Whether it’s the short, dark days, a break up, a stressful time at work – or sometimes it’s just because – we all get stuck in a lethargic rut from time to time. Here are some of my tried and tested happiness boosters for this inevitable time.
(Unfortunately you won’t find eating a tub of ice cream or getting wasted at the pub on this list. While I do think there is a time and a place for these things – especially if you’re doing it with your BFFs! – generally you won’t wake up the next morning feeling ready to take on the world again – which is the goal here.) Onwards and upwards…
1. Clean your room / house / kitchen / bathroom.
This probably doesn’t sound exactly fun right now but I SWEAR, this one is a goodie. Your future self will thank you when you’re kicked back in your spick and span space. Get your cleaning gear on, crank up some loud music – I love a bit of Motown or house music – or put on an inspiring podcast and get down and dirty. I mean clean.
Why bother? “Tidy house, tidy mind” says this article on why cleaning makes you feel better. There’s something cathartic about getting your living space in order when other things in your life are feeling chaotic or out of control. Just watch your mood lift along with the dust and clutter.
2. Write Facebook messages to 5 people you’ve been out of touch with.
Why bother? While Facebook lurking can make you feel miserable, several bodies of research suggest that interpersonal relationships are one of the biggest keys to happiness. So use Facebook strategically and to your happiness advantage; reconnecting with friends and family that you’ve lost touch with unintentionally can be hugely uplifting.
3. Do an old skool stretch routine to some old skool music.
Get on your yoga mat – or if you can’t get out of bed, I’ll let you do it there – and stretttttttttttch. Like you would in PE class, and definitely to music. (Choose your favourite 90s tune and then watch YouTube do its magic as it recommends other classics that will flood you with nostalgia!)
Why bother? Stretching releases endorphins and other happiness boosting hormones – a sure fire way to make you feel good with minimal effort.
4. Get a nature fix.
Trees are one of my pillars of happiness – hippy alert! – and if I haven’t been around some in a while I get a bit angsty. I recognise now that when these feelings hit, all I need to do is get to a park and breathe in the magnificent beauts to feel better. For you it might be water or mountains that bring you back to feeling ‘grounded’ – whatever it is, get outside and go find it.
Why bother? There is a fascinating article in the National Geographic called “This is Your Brain on Nature“. In a nutshell, it reveals how nature lowers stress and cites a lot of studies that support this idea. “Compared with people who have lousy window views, those who can see trees and grass have been shown to recover faster in hospitals, perform better in school, and even display less violent behavior in neighborhoods where it’s common… Measurements of stress hormones, respiration, heart rate, and sweating suggest that short doses of nature—or even pictures of the natural world—can calm people down and sharpen their performance.”
5. Go for a walk.
It doesn’t have to be ambitious – aim for just 15-20 minutes to begin with and see how you get on.
Why bother? Walking is super low effort but high on return; it gets your blood flowing, your mind thinking, the sunlight provides a natural ‘lift’ (even on a grey day) and you might just stumble upon something new and exciting on your explorations to get you feeling motivated. If you have a coffee shop within walking distance, brilliant! You can pick up a latte / chai / tea to reward yourself for getting out of the house. And if you go for a walk in nature, you’ll score bonus happy points – see #4.
6. Write a gratitude list.
Writing is one sure way for me to expel a bad mood. Writing out a gratitude list is a double whammy of thankfulness and putting pen to page. It forces me to stop and take notice of all the little things I have to be grateful for, the things that I stopped noticing and taking for granted a long time ago. (And if Oprah says it’s one of the fastest ways to boost happiness, then I’m sold!)
Why bother? The benefits associated with gratitude journalling are insane – just check out this list from UC Berkeley researcher, Robert Emmons, a leading expert on gratitude:
• Stronger immune systems
• Less bothered by aches and pains
• Lower blood pressure
• Exercise more and take better care of their health
• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
• Higher levels of positive emotions
• More alert, alive, and awake
• More joy and pleasure
• More optimism and happiness
• More helpful, generous, and compassionate
• More forgiving
• More outgoing
• Feel less lonely and isolated.
Tip – When writing our your gratitude list, include specifics rather than generals. For example, “I’m really grateful when my husband vacuums without me asking” rather than “I’m really grateful for my husband.” (True story!)
7. Plan 3 days of healthier eating.
When all you want to eat is fried cheese and ice cream it’s probably a sign that you shouldn’t really be eating fried cheese and ice cream. Nourish that beautiful shell of yours; it’s the only you’ve got. Go grocery shopping and fill your basket with colourful goodness (and I’m not talking Haribo) – and be sure to include some relatively healthy treats, too.
