Want To Feel Happier by the End of the Day? Your Menu of Options.

Do you need a happiness boost—right now? If so, take a look at this menu of options and make your choices. Remember, the more you tackle, the bigger the boost you’ll receive.

When you’re feeling blue, it can be hard to muster up the physical and mental energy to do the things that make you happier. Plunking down in front of the TV or digging into a tub of ice cream seems like an easier fix.

However, research shows (and you know it’s true) that these aren’t the routes to feeling better. Try some choices below. The more you push yourself, the better you’ll feel; but if you can’t tackle a big task, just do something small. Even a little step in the right direction will give you a lift.

According to my ground-breaking happiness formula, to be happy, you need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. What’s dragging you down? Is it a lack of fun, of connection? Do you feel a lot of guilt, boredom, or anger? Do you feel that something’s “not right” about your life? Do you feel stagnant or stuck? Focus your efforts on the choices that will do the most to address what’s not working in your life.

Your menu of choices — commit to doing as many items as you can:

__ call or email one of your closest friends
__ call or email three friends to whom you haven’t spoken in a while
__ track down an old friend who has drifted out of your life

__ add a fun thing to your calendar
__ better, add a fun thing to your calendar that involves other people
__ best, add a fun thing to your calendar that involves other people doing something outside

__ think of a subject that you wish you knew more about (be honest! something that really interests you!) and spend 15 minutes on the internet reading about it
__ take a step toward acquiring a new skill that you want – research Italian classes in your neighborhood, investigate Photoshop
__ if you absolutely can’t think of one single subject that interests you, visit two bookstores (one huge chain, one independent) and browse until some book catches your attention – and buy it

Do good, feel good
__ sign up to be an organ donor, and remember to tell your family
__ give $25 or more to a worthy cause
__ sign up to volunteer or participate in an organization

__ walk around the block
__ do ten jumping-jacks
__ go the gym or go for a run

__ clear out the space around your computer
__ clear out a closet
__ walk through your house with a garbage bag, and clear clutter until the bag is full of trash; then walk around again and fill a new bag with things to be given away; repeat

__ make a dentist’s or doctor’s appointment that you’ve been putting off
__ reach out to a family member whom you’ve been neglecting
__ make something right: apologize, confess, repair, replace, or return something you borrowed

Nagging tasks
__ clean out three old emails that you haven’t answered
__ stop off at the drugstore to buy supplies you need
__ stop off at the hardware store to buy supplies you need
__ fix something broken

Good citizen
__ Throw away someone else’s litter
__ Be helpful to an elderly person or a person with small kids
__ Be friendly to a store clerk who seems grouchy

__ Reflect on the following quotation, from Marjorie William’s The Woman at the Washington Zoo:

We could hear her friends pull up to the curb. As her momentum carried her to the top of the stairs, Alice looked back and tossed me a radiant smile. She had become my glimmering girl: She looked like a rock star. She looked like a teenager. She looked absolutely stunning. She thundered down the stairs in those shoes, and as the front door slammed behind her, it came to me—what fantasy I had finally, easily entered this Halloween.

I’d just seen Alice leave for her prom, or her first real date. I’d cheated time, flipping the calendar five or six years into the future. The character I’d played was the fifty-two-year-old mother I will probably never be.

It was effortless.

Editor’s Note: A month after Marjorie wrote this, her oncologist concluded that there was no further treatment to recommend. Marjorie died, at home, on January 16, 2005, three days after her forty-seventh birthday.


__ Reflect on the following quotation, Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, June 4, 1940:

We shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender; and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.

__ Reflect on the following quotation, from Thomas Arnold, diary, June 5, 1842:

[Of reading the newspaper] “So much of sin and so much of suffering in the world, as are there displayed, and no one seems able to remedy either. And then the thought of my own private life, so full of comforts, is very startling.”

At the end of the day, look back on your list. Did you hit all the items you checked off? Do you feel happier?

