When it comes to getting happier, little things mean a lot. The mood pick-me-ups below are quick, easy and drug-free. They might not solve every problem in your life, but they can help keep a bad moment from turning into a lousy day, and that can put you in a better frame of mind for tackling the big stuff.
#1 Play a sad song
One of the fastest ways to boost your mood is with music. From “Happy” to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” some choices for your cheer-up playlist are obvious. But based on a recent study from the University of Kent in England, even a beautiful, sad song can lift your spirits when you’re down. The key is to listen with the intention of feeling better. So pop in your earbuds, close your eyes, focus closely on the tune and make a conscious effort to improve your mood.
#2 Warm up
When you’re feeling lonely or rejected, spending time with warm, caring family and friends can ease the pain. If that isn’t an option, several studies have shown that holding a heat pack, drinking hot tea or taking a warm shower may be an effective substitute. The brain seems to link the sensation of physical warmth with warm, fuzzy emotions.
#3 Stand up straight
Mom was right: Slouching is bad, and not just for your back. Research has shown that sitting or walking in a hunched-over posture with your eyes cast down is associated with feeling unenergetic, hopeless and helpless. In contrast, holding yourself up straight with your eyes aimed forward is associated with feeling more energized, positive and empowered. To really pull up your spine and perk up your attitude, find a private spot, and try skipping or marching with your head held high.
#4 Take it outside
It’s no coincidence that a cheerful disposition is often described as “sunny.” Numerous studies have found a link between exposure to sunlight and a more vibrant, positive mood. Getting sunlight early in the day seems to be particularly beneficial. Even better, going for a brisk morning walk combines the mood-lifting effects of sunlight and exercise. If you’re stuck inside, sit near a window, and open the blinds to let in some natural light.
#5 Flash a smile
Being happy makes you smile, but smiling may also make you happier. In one clever study, volunteers did stressful tasks while holding chopsticks in their mouths in specific ways. The chopsticks forced their facial muscles into a neutral expression, a slight smile (using only the mouth muscles) or a big smile (involving both the mouth and eye muscles). Those who “smiled” were less affected by stress than those who didn’t. In the real world, putting on a happy face also draws people to you, and that helps you feel cheerier too.
#6 Browse your photos
Close family and friends can support you through life’s tough moments. When they aren’t there to do it in person, snapshots can serve as stand-ins. Research conducted by a British psychologist showed that looking through personal photo albums led to an 11 percent improvement in people’s mood, compared to 1 percent for other mood-lifting strategies such as eating chocolate and watching TV.
#7 Count your blessings
Gratitude makes you more aware of all the things you have to feel happy about. Researchers have found that it’s associated with positive emotions, life satisfaction and optimism. To focus on grateful thoughts, make a list of three to five things that you’re grateful for today. Or write a thank you note to someone who showed you kindness, explaining how much it meant to you.
#8 Try speed thinking
Need to shake off the doldrums? Think fast. In research from Princeton and Harvard Universities, volunteers did tasks that made them think quickly, such as brainstorming rapid-fire ideas, reading at a fast pace and watching a TV clip on fast forward. Thinking fast increased their feelings of elation and creativity. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why this works, but it’s similar to the racing thoughts and euphoric highs experienced by people who are manic or using stimulant drugs — just dialed back to a healthy, controllable level.
#9 Pocket good thoughts
When you’re faced with a challenge, jot down some positive thoughts about the situation. Then fold up the paper and put it in your pocket, wallet or purse. A study showed that students who tucked away their thoughts for safekeeping were more heavily influenced by them, compared to students who tossed the papers or kept the papers on their desks.
#10 Plan your getaway
A study of more than 1,500 Dutch adults found that vacationers were happier that non-vacationers, but only before their trips. Afterward, the happiness advantage quickly vanished as life settled back to normal. To keep the excited anticipation going, always have something fun in the works you can look forward to, whether it’s a weeklong dream vacation or a Saturday in the country. When you need to pep up your mood, spend a few minutes researching your destination online and making plans. Then close your eyes and imagine the fun you’ll have once you get there.