Even though most Americans are self-professed optimists, we could all use a little mood boost now and then. But how? Researchers in the field of positive psychology have been studying just that. As you might have suspected, it’s our mind that will get us every time! According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California and author of The How of Happiness, one of the biggest mistakes we make to thwart our joy is dwelling on the negative and over-thinking things. Focusing on the positive can help us attain happiness over the long term, but in the interim, her quick fix for when you’re in a funk: distraction, distraction, distraction! If you replace your negative thoughts with positive experiences, you’ll be less likely to brood later. Simple lifestyle choices can help us recharge and beat those occasional blues. Here’s how to make over your mood — no prescription required.
When you’re feeling down, don’t give in to the urge to veg at home alone. Instead, Dr. Lyubomirksy suggests, perk yourself up by seeking out the company of friends. A 2009 study in the journal Hormones and Behavior shows that, in women, feeling emotionally close to a person increases levels of the hormone progesterone, which helps boost happiness and reduces anxiety and stress. But not to worry, men — another study in the American Sociological Review shows you get just as many mood-boosting benefits as women from hanging out with your buds. So get off the couch and go be social already!
We’ve all witnessed the rejuvenating effects of a sunny day. According to Marie-Annette Brown, PhD, RN, author of When Your Body Gets the Blues, sunlight can affect our mood. Sunscreen shields your skin from these happy UV rays — however, you should still apply SPF if you’re going to be outdoors for more than 10 minutes. Light that enters our eyes has a more immediate impact, increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. Dr. Brown recommends going for a 20-minute walk during the brightest part of the day at least five times a week. If you can’t get outdoors, sitting by a sunny window can help. Or consider using a light therapy device for 30 minutes each morning. Look for a 5,000 lux blue LED lamp or a 10,000 lux white fluorescent light with a wavelength of approximately 460 nanometers.
Find Your Funny Bone
Having one of those days where everything goes wrong? Humor yourself by hanging out with a wisecracking pal or renting your favorite comedy. Laughter, or even anticipating a laugh (by, say, waiting for a punch line), may make you not only happier but healthier as well. Researchers at Loma Linda University Medical Center found that joyous laughter can increase endorphins (those feel-good chemicals responsible for the runner’s high), reduce stress hormone levels and elevate your immune system.
Too much stress can do a number on our emotions. If you’re feeling the effects of an overbearing boss, take a hike — literally. Studies have shown that spending time in the great outdoors may ratchet down stress levels. Hiking and camping not your thing? You don’t have to be a tree hugger to get in touch with your wild side. “Connecting with nature by going out and just being in the trees can boost your mood,” says Thomas Morledge, MD, of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Take a stroll through the woods, sit by a stream or have a picnic in a field. Or just get dirty in your backyard by doing some gardening or yard work.
Hug It Out
When you’re in conflict with your spouse or partner, you can bet your level of stress hormones is high. Taking time to unwind and connect with your partner may help keep bickering at bay. According to Louann Brizendine, MD, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, and the author of The Female Brain, physical contact with your significant other can increase levels of the so-called love hormone, oxytocin, which may help keep stress levels in check. It also may help you communicate better with your partner and increase feelings of trust, taking the edge off sensitive discussions. “Holding hands or getting a 20-second hug from someone you love will release oxytocin and relax you,” Dr. Brizendine says.