8 Tips for Feeling Happier During an Unhappy Time.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: 8 tips for feeling happier during an unhappy time.

At some points in life, it’s not possible — or at least not easy — to feel happy. However, even then, it’s sometimes possible to feel happier. By taking whatever steps you can manage to give yourself whatever happiness boost is possible, you give yourself a deeper reservoir to deal with your happiness challenge. Here are some strategies to consider:

1. Remind yourself of reasons to be grateful. When things look really dark, it’s hard to feel grateful, but remembering what’s good in your life can help put problems into perspective. I have a friend who recently suffered a big disappointment at work. She said to me, “As long as my family is healthy, I can’t get too upset about anything.” This may sound like hackneyed advice, but it’s really true.

2. Remember your body. Take a twenty-minute walk outside to boost your energy and dissolve stress. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Get enough sleep. Manage pain. When you’re anxious, it’s easy to stay up late and eat ice cream — and that’s going to make you feel worse in the long run. It’s very tempting to run yourself ragged trying to deal with a crisis, but in the long run, you just wear yourself out.

3. Do something fun. Temporarily distract yourself from the stress, and re-charge your battery, with an enjoyable activity. Watching a funny movie is a reliable way to give yourself a pleasant break, and listening to your favorite music is one of the quickest ways to change your mood. When my older daughter was in the intensive-care unit as a newborn, my husband dragged me off to a movie one afternoon — and that few hours of distraction made me much better able to cope with the situation. Be careful, however, not to “treat” yourself by doing something that’s eventually going to make you feel worse (taking up smoking again, drinking too much, indulging in retail therapy). My comfort-food activity is reading children’s literature.

4. Take action. If you’re in a bad situation, take steps to bring about change. If you’re having trouble with your new boss, you could decide to try to transfer. Or you could change your behavior. Or you could find ways to pay less attention to your boss. Ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem?” It’s astounding to me that often, when I take time to identify a problem exactly, a possible solution presents itself.

5. Look for meaning. Re-frame an event to see the positive along with the negative. Maybe getting fired will give you the push you need to move to the city where you’ve always wanted to live. Maybe your illness has strengthened your relationships with your family. You don’t need to be thankful that something bad has happened, but you can try to find positive consequences even in a catastrophic event.

6. Connect with friends and family. Strong relationships are a KEY to happiness, so fight the impulse to isolate yourself. Show up. Make plans. Ask for help, offer your help to others. Or just have some fun (see #3) and forget your troubles for a while.

7. Make something better. If something in your life has gotten worse, try to make something else better – and it doesn’t have to be something important. Clean a closet. Organize your photographs. Work in the yard.

8. Act toward other people the way you wish they’d act toward you. If you wish your friends would help you find someone to date, see if you can fix up a friend. If you wish people would help you find a job, see if you can help someone else find a job. If you can’t think of a way to help someone you know, do something generous in a more impersonal way. For instance: commit to being an organ donor! When you’re feeling very low, it can be hard to muster the energy to help someone else, but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel. Do good, feel good; it really works.

What other strategies have you used to make yourself happier during an unhappy time?

* I spent a lot of time reading — and looking at the lovely photos — on the blog SouleMama.

* Is your book group reading The Happiness Project? (I know a lot of groups have been waiting for the paperback release.) I’ve prepared a one-page discussion guide for book groups, as well as a guide tailored for church groups, spirituality book groups, and the like. If you’d like either discussion guide (or both), email me at gretchenrubin1 at gmail dot com. (Don’t forget the “1.”)

Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Fenner Kb

    I try to literally get as much light, preferably sunlight, preferably morning sunlight, as possible. I try to find time to walk along water–studies have shown these things to be helpful, and I have, too.
    I do good-for-me things I know will make me feel better, even if I don’t feel like doing them, like exercise, proper nutrition and sleep.
    I avoid downers–literature, film, news, people.
    I seek out uppers, likewise.
    I don’t push myself beyond some baseline maintenance, though– I acknowledge that this is a bad time and I will need to recover from it–I baby myself a bit.

  • The Red Angel

    This is a great post! I always do my best to keep perspective and #1, remind myself why I ought to be grateful. During hard times, it’s so easy to think about what-if’s and should-be’s. When things aren’t going well for me, I think about all the wonderful experiences I’ve had and the amazing people I’ve met. I also try to remember that, no matter how difficult things may be for me, there’s always someone else out there worse off than I am.



    • tanu

      I lost my loving sister in an accident, and i feel so void.i have nothing but pain everywhere. Life seems so meaningless to me, what would i be living for where i cannot make my parents happy any more!!!?

