Nineteen Tips for Cheering Yourself Up — from 200 Years Ago.

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

I’ve posted this list before, but I love it, so am supplying it again. I read it in a biography of the English writer Sydney Smith, in Hesketh Pearson’s The Smith of Smiths. 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 — “attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you” for example, is thoroughly modern. A few, though, are amusingly odd. It might be tougher today to work “good blazing fires” into everyday life.

My favorites are #1, 3, 6, 13, 15, 16, and 17.

“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 your 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.”

What rings true for you?

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Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • There’s nothing quite like a stoked fire in my little wood stove, a nice cup of tea, kids tucked happily in their beds, a good book, and the knowledge that I managed to cross a couple things off the list.

  • This was exactly what I needed today. Thank you. Thank you. Thank YOU!

  • qconklin

    My favorites are #8, 16

    it is interesting to note that views have only really changed on one of these subjects and that one only because it is stated so broadly hear #12. A lot of people recommend music to lighten a bad mood to day.

  • Vicki

    I like no 4 too – another way to say live in the now.

  • How very wonderful. Thank you, Gretchen.

  • Sheila B.

    I don’t think No. 12 is helpful. Certainly it’s a really bad idea for us music lovers! Music makes me very happy. And avoiding poetry would mean giving up Dr. Seuss, my favorite poet!

    • cabbage

      it says to only avoid those things (stories, music, etc) that don’t end in active benevolence… everyone wants a happy ending!

  • This is probably my favorite HP post EVER. I keep a copy thumbtacked to my bulletin board at work, and another copy in my bedroom At home. Although I am a musician, so I can’t avoid the music. 🙂

  • Joan

    #10 works for me – compared to people in Haiti, my woes are pretty slight.
    Also #14 – nothing like a brisk walk on a sunny day!

  • LauraK

    Thank you for the tip list, and your consistently wonderful blog! I am currently up to “August” in your book, part sad that I am past halfway, but enjoying every bit of it. I also read a blog called “Half Full: Science for Raising Happy Kids” that I think you might like. The author is a sociologist who examines various social science research for the purpose of indeed raising happy kids. ( Between your two blogs, I have a great dose of happiness daily! I just thought you might be interested if you’ve never heard of it.

  • hdiwan

    #2, I profoundly disagree with. A hot shower makes my day go better from the minute I step in.

  • Virginia

    Number 12 is a bit suspicious no? In fact in a recent discussion on how to get yourself out of a foul mood, , music was high on the list of methods.
    It seems to me that the fact that he was writing to a woman, 200 years ago, influenced his list.

  • I particularly like 4, 12 (especially about sentimental people, but generally the idea that those things that stir up strong emotion that doesn’t lead to good action are pretty well worthless and can be damaging), 14, 15 and 18. We have that good fire stoked even as I write. 🙂

  • mrhapoyhimself

    you are an idiot. I could be much happier if you would go away.

    • Connie

      Its people like you mrhapoyhimself, that make the world a sad place. Butt out of our happy space.

  • jenny_o

    #13 – “Do good”

  • pamwalter

    These are precious! I can see where many of them would work to lift one;s spirits.

  • Kerlitom

    Hi! I do love the idea of the project and I would like to participate by quoting you evry now and then. My blog is: As I´m in different student organisations so different ppl take interest in my blog, quoting you and the project would be like advertising without any extra expenses for you. What you think of the idea?

    • gretchenrubin

      You are always welce to quote me — just please link back to the
      original. Thanks for your interest!

  • #12 – if you read it all the way through, Smith adds “…not ending in active benevolence”. He’s warning against gloomy stuff, not against music, poetry etc.
    And #18, my favourite – “keep good blazing fires”. There’s evidence that humans were using fire 300,000 years ago. These days, I agree, for many of us it’s not easy, but the words can be taken as a metaphor.
    Keep good blazing fires – in your spirit.

    • Sue

      I noticed that too, and I agree wholeheartedly. Blazing fires and happy endings! Bliss…

  • This is a fun post! Love the language they used that basicalyl says what we’re saying now. Cheers!

  • Neat list of (mostly) sensible suggestions of how to cheer yourself up from 1820!