  • Love this checklist, Gretchen! I recently picked up your book from Anthropologie read 100 pages the first day. I’ve integrated several of the techniques you described in the first couple chapters and have found the “do it because you want it done and don’t wait for someone else (or nag, ahem) to do it.” My boyfriend and I had to break into our own apartment a few weeks ago and in the process destroyed two screens. Every time I saw him move them instead of take them to Ace Hardware I’d cringe. Last weekend while he was out of town, I was reminded in your book that… uh, hello Kelsey! Do it yourself! Seems a bit trite, but really I could relate and your nudge totally helped and left me satisfied. Anywho, little anecdote for your Wednesday afternoon. 🙂 Cheers 

  • I love how practical this list is. My best friend is great at giving me these types of tips. He often catches me as I’m about to slide into a downward spiral and gives me similar assignments. I’m sharing this list with him!

  • Ana

    I love most of these suggestions (have checked off a couple to do today, its one of those days!)
    However, the quote from Marjorie Williams (which I had read before), as beautiful & meaningful as it is, really is hard to get past; how do I read and experience that tragedy and go “fix something” or “organize my desk”.
    I do not generally shy away from reading/watching sad stories, I think there is something profound to be learned from how others have survived and thrived through challenging or even down-right depressing situations.
    But…I do try to avoid them when I’m already feeling down!!


    I’ve just stumbled on this after a very bad day – if only I’d come across it earlier.  But it has prompted me to arranged to meet a good friend for coffee tomorrow.  At least I am now pre-armed for the next terrible day at work.

  • Peninith1

    Greatchen this is such a ‘keeper’ that I have just printed it out for frequent use! This is the most powerful thing about your book and blog–it gives us things that we can DO RIGHT NOW to make this moment and this day and our lives better immediately. It is those right here and now things that add up to a big difference over time. Thank you again.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that my work resonates with you! Thanks vert much for
      your kind words.


  • Hold on a minute – isn’t it possible that we can feel happiness no matter what is going on in our life.  Does happiness have to be tied to “actions.”   Sure we are all wired with that understanding but where had it gotten us?  When things go well we are happy and when things don’t, we “lose” the happiness.  Would we not then equate happiness with ourselves.  Maybe that’s why so many people get depressed when they loose their ability to act according to their expectations. 

    Ed Fox

    • Ann

      If current standards of treatment for mood disorders are correct, Gretchen has it right. Mood follows action more than the other way around, and while it doesn’t have to be anything huge, something as simple as a going outside or a quick e-mail to a friend can be a boost. Even if it doesn’t help right then, it will help the next morning, because in taking such actions, we create a thing that has gone well, and it applies in surprisingly extreme situations.
      In terms of demographics, I’m in a totally different place from Gretchen. I’m disabled in a painful, debilitating, ultimately fatal way and the divorced mother of a teenaged son whose “Oh, he’ll grow out of it!” problems turned out to be ADD. I am also, needless to say, broke.  I can’t donate blood or my organs, I can’t go for a run and I don’t have an extra $25 kicking around, but I just printed Gretchen’s list because while some of her specifics are beyond me, the general idea holds. Checking off even one can create a high point in a hard day, and her undoable suggestions suggest others that are doable. I can’t be an organ donor, but I can drop a bag of outgrown kid clothes at the thrift shop.Gretchen, thought you’d like know that concerns about your project applying to people outside your demographic were mostly unfounded. I think the only things we have in common are that we’re white and mothers, but I’ve been following your blog for some time and this is not the first of your lists I’ve printed. In a fascinating way, your book resembles the Rule of Benedict, my other happiness how-to. I don’t know about prisons, homeless camps or group homes, but I know that when I get to bed earlier, clean up a mess, finish a project, keep my temper (huge with an ADD teen!), budget for small but potent indulgences or go outside even just to sit, I’m happier, even though none of these things will make the big stuff go away.

