We all have days when we feel a little Grinch-like.
Something goes wrong, we’re late for work, there’s too much traffic, we receive disappointing news—the occasional bad mood makes you human, after all. But if you’ve found yourself in a relentless funk when pulling teeth is easier than forcing a smile, it may be time to make a few simple shifts in your lifestyle.
Now, these proven ways to increase your happiness aren’t only reserved for when you’re a grumpasaurus. These tips for a better mood are just as effective when you’re happy because they support your health on multiple levels. Besides, if you regularly incorporate these tips into your routine, you may never wake up in your Scrooge costume again.
Here are 7 science-backed ways to be happier.
1. Take a Break from Social Media
Now, if you’ve already made that observation yourself, you’re probably not surprised. But when asked to stay off Facebook for 1 week, participants in Denmark not only rated their level of life satisfaction higher, but also reported feeling less worried, lonely and stressed when compared to the control group who continued regular use with social media.
Researchers related the increased happiness to our tendencies to compare ourselves to others on social media.
So, the next time you’re feeling anxious or gloomy, try your best to unplug from social media and technology for the day. It can also help to disconnect from your phone and apps such as Instagram, which also promote comparison and distract you from being in the present moment.
If it’s not realistic to turn off your phone completely, try to avoid checking messages or voice mail until you’ve given yourself a chance to recharge. Which brings me to the next point…
While meditation is found on almost every list of ways to improve happiness, science agrees it’s for good reason.
In a study done on “loving-kindness meditation” (LKM), participants who practiced this form of meditation for at least one hour each week for 7 weeks reported decreased feelings of depression and increased life satisfaction—in which the increased rate of positive feelings directly correlated with the number of hours spent in meditation. But the study also showed that LKM meditation can help sustain feelings of positivity long after you’ve left the meditation cushion (2).
Loving-kindness is a meditation that requires you to focus your emotions and positive feelings towards a person for whom you already feel warmth, care and compassion. LKM asks you to extend the warm feelings to yourself first, and then to others during meditation.
And while it seems natural that the positive emotion evoked by this meditation would increase happiness, the study pointed out that meditation may be an effective tool for combating depression by improving long-term happiness by helping us “outpace” the hedonic treadmill.
The hedonic treadmill is a term used to describe the emotional set point we return to, despite encountering positive or negative events—for example, winning the lottery or becoming paraplegic. As quoted from the study: “The hedonic treadmill, as classically stated, implies that all efforts to improve happiness are doomed to failure.”
But the study’s findings suggest that meditation does, in fact, provide long-term feelings that last beyond the time spent in meditation practice, rather than a temporarily altered state of positivity.
Therefore, meditation can be effective not only for instantly improving your mood, but for preventing negative feelings in the future.
While this study was done on LKM, there are many forms of meditation you can try, such as Vipassana meditation or Mantra meditation. You may simply prefer to sit in a comfortable spot and focus on your breath for twenty minutes, uninterrupted.
Thanks to YouTube and free meditation apps, you can also experiment with different forms of meditation to see what works best for you. There are no shortage of guided meditations and playlists online that you can listen to for free.
3. Be Kind
A recent study shows that helping others is more effective for boosting our mood than helping ourselves.
During a 6-week experiment, the study observed the mood and well-being of those who did random acts of kindness for others compared to those who focused on doing kind things for themselves (3).
The findings showed a greater increase in happiness in those who performed acts of kindness to others or the world, while the test group who engaged in self-focused behavior reported no increase in positive feelings.
So, maybe there’s a gold nugget in the saying that goes “If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.”
4. Jam Out
Having a bad day? Blast the tunes.
Although we probably don’t need research to confirm this (because let’s be honest: who doesn’t feel better after spontaneously blaring Beyoncé), studies show that putting on upbeat music instantly lifts your spirits (4).
So, make sure you’ve got your happiness playlist ready to go for the next time you’re stuck in traffic or angry at your boss—or anytime you need to take a solid breather.
5. Get Sweaty
When you’re grumpy, it’s all too easy to choose a nap or Netflix over a treadmill. But exercise is one of the best ways to improve your mood at a cellular level, because it releases a flood of endorphins—your “feel good” chemicals. This is also why exercise is used as a key component in recovery programs for those suffering from depression and anxiety (5).
Now, tell me—have you ever regretted a satisfying, sweaty exercise session?
.. Didn’t think so.
Since getting motivated to go to the gym can be challenging when you’re in a bad mood (more so than the workout itself), it can help to have a personal mantra to repeat to yourself when you’re unmotivated. For example, my personal mantra for when I’m unmotivated has become JFDI, which stands for “just freaking do it.” And guess what—it works!
While staying home and cozying up to your favorite sweet instead may provide instant gratification, it’s much more sustainable to promote your happiness with exercise. While exercise also provides instant feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction, it also supports your health on several fundamental levels.
6. Be Grateful
While gratitude has almost become a “buzzword,” there’s a reason why appreciating what you have is largely focused on by many spiritual teachers and anyone wishing to improve their mental health.
Studies have also observed an increase in motivation, optimism and a reduction in physical symptoms in those who keep a gratitude journal (5). Whether you prefer to write down what you’re grateful for or reflect without a pen and paper, simply focusing your attention on what you appreciate can be an instant mood booster. But the trick is to feel grateful, as opposed to just thinking about what you’re thankful for. Sometimes when we’re grumpy, it’s easy to be in a state of resistance and initially avoid activities that will generate positive feelings. But by focusing your attention on finding just one thing you appreciate (which could be something as simple as having all of your fingers and toes), you’ll often find the list keeps growing.
As you continue to focus on what’s going right in your life, just try to stay in a bad mood—I dare you!
It can also help to keep a log of the good things you’ve attracted into your life (as you encounter them). This way, when you’re in a bad mood, you can see proof of the good situations that have come into your existence, which can help reassure you that things always improve and get better.
7. Indulge in Nutritious Foods
Treating yourself to a delicious, nutrient-dense meal is one way to squash a bad mood. Not only will you feel good eating a meal that’s in line with your health goals, but you’ll support your mood on a nutritional level.
You see, specific nutrients have been linked to mood regulation, such as omega-3 essential fatty acids and vitamin D (6)(7). And as a precursor to serotonin (your feel-good neurotransmitter), l-tryptophan is another nutrient to include in your diet if you’ve been feeling low (8).
Therefore, you may also want to regularly include foods in your diet that contain one or more of these mood-boosting nutrients in your diet: wild salmon, green tea, egg yolks, grass-fed beef, spirulina, and bananas.
As you can see, there are several proven ways to increase your happiness when you’ve been sprinkled by the bad mood dust. And best of all, they can be conveniently practiced anytime, anywhere, to quickly restore you back to contentment.
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