Some days, we just feel off. We’re sad, or frustrated, or angry, and happiness feels out of reach. On days like this, simple actions can help us feel better—and might be all we can manage. Here are some excellent ways to boost your mood.
Go outside. Studies have shown that nature calms us and makes us happier. This is the reasoning behind the Japanese practice of “shinrin-yoku,” or forest bathing, which is a stress-relieving activity that’s growing in popularity all over the world. If you have time, try this in your local forest or park; just walk through slowly or sit in silence, breathing deeply and listening to the natural sounds.
But for a quick reset, just go outside, wherever you are. Enjoy the fresh air and whatever trees you can find. If you can get to some grass, take off your shoes and stand in your bare feet. This will help you feel even more grounded and calm. Watch the clouds, listen to the birds, smell the flowers.
Being outside is especially beneficial if the sun is shining: getting sun raises your serotonin levels (one reason why some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression/funk that sets in during winter months when days are shorter). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood; low serotonin levels are thought to contribute to depression. The increase in serotonin happens when sunlight enters your eyes, so don’t wear sunglasses; sit or stand facing the sun (obviously, don’t stare right at it, though!). If you’re concerned about skin cancer or aging, limit your time in the sun to about 15 minutes, and do it in the morning or later afternoon when the sun is not so strong.
A great way to start your day is to go outside first thing in the morning, stand with your bare feet on the ground, and face the sun. Breathe deeply and center yourself. Early morning sunlight exposure can help you sleep better, which will definitely improve your mood. It does this by resetting your biological clock. For this benefit, go outside between 6 and 8:30 a.m., as later sunlight doesn’t have the same effect.
Put on something soft, like a cashmere wrap or super-fluffy socks, and snuggle into it.
Rock in a rocking chair. There’s a reason this is the time-honored way to get babies to go to sleep. It’s so soothing!
Make a cup of your favorite hot drink—tea, lemon water, coffee, hot chocolate—and hold it in both hands, really soaking in that comforting warmth. Sip slowly and savor the flavor as you breathe deeply.
Eat some chocolate, especially dark chocolate. No explanation needed! But it really works, because chocolate contains serotonin and stimulates endorphins (see below).
Exercise—do 10 jumping jacks or run in place for a few minutes, if you can’t take a class or go for a walk or run. Get your blood pumping and endorphins will flow. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that block pain and produce a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. (Yes, dancing around to your favorite music counts!)
Listen to music—whatever you love. Music is a proven mood-enhancer. Sing along if you can—it actually helps you feel better, also. Even if you think you have a terrible voice, give it a try. Singing releases those feel-good endorphins. It also makes you breathe more deeply, signaling your nervous system to relax and getting increased oxygen into your blood, which boosts energy. It’s even better if you sing with a group, either formally or informally; studies have shown that the social interactions and feelings of support you get from choral singing lead to increased happiness.
Get creative. It doesn’t matter if you have “no talent.” Doodle or color for a few minutes to shift your brain and access the joy of creating.
Rub scented lotion or a few drops of essential oils into your hands and breathe in. Lavender is relaxing; peppermint boosts energy and relieves stress; orange and lemon make you more alert and stimulate serotonin production. Vanilla and cinnamon are also proven moodboosters.
Read something inspiring. Keep a book close by and open it at random. Some suggestions: Mary Oliver’s poems, any book by the Buddhist monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, or Wake Up to the Joy of You by Agapi Stassinopolous.
Clean in such a way that it gets your blood pumping, like on-your-knees scrubbing the floor or tub. Not only does this give you the endorphin boost of exercise, but also the sense of accomplishment when you’re done!
Pet a dog or cat. Studies show that stroking, cuddling, or even gazing into the eyes of a pet leads to a rise in oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that is also released during hugs, sex, and breastfeeding. It reduces stress and anxiety levels while increasing feelings of relaxation, trust, and bonding.
Hug someone. Hugging increases both oxytocin and serotonin—as little as 20 seconds of hugging someone will elevate those levels enough for a significant positive impact.
Get a massage. Not only will this help relax your muscles so you can release tension, it will also stimulate endorphins.
Laugh. Especially on days when you feel more like crying, laughter can really help. Laughter reduces anxiety, boosts your immune system, and stimulates the release of endorphins. Studies have shown it can even increase your tolerance for pain.
Laughter is so powerful, people now do laughter therapy and laughter yoga! To get yourself started, watch a funny video online, or a TV show or movie if you have more time. Some classic movies are “The Inlaws,” “Airplane,” “Young Frankenstein,” “His Girl Friday,” “Best in Show,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Producers,” “Raising Arizona,” and “The Princess Bride.” TV shows that are sure to get you laughing are “I Love Lucy,” “Seinfeld,” and old episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus or The Carol Burnett Show. What are your favorites? Make a list one day when you’re in a good mood and keep it handy for emergency laughter infusion as needed.
Or, cry! Go ahead and cry it out. Crying physically releases any feelings of tension, anger, or sadness. A good sob can clean you out and make room for positive emotions. Watching tearjerker movies can help you access those feelings if need be. You can choose ones with a somewhat happy ending so you finish up with happy tears, like “An Affair to Remember,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “Sleepless in Seattle,” or classic tearjerkers like “Terms of Endearment,” “Beaches,” “Love Story,” “E.T., “Ghost,” “Steel Magnolias,” and “Titanic.” “Life Is Beautiful” is an amazing movie, because it’s equally funny and heartwrenching; it’s especially poignant for parents.
The next time you feel out of sorts, try one (or more) of these ideas to lift your spirits.