  • Peninith1

    I applaud this great list of suggestions. Sometimes keeping our humanity and dignity and hope depend on the ability to do all these things. I have a friend who recently lost her beautiful little baby son to SIDS. She does all this. And her sadness is still terrible and crushing. But I have faith that continuing to do these things in the most awful states of loss can greatly contribute to bringing us through. Thank you for acknowledging that sometimes you are setting your actions against a great weight of sadness, worry, anxiety, loss or whatever. We are not always ‘for happiness’ as much as we are ‘against despair.’

  • Every Wednesday I post a list of things that inspire me on my blog. That’s a guaranteed pick-me-up. http://joyellebrandt.blogspot.com/
    And I always find something to make me smile at Koralee’s blog, Bluebird Notes. She takes the prettiest pictures!

  • Dfryer

    One thing that works well for me: get out of town. When I’m feeling anxious or blue or struggling with a stressful situation, I take a day trip or one-night trip to someplace a couple hours away. My favorite destination is the town in which I attended graduate school; going there reminds me of the happiest period of my life, a period in which I was growing very quickly, and it always puts me in a more resilient frame of mind. But really, any short trip helps me reframe my situation and recruit more internal energy to cope with it.

    • gretchenrubin

      A very good addition — I’ve found this very helpful as well.

  • SusieQ

    How timely! I live in Christchurch, New Zealand, and my city was devastated last week with an earthquake. I have been at home since, as cannot return to work in the central city while the rescue/recovery effort continues. What I saw as I was evacuated was awful. However I have so much to be grateful for – firstly I am OK, and my friends are all OK. My family all live out of town. My house is undamaged. So I am so much better off than the (at present) 160+ families who have lost loved ones, or the 1000s of families with destroyed houses. The rest of your list will be useful over the next months it will take for life to return to some sort of normality. I am determined to stay in Christchurch and be part of the city as it rebuilds. If you wish to help from a distance, http://www.redcross.org.nz is the local Red Cross helping.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a terrible time! The thoughts and good wishes of people all over the
      world are with you.

  • Adie

    I live in Christchurch New Zealand and we are experiencing the aftermath of a terrible earthquake.All these tips are great for us, as through no fault of our own we are in an unhappy time!
    However, we have much to grateful for and so many people are taking action to help others who are worse off than themselves. One thing which has been great has been the community spirit and connecting with our neighbours, community and country. It is people that matter. We will survive and build on this tragedy. I love the Happiness Project, it has made me think about so many ways in which to be a little happier. Thanks.

    • gretchenrubin

      One thing that everyone noticed — and took great comfort from — here in
      NYC after 9/11 was how much the community pulled together. That is so
      reassuring, even at a dark time.

  • Vanessa@Luxuria

    I write in a Gratitude journal daily. It doesn’t matter how bad my day was, just writing in my journal at the end of the day completely shifts my perspective; it’s impossible to feel sad and grateful at the same time. So it always works for me.

  • I know that not everyone is able to or wants to care for a pet…but having an animal to love is one of the biggest joy-bringers I can imagine. When my heart is breaking – as it has on a few occasions this year – my dog just sits there and lets me cry on his shoulder, until he’s decided that I’ve had enough tears and starts to lick my face. He makes me laugh every day and his unconditional love and joy at seeing me at the end of each work day are really a self esteem-booster! So I would add “love an animal” to your list.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a great addition. There’s a lot of research about how much comfort
      and fun pets can bring.

    • Zupamum

      I whole heartedly agree. If it wasn’t for my two dogs, I don’t want to know where I’d be emotionally! It’s the mutual unc0nditional love and the genuiness of the relationship that is the best!

    • Jane

      I keep reading & hearing how great it is to have a pet…I’ve been procrastinating, but after reading these blogs I’m ready to find a new little pal (dog)..thanks for the reassurance!

  • Katie D.

    Lately I’ve found joy and solace in my car by taking a new-to-me route instead of my usual course. Just adding five minutes onto my drive by taking back roads gives me fresh things to see, and that gives me the perspective that Life has hidden jewels, even in the midst of sorrow. Last week I saw 10 deer in a clearing, the week before that it was a blue heron.

  • I listen to a great podcast called One Extraordinary Marriage, and this week they talked about keeping things going when everything bad seems to hit you at once (sick kids, ailing parents, etc.). Two suggestions really stuck with me: 1) Stop stressing over the housework. It will get done once things have calmed down, and it’s more important to take care of yourself. 2) Actually get out a calendar and schedule sex and/or dates with your spouse. I’m normally not a fan of that, but if you KNOW it’s just not going to happen otherwise during this period, just get it on the calendar and you won’t feel guilty every day about how you’re not doing it.