  • Sally

    This is the Happiness Project at its best. You find wonderful people with wonderful thoughts, in unlikely places we would never find ourselves. Keep it coming!

  • Number 16, definitely. And number 10. Usually I compare myself and then get depressed and sit idle.

  • Keep good blazing fires – YES, that will definitely keep me happy through WI winters.

  • Rose Ann

    Yesterday,I bought your book ~ “The Happiness Project”.
    Looking forward to reading it because I have enjoyed my Wednesday tips so much.
    As for today’s tips ~ (#12) I could never avoid music. I sing for funerals in our church & it has always been a comfort & healing tool for the families & friends that come to mourn.

  • Going for a nice long walk. 🙂 That always makes me feel good. It’s why I start every day out with one.

  • MoC76

    Nice ideas, thank you. My options: coffee, a nice book, a bubble bath (with lavender scent), a walk in the forest, a piece of cake with a nice hot late … And for sure spending time with the loved ones 🙂

  • What a great list…thank you!

  • phoenix1920

    #17 is the most important for me because I violate it too much. I find #19 interesting, especially as it is phrased.

    As to his advice on music, 200 years ago, there was not as much variety. I find most of the music from that generation to be quite sad or melancholy. I don’t read this advice on this point to exclude all music (and other similar pursuits) but to focus on avoiding those that don’t make your spirit soar.

  • I think I need this list tattooed on my arm. Thanks for posting this again 🙂 It really helps to re-read it from time to time.

  • I think #2 would just make me mad… 🙂
    Great list!

  • EvaEvolving

    Gretchen, #17 speaks to me. Don’t under-estimate yourself! It’s such good advice.

  • taxdiva

    nothing beats a blazing fire in the fireplace! We try to make a habit of having one every night and the entire family ends up in front of it, doing homework or projects. By the time there are just embers, we are talking.

  • Fun and funny! #1, #8, #15 for me.

  • I’m all about the blazing fires!

  • i like number 14 , it certainly can make me feel better 🙂

  • Teresa_0222

    Wow, these tips only prove that the search for happiness extends beyond boundaries and time — and the ways to achieve it, timeless. 😀

    Thank you for sharing them! #s 1, 6, 13, 16 & 17 struck me most.

    Living as you dare takes courage and strength. Seeing much of your friends whom you respect and like and vice versa brings laughter and comfort. Striving to do good never goes out of style. Fighting against idleness is key to being productive and preventing boredom. Doing yourself justice is not without its perks and tends to give you fulfillment. 🙂

    P.S. Check out and learn how to gain happiness by finding your own piece of heaven wherever you are.

  • Gretchen, I love this list and am “borrowing” it for my blog. As an aspiring writer of novels set in early 19th C. this is a propos.

  • Interesting. 5th point rings true for me – being busy just makes me completely happy! 🙂

  • jmcalla

    #2 – shower. Instead of taking a slightly cooler shower I take a hot one and at the end when I am turning off the water I give myself a short burst of cool water to feel refreshed.

    #10 – I don’t agree to compare your lot to other people. I always try to refer to #5 and keep as busy as I can. I volunteer to help the less fortunate and remind myself that i don’t have it that bad. Any predicament I might be in doesn’t compare to no food, shelter or adequate clothing.

    • gretchenrubin

      I think that’s exactly what’s meant by #10! Compare your lot with other
      people, and realize how fortunate you are.

  • Yst

    I like 5 and 12. Especially 5, I find keeping yourself busy, you no longer have time to get upset and depressed. This is wisdom that a friend of mine whom got diagnosed with bone cancer (now recovered!) preaches.

  • Leslie

    Lovely list – isn’t it interesting how little the basics of happiness change over time?

    I don’t know about #13 though. Certainly doing good brings happiness, and I think we should try to be pleasant to persons of every degree, but I can think of very few things that have brought me more unhappiness than trying to please everybody. Maybe he meant we should be pleasant, and I’m just misreading it in the older language.

    Otherwise I think my favorites are pretty much the same as Gretchen’s, with the addition of 18 – I only wish it were practical!

  • Stacey

    So who was dear Lady Georgiana?