    • I totally agree with you Ed. A person can feel happiness no matter what is going on in their life, and it doesn’t have to be tied to actions.

      Sometimes I can be just sitting quietly doing nothing and get this overwhelming feeling of happiness and joy with nothing going on around me and I’m not even thinking of anything in particular.  Just me sitting still. It’s an *I’M SO GLAD TO BE ME* kind of feeling.

      I read somewhere that’s how Buddhists define real, true happiness. That kind of feeling. It’s like the highest point of happiness would be feeling that way 24/7. 

      • gretchenrubin

        This is so interesting. I wonder if this is an area where people have two
        approaches: action-oriented and non-action oriented (what’s a better term
        for that?) I find it easier to work on my happiness by undertaking specific,
        concrete actions — not by directly thinking about my emotions or by
        cultivating times of non-action. But I hear from so many people, as here,
        who make the case for a different approach.


        • This is just amazing. I agree with you. Thanks for sharing.

        • Ann

          I am not sure the approaches are all that different at the core. 

          There’s an  old Buddhist story about a young monk who believes he has reached Enlightenment and asks his abbot what to do, at which point the Abbot asks if he’s eaten. The young monk says yes. The Abbot tells him, “Then wash your bowl.” Both action, and frame of mind. I think it just depends on which aspect of the process one needs to emphasize. You can reach enlightenment by washing your bowl, or wash your bowl out of a state of enlightenment.

          Really hope my paragraphs come through this time!

  • Taylor

    I’m going to print this list (or something quite like it) and post it up to remind myself. So often I get stymied in habits it’s hard to remember how many different things can contribute to my happiness.

  • Love the menu idea! One of the things I love about it is the action-plan format. That, I think, is the most important thing to do, more than any particular task, is to take action, do SOMETHING, move, clean, call, walk, learn, practice, serve, anything!

    When people get depressed, as you say, inertia seems to be the default setting we all go to. But it is thje exact opposite that is needed to jar the mind and redirect the thoughts toward happier ways of thinking and behaving.

    Excellent post!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that it resonates with you.


  • Great post.  Thanks for all these reminders!  I love the practicality of having a list to choose from.

  •  Thanks for the list Gretchen. It reminds me that i have fun finding friends from social media sites after long break and it makes me feel better.

  • Such a simple & do-able idea to have a menu of happiness options. I think I’m going to make my own and stick it on the fridge (everything important always goes on the fridge!). The Marjorie Williams quote is beautiful and tragic and heartbreaking. And so effective at crystallizing priorities.
    Kim Foster, MD

  • Aneta

    Dear Gretchen! 
    I’m from Poland. I don’t speak English very well, but I try to tell you what I felt, when I read your book. It’s new in Poland. It was amazing experience. It’s unbelievable that you know what id good for you and what give you happiness. I’m looking for that! In past I was great friend for everybody. I was happy, I laughted all the time, I liked people. Now I’m lonely person. People piss me of and I don’t want to see anybody. 
    I like read the book and listen pop music and now I know that is ok! Because I LIKE IT! Thanks! You give me a lot of to thinking. 
    Today (23.06) is my birthday and I’m thinking about my life A LOT! I want to know what give me happiness. I will try to find this. Wish me lack! 
    Great book! 
    Lots of love from Poland!

    • gretchenrubin

      Happy birthday, and good luck with YOUR happiness project!


    • Juli

      Poland is a place that makes me happy.  I took a tour of Eastern Europe and visited Krakow.  Lovely, lovely.  Saw the fantastic salt mines, too.  I want to move to Poland when I retire. 


  • Jen


    Thanks again for enriching my life.  Jen

  • Ann in the UP

    I love the list too, and want to compliment you on all the tasteful and helpful ways you have been promoting the book.  I first read a library copy, then bought a copy for myself, then used a copy as a give-away on my blog.  It is so practical and helpful.  I, like you, was already pretty happy, but my life has improved in many ways since I made changes and did some self-examination.  Thanks!