  • LivewithFlair

    I love number 5. That’s changed my life during a hard time this year. A quote I attach to that is, “Do everything, even the insignificant things, in a significant way.” Here’s what that looks like in real life for me: http://livewithflair.blogspot.com/2011/03/do-everything-even-insignificant-things.html

  • I totally agree about doing something fun, and my criteria is that it has to be free. So, that means ice skating, reading a book on my shelf that I haven’t read yet, knitting with some yarn that’s been sitting in my knitting bag. I also love cleaning out a closet for a quick sense of accomplishment!

  • Sohmberger

    Don’t make things worse than they are. Don’t fight it, but stay in the present moment and don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Those were the most helpful things for me when my Dad passed away suddenly.

    • AdriM

      This is a very very good piece of advice. Im fretting over the fact that my childhood pet is getting old indeed and im trying to see how i will be able to cope with losing him as i am already so upset sometimes. You are just so right, things we cannot avoid are better to be handled as calm and cool headed as possible…. Thanks

  • On a really rough day after my grandfather died, the man riding on the trash truck stopped what he was doing, checked traffic and waved me around the truck. I’m not sure why, but it stopped my tears. When I got home, I wrote the trash collectors a thank you note and tucked $40 inside saying lunch was on me. I ran outside just in time to catch them. Grandpa would have been proud.

  • I make lists. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with stress or despair I just write it down- what’s bothering me and why it’s bothering me. Acknowledging and facing what’s on my mind instead of letting it mull around in my head and letting myself vent totally nips the bad mood in the butt! When I see it on paper, even if it’s massively stressful, it doesn’t seem so bad, or at least gives me permission to “put it in the drawer,” and think of something else for awhile!

    • Jane

      writing things down is great therapy…facing what’s on my mind instead of trying to “run” away from it is very beneficial…
      Thanks for the reminder

  • jenny_o

    These are very sound tips, along with others in the comments. I enjoyed these the first time around, and I’m glad you brought them back.

    I use Ruby’s approach – to write down what and why you are bothered – I find it helpful because it guarantees someone will listen – “someone” being yourself – when you have no one or at least no one who is a good listener. It works!

  • nora m

    i read an article about a woman who lost her brother an how she focused on “there is only love” through the whole process. my mom recently passed away after a difficult fight w/cancer. it really, really helped to remember that phrase “there is only love” through out the whole process – from planning the funeral, being strong during the funeral, comforting my daughters and neices, selecting thank you sympathy cards, and writing each one w/care. in making the whole day/time period focused on honoring my mom – and being so happy that i deep down feel it was the day she would have wanted – amazing to feel happy during this very painful and sad time – but i honestly did……

  • MaGeezy

    This is a good list to keep. I had to write them all down in my Ipod Touch as a reminder for future unhappy moments. It’s easy to miss the silver lining and fall into a downward spiral when you’re unhappy or miserable, so this post should come in handy 🙂 Thanks!

  • These are great advice, though I really wish I can actualize them in real life. Sometimes, seeing the upside and distracting oneself can work temporarily, then I always revert back to the unhappy moment at that time.

  • CAMDad

    Thanks for a great picker upper. So too, your short: The Days are Long, the Years are Short. When my oldest hit 6th grade, I suddenly realized all I took for granted with her would phase out for her as a teen and be largely done in just six short years when she’d be off to college. That is, the “blink” of time it took for her to get to sixth grade from first! I am lucky to have realized it then, for ever thereafter I appreciated all of it – the good, the bad, the loud, the quiet, as it ends all too soon. Today she’s 25 and we still have a great relationship, and so too with her three younger sisters. There were lots of ups and (including a wicked bad divorce from their Mom)downs, but through it all, I strove to keep things good with my girls. My high flying career took a hit, but looking back, my life is so much richer for the change I made. The Years are short indeed.

  • Guest

    9. Maintain a Positive Attitude

    Having a positive attitude means that you will see opportunities where others see either nothing. Negative people may only be able to look at problems, and they will be far less likely to come up with solutions. On the other hand, positive people have energy and energy is what is needed to solve problems.

  • Great advice here. I particular find no.2 effective. Taking a brisk walk around nature really refreshes and releases a lot of stress but also provides a great amount of time/space for thinking or inspiration too. Whether that be to change things about what you are thinking about and having a hard stressful time over (including work stuff!) or just about how you want your life to go and things you can strive for.

