me the link to PocketMod, which shows you how to make your own mini-personal organizer. I can’t wait to try it out myself.

Check out my new one-minute internet movie, Secrets of Adulthood.

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Some things never change. The majority of that list, with a little updated English, is perfect advice even today. We may have advanced in technology, but at the end of the day we all are still human beings.

  • My favorite is #12 – “Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.” Too many people immerse themselves in negative media. I have found much happiness by avoiding news based media, particularly television and the nightly news. It is hard to be happy when you are lamenting over all the negative things reported around the world. Watch a comedy and laugh alittle. Better yet, turn off the TV and go outside for a while.

  • It’s interesting how timeless several of these tips are. I imagine many of them will still work in another 200 years!

  • FlowerGirl

    Thanks for this wonderful list, Gretchen…
    I’m going through an almost astonishly bad time in my personal life right now, so reading this list was so helpful in terms of reminding me of things that *I* can do to make myself feel better. I particularly like items 4 & 8. Sometimes taking a long view of life is overwhelming; so much easier to focus on just getting through the next few hours. And sharing my problems with my closest girlfriends has brought so much sympathy, support and laughter my way, at a time when I’d have been crying all day if left to my own devices.

  • fuz

    If we think metaphorically, “keep good blazing fires” is just as relevant today. Many motivators and self-help gurus (such as Jack Canfield or James Arthur Ray) will tell you that acknowledging your passions and having goals to work towards each day gives someone purpose and thus happiness. Those “blazing fires” could be a desire to strengthen your relationship with someone or to artistically create something. And well, making sure that they are “good” fires alleviates those self-destructive or unhealthy passions.
    Just a thought.

  • AndreaC

    ‘avoid poetry’ Lol, that’s my favourite!

  • bonnie

    I found this blog a month or so ago, and I have really enjoyed reading the daily posts and wandering through the archives. Thank you, Gretchen.
    And I love Pocket Mod! It has saved so many of my holiday and vacation-prep weeks from chaos. Plus, it’s like a quick, easy origami project. Fun!

  • Thank you for this list.
    It is amazing how many of these still come into play today.
    My favorite is #18 – Keep good blazing fires!
    The hardest for me is #8 – I tend to hide it if I’m feeling down.
    I’m not sure what #2 means – I prefer a very warm bath or shower.
    An I’m really am not a fan of #11. It seems to go against positive self-talk.

  • This truly is evergreen advice that we can apply to our lives, 2 centuries later. 🙂
    Gretchen, please note that the link to your inspiring video is broken.

  • I love the last item. What a good friend.

  • 21. Smile. It confuses people and makes you feel good, even though you’ve very little to grin about.
    22. Be honest. We’re all wired to get ahead of the competition, so we lie, cheat, scheme to get to the top. Surprisingly, being honest can be very liberating. Makes you feel good about yourself, even if the honesty involved is simply confessing to taking money out of the cookie jar.

  • Jessica

    Gretchen, “Keep good blazing fires” reminded me of your revelation that you were usually cold and that taking remedies to stay warm greatly increased your happiness.

  • I loved “Short views of human life—not further than dinner or tea.”
    That reminded me of pro-cyclist Sean Yates’s life philosophy: “I just get on with the day to day.”

  • Just been perusing your blog the last few weeks and I love it 🙂
    Interesting how relevant this list still is, although I have to disagree with the 10th (for me at least). I can get into trouble comparing my lot to others.

  • I liked the first advice the best- I just wish I dared MORE. Didn’t like 5, nor 11- though there’s some truth to them both. In general, good advice, and I wish I could live by them- just have to keep reminding myself to do it.

  • Ron

    This list goes to show that no matter how technologically advanced we get, we still deal with the same human nature. The really big questions of human exsistance have not been solved by science or technology.
    I’ve been doing a series of videos on how to change your emotions using your body, your focus, and next week your beliefs some may want to try.

  • sue

    I love the PocketMods! Thanks so much for that link.

  • Ning

    Thanks for the PocketMod link. Have gotten as far as creating one for me and my two daughters. Mine has more task list and theirs have the music charts for downloading notes from YouTube. Couldn’t resist the games, though :-)I think it’s cool.
    Have been sharing your site with all my friends. I think everyone can use a little happiness everyday.

  • Joy

    It may not be very popular, but I liked #11. It gave me an unexpected laugh (the best kind!) I live in a small cottage in rural Ireland, so on this rainy afternoon, I’m going straight out to the woodpile and build the biggest fire in my fireplace I can. I had forgotten the pleasure derived from the overwhelming warmth of a fire and contentment of watching flames. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Enjoy that fire, Joy. 🙂
    This has got me thinking. I need to get my own life back on track right now. I have a few weeks to enjoy my free time before grad school starts up again come fall. Although I will not be taking a cooler shower/bath anytime soon.

  • jade

    I love Pocketmod – I used that format for many-a-project in grade school! It’s SOOO cool that someone actually made this into a useful, printable, customized service! What a fresh idea 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  • Leslie

    I took a cooler shower today due to having a sunburn on the back of my knees. It was actually quite pleasant, and I suspect changing things up a little in any way is enough to disrupt any negative thinking. For example, you can think of how nice it is to have that warm shower and not take it for granted.

  • Cal

    Hah – love the PocketMod

  • Nick

    Well I still feel like crap… Nice try though.

  • I liked #17.

  • Lila Pisces-Medna

    Hi Gretchen,

    I’ve just been reading your book, “The Happiness Project”, and it helped me to recognise the patterns that have me stuck in a rut, and to do something about it.

    It also has me taking chances on the unfamiliar- one small thing- I was listening to my ipad this afternoon, and due to slow reaction, I became frustrated and clicked on something accidentally. A song I was unfamiliar with begun to play. Usually, I would’ve continued to be frustrated, but I gave it a chance, and calmed down. It turned out I had discovered something on itunes radio called “Spin The Globe”. It’s a music station which allows you to favourite songs, and plays songs from all around the world!

    I’ve since discovered a new favourite band.

    Thanks so much,


  • Muhammad Zubair

    I agree with most of the points in the list.May be we should add something about emotional intelligence,mindfulness and meditation in this list.

  • Allam

    I agree with the list especially point # 12 avoiding music and other dramatic representation etc..

    Actors and singers are making billions $ every year out of selling you fake emotions
    and by steeling your sad/personal moments .. Absolutely correct !

  • Carole K.

    Be rational in your religion. I like that. I would be careful with #13 however. I like his advice to engage in activities and with people who uplift you. To me that sounds natural but I guess we all need reminding.
    What interesting places you go for inspiration, Gretchen. Thanks for this.

  • jason

    Ending is the beginning. And beginning is there ending.