You can make yourself happier - and this doesn't have to be a long-term ambition.
Over the long term, habits like getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and making time for friends and family make a huge difference to your happiness. But if you're experiencing a blues emergency, you can lift your spirits right now by using some of the following strategies. The more items 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. In the next hour, check off as many of the following items as possible. Each of these accomplishments will lift your mood, as will the mere fact that you've tackled and achieved some concrete goals.
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 one of the keys to happiness, so take the time to stay in touch. Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that socializing boosts the moods not only of extroverts, but also of introverts.
3. Rid yourself of a nagging task: answer a difficult email, purchase something you need, 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 cheer, and you'll be surprised that you procrastinated for so long.
4. Create a calmer environment: clear some physical and mental space around your desk by sorting papers, pitching junk, stowing supplies, sending out quick 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 sizeable 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. An uncluttered environment will contribute to a more serene mood.
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, but something you want to read) or plan a weekend 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; 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.
7. Act happy: put a smile on your face right now, and keep smiling. Research shows that even an artificially induced smile has a positive influence on your emotions--turns out that just going through the motion of happiness brightens your mood. And if you're smiling, other people will perceive you as being friendlier and more approachable.
8. Listen to your favorite music. Studies show that listening to music is one of the most effective ways to boost your energy and mood (second only to exercise). In fact, in one study, 92% of people felt happier when they listened to music they liked. For an added boost, dance around the room, too.
Some people worry that wanting to be happier is a selfish goal. To the contrary. Studies show that happier people are more sociable, likeable, 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. In fact, I think we have a duty to be happy.
Feel happier yet?