  • melanielgarrett

    Most days from late September to mid-April we manage the blazing fire, but his 12th commandment would definitely have me swinging by a rope in no time. Poetry, drama (but NOT comedy) music, serious novels, melancholy, everything likely to excite feeling or emotion…these are some of the things which make me most happy in this life. To live without them..well, why bother?

  • Lori L

    Very good advice indeed! I am indulging comedy, upbeat music and taking things a day at a time–at least till the unpleasant medical challenges abate.

  • It is cool how there are many similarities to what advice may be given in today’s age, it is just that the language is presented differently.

  • just another sheila

    Music is great if you start with music that fits the way you feel at the moment and then gradually work your way to more cheerful music. Granted, this is much easier to do in the age of iPods than it would have been 200 years ago, unless there was a musician in the family who was willing to help out.

    Happy sappy music right off the bat isn’t helpful for me at all if I’m feeling blue, and it can be quite jarring. But if I start with a melancholy tune in a minor key and then work my way gradually to tunes in a major key, I find I feel uplifted by the time I am done, and I’m ready to face the world again.

  • Erica

    Two things got to me:
    6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you.
    7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you.
    First I count this as one – 6 and 7 – The last two weekends I spent with friends who I have known for what seems like a life time who are always there for me. And it felt great! Amazing even! And I even spent time with some who just put a smile on my face.

    Second one:
    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.

    How true- when I feel down I feel as if I channel the thoughts and feelings of others and from books, movies, and music. I started reading books on positive attitude and my attitude changed. Also as much as it is important to share your feelings with your friends sometimes it is best to get away from the ones that are going to make you feel worst and unhappy.
    When I was unhappy I felt like a downer on everyone to a point that I decided to give my friends a break from my bad attitude for two weeks. I came back refreshed with a new attitude and a promise to be positive and fun to be around.
    And I am sticking to it! lol – 🙂

  • MLHE

    I like #20. When you ask someone to believe you—after you’ve given them tips to be happy—you’re actually saying, “I’ve taken a leap of faith and instead of an abyss, I found trust. Follow me!”

  • MLHE

    I like #20. When you ask someone to believe in what you’ve said, you’re actually saying, “I’ve taken a leap of faith and instead of an abyss I’ve found trust and truth. Follow me!”

  • melvinhassan

    Ongoing Happiness is attainable.
    Read ” A guaranteed Formula for Happiness”. “A State of Grace – ongoing happiness”.
    Author: Melvin Hassan
    This book has changed the lives of many and may very well change yours, too.

  • Atticus Hamilton

    I just have to comment on how beautifully written.. beautifully phrased these tips are.

  • Not sure

    I’m not sure about #8. (“Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely—they are always worse for dignified concealment.”) That’s obviously not consistent with St Therese’s approach of taking care to “appear” happy.

    I’d agree that you can share with close friends that you are in low spirits, but even then I wonder how “freely” you should go on about them. Both in consideration of your friends and also in an effort to boost your own spirit, you probably don’t want to focus on it too much.

    And I’d think one definitely would not want to “freely” share low spirits with social acquaintances who are not close friends. I remember a picnic where I saw a friend of a friend who had gone through an awful personal experience a couple of months previously. I greeted her with “Hi, how are you doing?” She replied “Crap.” She then proceeded to tell me how bad her day had been so far, all without injecting any humor into it. Nothing really terrible had happened to her that day. It was more a case of missed subway stops and train delays etc. That experience with her, and other similar ones, did not make me inclined to develop the relationship further than the acquaintance level, despite her attempts to do so.

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  • m65

    #12 – if you read it all the way through, Smith adds “…not ending in active benevolence”. He’s warning against gloomy stuff, not against music, poetry etc.
    And #18, my favourite – “keep good blazing fires”. There’s evidence that humans were using fire 300,000 years ago. These days, I agree, for many of us it’s not easy, but the words can be taken as a metaphor.
    Keep good blazing fires – in your spirit.


  • I liked #5! “Be as busy as you can.” I also like how #7 is a continuation of #6, like an after thought. And I don’t agree with #10 at all! Seems today we’re encouraged to do the opposite.

  • OurGalFriday

    I get cold easily and often run a space heater in my office for that reason. Could that be my blazing fire?