What do you do if you’re feeling blue because of the financial crisis? Or if you’re just having an extremely lousy day? Here are nine strategies that can boost your mood right now in a happiness emergency. In the next thirty minutes, check off as many of the following items as possible. Each one will lift your spirits, as will the mere fact that you’ve tackled and achieved some concrete goals; by doing so, you boost your feelings of self-efficacy, which can boost happiness.
1. Boost your energy: stand up and pace while you talk on the phone or, even better, take a brisk ten-minute walk outside. Research shows that when people move faster, their metabolism speeds up, and the activity and sunlight are good for your focus, your mood, and the retention of information. Plus, because of emotional contagion, if you act energetic, you’ll help the people around you feel energetic, too.
2. Reach out to friends: make a lunch date or send an email to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Having warm, close bonds with other people is the KEY to happiness, so take the time to stay in touch. Somewhat surprisingly, socializing boosts the moods not only of extroverts, but also of introverts.
3. Rid yourself of a nagging task: answer a difficult email, do an errand you’ve been putting off, or call to make that dentist’s appointment. Crossing an irksome chore off your to-do list will give you a big rush of energy and relief.
4. Create a calmer environment: clear some physical and mental space around yourself by sorting papers, pitching junk, cleaning a closet, stowing supplies, sending out quick email responses, filing, or even just making your piles neater. A large stack of little tasks can feel overwhelming, but often just a few minutes of work can make a sizable dent. Try to get in the habit of using the one-minute rule—i.e., never postpone any task that can be completed in less than one minute. And always make your bed in the morning! For most people, outer order contributes to inner peace.
5. Lay the groundwork for some future fun: order a book you’ve been wanting to read (important: not something you think you should read) or plan an excursion to a museum, hiking trail, sporting event, gardening store, movie theater—whatever sounds like fun. Studies show that having fun on a regular basis is a pillar of happiness, and anticipation is an important part of that pleasure. Try to involve friends or family, as well; research shows that people enjoy almost all activities more when they’re with other people than when they’re alone.
6. Do a good deed: make an email introduction of two people who could help each other, or set up a blind date, or shoot someone a piece of useful information or gratifying praise. Do good, feel good—this really works. Also, although we often believe that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. When you act in a friendly way, you’ll strengthen your feelings of friendliness for other people. Along the same lines…
7. Act happy: put a smile on your face right now. Research shows that even a fake smile has a positive influence on your emotions—turns out that just going through the motion of happiness brightens your mood. In the same way, a recent experiment suggested that people who use Botox might be less prone to anger, because they can’t make angry faces. If you’re smiling, other people will perceive you as being friendlier and more approachable.
8. Count your blessings. Take ten minutes to think about all the things in your life that are going right, about all the things that other people do to help you, about all the things that you’re thankful for. In the tumult of everyday life, it’s very easy to focus on the negative and to lose sight of what really matters.
9. Perform an action that reflects your values. Do you think organ donation is a good idea? Sign up online to be one yourself; it takes less than a minute. Worried about climate change? Refill your water bottle from the tap instead of buying a couple of bottles throughout the day. The First Splendid Truth holds that to work on happiness, we should think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Living up to your values will help you “feel right.”
Some people worry that wanting to be happier is a selfish goal. To the contrary. Studies show that happier people are more sociable, likable, healthy, and productive — and they’re more inclined to help other people. So in working to boost your own happiness, you’re benefiting others as well.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.