The next time youâ€™re having a bad day (or week or month) take heart: you can perk up your mood quickly and simply. According to experts, life circumstances account for only 10% of happiness. Half depends on your genetic â€œset point,â€ which is kind of like the weight your body bounces back to after a crash diet. And about 40% of your happiness is influenced by what you do deliberately to make yourself. Here are a few easy tricks to try:
1. Flip through Old Photos
When youâ€™re feeling down, break out your kidsâ€™ baby albums or pics from your favorite vacation. It may actually make you feel happier than a square of chocolate would! Thatâ€™s what researchers at the United Kingdomâ€™s Open University found after they examined how much peopleâ€™s moods rose after eating a chocolate snack, sipping an alcoholic drink, watching TV, listening to music, or looking at personal photos.
The music and chocolate left most peopleâ€™s moods unchanged; alcohol and TV gave a slight lift (1%), but the winner by a long shot was viewing pictures, which made people feel 11% better. To keep your spirits high at work, upload your favorite pics to your computer and set them as a rotating screensaver. Or splurge on a frame that flips through digital photos; amazon.com has plenty of options at a wide range of prices.
2. Munch on Nuts
Or sneak salmon into your salad for lunch. Theyâ€™re both packed with omega-3 fats, which may make people less prone to depressionâ€”and easier to get along with, say researchers from the University of Pittsburgh. They measured the blood levels of omega-3 fats (a reliable indicator of consumption) of 106 healthy adults and gave them psychological tests. Those with the highest omega-3 blood levels scored 49 to 58% better on the tests than those with the lowest blood levels.
3. Inhale a Calming Scent.
In an Austrian study, researchers wafted the smell of oranges before some participants and lavender before others. The two groups felt less anxious, more positive, and calmer when compared with participants who were exposed no fragrance at all. Add a few drops of either oil to a room diffuser (we like the Scentball, available at amazon.com) and use in your office on stressful days.
4. Open Your Shades
To feel happier in seconds, let the sunlight stream in when you first wake up.
One study of more than 450 women found that those who got the most light, particularly in the morning, reported better moods and sleep. Got more time? Eat breakfast near a window that gets plenty of daylight, and put exercise equipment near a bright view. Some researchers speculate that combining exercise with morning light exposure may amplify lightâ€™s beneficial effects on mood, sleep, and alertness, says Anthony Levitt, MD, a University of Toronto light researcher.
5. Clear Away Clutter
For some, â€œclutter is a reminder of things that should be getting done but arenâ€™t,â€ says Elaine Aron, PhD, author of The Highly Sensitive Person. â€œIt can make you feel like a failure.â€ For a quick fix, straighten up a few surfaces in your office or in the areas of the house where you spend the most time. â€œItâ€™s when every bit of space is messy that itâ€™s most disturbing,â€ says Aron. Donâ€™t bother to organize unless you have a chunk of time. Instead, arrange papers, books, and other detritus of daily living in neat piles or store them in baskets. â€œJust the illusion of order is enough to ease the mind,â€ she says.
6. Think Fast
Turn your thoughts into a raceâ€”it can lift the blues in minutes, says Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin, PhD. For example, when your mother-in-law is driving you crazy, give yourself 30 seconds to make a list of all the ways sheâ€™s been helpful to you in the pastâ€”youâ€™ll feel better fast. (If nothing nice comes to mind, quickly jot down other ways she bugs you; speed thinking negative thoughts can still improve your mood, Pronin found.) Researchers believe that rapid thinking may release feel-good brain chemicalsâ€”or it could just be a helpful distraction.
7. Cue Up YouTube
Stanford University researchers literally saw this on fMRI scans, where they traced changes in brain activity to a region called the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), which rewards behaviors such as eating and sex (and laughing) by releasing dopamine, a natural opiate. When stress builds up or you feel as though you may snap at any minute, make yourself giggle: Watch a funny video clip online, or stop by the office of a wisecracking pal for a quick chat.
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8. Put On a Happy Face
Studies show that even muscular changes in your face can elevate your happiness, as can good posture, says Lyubomirsky. Call it the blush effect: To apply blush to your cheekbones properly, you need to smile. Smiling works, she says, because â€œif you act like youâ€™re a happier person, you can experience all these positive social consequences. You make more friends. People are nicer to you. And these things can have real consequences.â€