  • Laugh When I Can

    I have experienced an overwhelming amount of loss in the last three plus years. My father passed away, my mother is now in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, and my husband suffered a stroke. Financial losses, change of job, all of it has been just…too much.

    In addition to the wonderful suggestions that Gretchen makes, I have found that being direct and asking for what I need has been enormously helpful. It gives the opportunity to family and friends to help where they can. It helps me take action and not have to deal with unexpressed emotion. I just tell them.

    I don’t always get what I need, but asking for what I need and want allows me to blow off steam and move forward.

  • ravendancer

    I totally agree. Connection with any animal is so special. I’m not quite sure what I would do if I didn’t have my 3 cats. They are often a constant source of humour and lightness…especially needed during distressing and upsetting circumstances.

  • LindaCannon7

    In the last 5 years I’ve lost my Mother , my Father, one sister and my brother committed suicide. My other sister fought colon cancer and I’m living with Leukemia, diabetes, COPD and a rare form of inflammatory arthritis, which leaves me in chronic pain. yet I’m happy. Why, you may ask? Am I stupid, delusional?
    Because I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Everytime I have an encounter with someone else, I try and leave them feeling good about themselves. I thank my lucky stars , I’m still here and when I watch my little dogs running and playing with the sheer joy of living, I’m grateful to be around to see it.
    When I start to dwell on all I’ve lost, I try and remember what I’ve gained. More compassion, more joy, and a real appreciation for life. The memories of loved ones gone , sustain me, nourish me and make me laugh.
    Life never goes how we plan, and sometimes you just have to learn to roll with it. And there’s always someone worse off that could use a helping hand.
    In giving, you get.

    • cindru

      I have been feeling miserable for almost 10 years now. I keep crying nearly everyday.I don’t have job, my love life is a disaster, my parents don’t appreciate me in any way.. they feel i am useless, i lost my most loving dog, i keep myself isolated,not many friends just 2 and now even my health is getting affected. As a cycle i to have started feeling I am a loser a sinner and god is punishing me.But after reading about your life I am so grateful. it has showed me that i have been dwelling on what i don’t have all the time but never cherished what i have. thank you so much. I wish i could talk to you. God bless you. thank you so much Linda. Please mail me mail.me370@readiffmail.com

  • Lewis

    This has got to be the best help Ive had yet! ;-D thanx a lot!

  • Oliver

    I’m feeling quite sad. I’m worried that my friend won’t like me anymore. I don’t feel happy. What could be wrong with me?

  • Tyler

  • Tyler

    I constantly am feeling depressed, whenever im not around this…person. I liked this girl for a long time now. I know that im in love with her. I know it, my friends know it…and yes, she knows it. BUT she has a boyfriend. Who honestly, doesnt deserve a girl as great as her. I dont even know IF he knows what he has!!!! Which makes me pissed, and depressed. Now me and this girl are good friends. Despite, we’ve been through a few arguments. Were still great friends. YES that makes me happy!! But… im not with her!!!! And she even told me, “I’ve always saw you as a bestfriend, not really a boyfriend” . My whole point is that when im not around her i am unbelievably depressed and have NO ONE to talk to about it. … I spent the whole 9th grade year in love with this girl…What do i do???

  • Jojo Queen


  • Bex

    I have had some big ups and downs, especially lately, but one thing that makes everything shiny for me is turning to God. Whenever i think that all this is temporary, and the afterlife is HOME, im relieved from every single negative bit of feeling. I feel God loves us more than we are capable of understanding love, and we will go back home, to Him, after the trial, and that makes everything so easy for me.

  • Natasha

    Well the best thing to do is laugh it out!

  • Pingback: 5 Ways To Feel Happier As A Person |()

  • Krish

    I am going through the toughest period of my life…hv a job but m not happy with the place as the person whom i love the most…is not here…i dnt understand y m nt getting the same amount of love and respect from him…idk…really…now a days…m facing all sorts of issues…finacial…physical…emotional…n wht nt…i want to get out of these all…n want to have a change in the life…for the whole day i keep on thinking only one thing that how exactly can I get back…plz suggest me something…plz help…

  • subhalaxmi pati

    Sir I am in big stress due to unsuccessful in my life that only due to anxiety
    I have lot of capacity to do anything but sometimes anxiety attacks me
    So big stress in my life so can u make some tips to succeed in my life

  • Natalie Ang

    Are you having troubles with your self image? Do you wake up every morning flooded by negative thinking? If these issues are frustrating you, don’t worry we have the ultimate solution. This E-book will teach you how to boost yourself image and confidence. Lets start building a positive mindset that will last forever.