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that it has been helpful.


  • Al Pittampalli

    This is helpful, Gretchen. I especially like the suggestion of finally making the dentist appt. I’ve been putting off. That’s been subconsciously bugging the heck out of me!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes. I put off things like that for months, then the dreaded task ends up
      taking about 45 minutes total. Why wait???


  • Jmann

    I think that this is the best post you’ve ever written!  I remember reading several, if not all, of these things over the last two years that I’ve followed your blog, but it’s great to see all of them in a list (I’m a huge list dork!).  I’m going to print this out and keep it handy for those days that I need a boost.  Thanks so much!

  • Great list! However, I do think that watching TV can boost happiness–sort of. Sometimes watching something on TV can get me out of my own head, which is all I need to get out of a funk.

  • Nadine

    Gretchen I think you missed something for yourself…you need to add Pottermore.com to your bookmarks, it is a new website created by J.K Rowlings for the Harry Potter addicts!  (opening soon)I suspect it is going to make me very happy.

    • gretchenrubin

      JUST checked it out! so psyched! though I really wish JK Rowling had a new
      book about to his the shelves…


      • Nadine


  • Gretchen, this post is NOT work appropriate–unless it’s okay to start sobbing at your computer screen after reading that Marjorie Williams quote.

    Excellent, excellent post.

    I’m off to tackle that nagging task now (scheduling my child’s well check).  

  • Anne Shirley

    So helpful, THANK YOU!

  • Ammelia Pratley

    I am quite thrilled to see the menu of choices…many which I am already practising. They all worked! I try to remind myself to do at least 3-5 items a day.

  • ValentineBlacker

    The things in the ‘Challenge’ section are all things I do when I procrastinate. Maybe I get interested in new things a little too easily.

  • Marlaysmurphy

    This posting was awesome!  This checklist is not only a keeper, it is one to live by.  I will be printing it out to follow on a regular basis.  Some is too much for daily, but I think that if I incorporate it weekly, my overall quality of life will be so much better.
    Thanks for such a POWERFUL reminder

  • Eline

    Excellent post. Checked off 1 item and I already feel a little better! Thanks!

  • Thanks for the quick list. I especially see the power of going outside and connecting with friends. Plus, it is sunny. Time to get out and play.

  • Lisa Medley

    Oh you KNOW nothing is gonna get us going like a CHECK LIST! Now if only you could pass me a nice new pen to use on it 🙂 Love it!

  • Thank you for citing Marjorie Williams, and her wonderful book. She’s one of my heroes, and I love her book.

  • Sherri Williams

    I’ve done a similar thing, except I wrote the items on little slips of colored paper, rolled them up into tubes and put them in a jar. I call it my “Personal Projects Jar” since most of them are little organizational or creative projects I really want to get done around the house but never seem to allow myself the time to do. My plan was to every once in awhile when I need a break or am feeling stuck, give myself half an hour to pick an item out of the jar and do it. I had fun making the jar, but need to work on using it more often! I love the “Menu of Options” too, though, because you can easily scan the list for a simple, easy thing you can do right now.

  • mom2luke

    Such a great post, esp. the gratitude quotes. Wondering: How did I miss this post 6 years ago? Where was I six years ago? busy working, mothering, watching the years race by… not working at the moment and grateful for the extra time that gives me for what’s most important.
    Power of envy makes me so so jealous that you’ve managed to squeeze in a trip to Cuba in addition to all your writing/podcasts/blogs/posts! I know your secret: Only an upholder could manage all you do, Gretchen. Meanwhile, questioning (as a questioner does) enviously, and wishing I could form more good habits to find the time to do all you do. Have read all your books, which help, but as you mentioned in The Happiness Project, sometimes our striving to be happier leave us UNhappier, hopefully only temporarily.
    But these are good options.