To Make Yourself Calmer and Happier, Try Grounding Yourself in Your Body.

Someone smelling a cup of coffee

The COVID-19 situation continues, and at last I’m finding it possible to think about other things, which means I’ve been able to return to working on my next book project.

It’s a book about…what, exactly? How I want to shake myself awake—through the body, the senses. I want to reach my mind through my senses. Instead of thinking about mindfulness, I’m thinking a lot about bodyfulness.

Well, there’s a certain lack of crispness and clarity at the moment, I admit, but nevertheless I love this subject, and it’s a great pleasure and relief to throw myself back into it.

And it’s a great subject for this time.

This pandemic period has many people—like me—feeling anxious, distracted, and disoriented. One great way to calm ourselves is to get grounded in our bodies, through our five senses.

If this kind of project appeals to you, try these exercises—and remember, it’s not enough to go through the motions; they’re useful only when we really throw ourselves into the experience.


  • Go outside and look at the sky. Really notice the colors and the light. (Also, research shows that getting sunshine is great for the body.)
  • Get out a photo album and look at each photo closely. Don’t just look at the faces, but also look at the clothes, the decoration of the room or the outdoor scene. Note how dated (or not) things look. Try to recall the memory of the moment when the picture was taken.
  • Look at an art book.


  • Choose a favorite song, sit down, close your eyes, and listen without distraction.
  • Go outside and listen to the noises you hear. Is it different from what you’d be hearing in ordinary times? Are the birds louder, is the traffic softer, can you hear the wind, do you hear more sirens, are there other unusual sounds?
  • Play an instrument—whether that’s a piano or guitar, or a kazoo, harmonica, whistle, wind chimes, xylophone.


  • Appreciate ordinary beautiful scents—vanilla, grapefruit, clean towels. Smell some black pepper—just consider, in the Middle Ages, a pound of black pepper cost more than a pound of gold; today a pound of pepper is worth about $5, and a pound is worth more than $25,000.
  • If you like perfume or cologne, wear it. For the first several weeks of safer-at-home, I couldn’t wear perfume—I just couldn’t take any extra stimulation. But now I wear it every day.
  • If something or some area of your house is stinky, do something about it. Few things rattle the nerves as much as a bad smell.


  • Really taste ketchup. I’m now a huge admirer of ketchup, which is a super-food that includes 4 of the 5 tastes: sweet, salty, sour, umami—all but the unpopular flavor of bitter.
  • Try other foods, too, such an apple, a cucumber, a cup of coffee.
  • Organize a “tasting”—for whiskey, tea, chocolate, barbecue sauce, vanilla ice cream. Really notice the distinctions among the different samples.


  • Take a shower and focus on the feeling of the water on your body and the lathery feeling of soap or shampoo in your hands.
  • Pet your cat or dog.
  • Squeeze a stress ball or a squishy toy, or rub your hand against velvet.

If you’re interested in thinking about ways to ground yourself in your body, I wrote a post “Give a ‘sensorium gift’—because something we can minister to the spirit through the body.

Or you can listen to Elizabeth and me talk about the sensorium gift on episode 265 of the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.



Like what you see? Explore more about this topic.

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up for our weekly newsletter “5 things making me happy”.

Subscribe to Gretchen’s newsletter.

Every Friday, Gretchen Rubin shares 5 things that are making her happier, asks readers and listeners questions, and includes exclusive updates and behind-the-scenes material.