Why bother? Too much dairy and sugar can leave you feeling sluggish, out of whack – and often guilty! There is some evidence that sugar and fat cravings are symptoms of hormone imbalances and anxiety – and the problem is that eating more fat and sugar will create more imbalance in your body and more anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle that can have a massive impact on your mood and energy levels (take it from a former sugar addict). Healthy doesn’t have to equal boring or restricted; check out Davina McCall’s sugar free recipes for some ideas on how to get out of the sugar spiral.
8. Watch some inspiring vlogs or listen to a podcast.
There are a tonne of great, uplifting and motivating vlogs and podcasts out there that you can lie in bed and listen to – or put on whilst you go for a short walk. Some of my favourites include:
- Marie Forleo’s Marie TV
- Gary Vaynerchuck
- Happier with Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft
- Rachel Hollis’s Chic TV
Why bother? Some people just ooze infectious energy and positivity. So if you want to “catch” a good mood, the peops above are a good bet.
9. Cook or bake a new recipe.
The British nation has been hooked on watching and imitating The GBBO for several years now – and for good reason. There’s something about being in the kitchen, being creative and making something yummy that you can share with friends and family; an instant happiness booster.
Why bother? A study, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, suggests that people who frequently try small, creative projects (like baking or cooking) report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives. Doing small, creative tasks like cooking and baking made the group feel more enthusiastic the next day.
10. Sort out your wardrobe.
For me it’s not only the tidy drawers and that leave me satisfied after a closet cleanse, but the piles I’m left with at the end of it. One for the charity shop (bit of do goody feels) and one to gift friends or my sister with – both much more worthy homes than the bottom of my chest of drawers.
Why bother? It might seem like an insignificant and somewhat superficial task, but the act of cleaning your closet out forces you to make decisions, create physical space and order – leading to lowered stress levels – and a chance to donate your unwanted items to a better place.
11. Have a really good chat with someone who won’t judge you.
There is value in having a bitch and a moan – provided that getting it off your chest means you won’t dwell on it. If you can’t face getting on the phone / FaceTime, write the go-to girl or guy in your life a long email and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and say how you really feel; you don’t even have to send it once you’re done.
Why bother? Talking – or writing – out your feelings has multiple benefits. You can clarify how and why you’re feeling the way you are, any fears or concerns you have feel less daunting when they’re out in the open, you can let off some serious tension and you can gain another perspective (if you want it).
12. Make your bed!
I first read about this theory in Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. I was skeptical; how could making your bed make you feel happier?! But I love Gretchen’s suggestions in general and knew she would have done her research – anecdotally & scientifically – on this one. And lo and behold, it really works.
Why bother? Since making your bed is one of the first things you do in the morning, it sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s a mini accomplishment that makes you feel in control and less stressed. Crazy easy, too.
13. Do some yoga.
Duh, you knew I’d suggest this one – stick on a YouTube video for 15 minutes and revel in how good you feel afterwards.
Why bother? Yogis everywhere will tell you that yoga really does make them happier. But if you want some scientific backing, researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and McLean Hospital have found that yoga may elevate brain gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels and suggest that the practice of yoga is a possible treatment for depression and anxiety, disorders associated with low GABA levels.
14. Get dressed UP (to stop feeling DOWN).
I know you want to sit in your pyjama bottoms today and mope, but wear something you feel nice in, and a weird thing will happen – you’ll feel better!
Why bother? Research from the University of Hertfordshire (admittedly a very small study) shows that there is a strong link between clothing choice and emotional state. The study suggests that depressed and anxious people choose jeans and a baggy top, while happy people choose dresses and accessories. But what if the opposite is true, and you could trick yourself into feeling happier through your clothes choice? Anecdotally, I don’t doubt this to be true. Put on the dress.
15. Do something you’ve been putting off for ages.
Fix the lightbulb. Post the package. Call the utility company. Eat the frog. I know it feels like the last thing you want to do right now, but trust me you’ll be buzzing afterwards. Your future self will thank you for this one!
Why bother? Want to feel like you can conquer the world when you actually feel like you really can’t? Make yourself do this one thing, and watch your confidence and energy levels rise. Mark Twain says it perfectly:
Bonus idea: Be kind to yourself. This is only a season (metaphorically, not literally!) and it too shall pass*. You’ve been happy before and you’ll be happy again – probably before you know it. In the meantime don’t judge yourself for the mood, just focus on a few of the things above to ensure it passes as quickly as it can. And if you’ve got any other ideas for getting out of a funk, please let me know in a comment!
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*I’m just a layman but I’d like to point out the following: Depression is very different to feeling a but ‘meh’. If you’ve been feeling persistently low for 2 weeks or more, you may wish to seek help and / or treatment. The NHS has a good self assessment tool here.