As a therapist, I often hear clients of all ages tell me: “I want to feel happier”. Many are struggling with symptoms of depression or anxiety, and some are having trouble accepting their current circumstances. I have to ask: “What would happy feel like?”. A lot of people have trouble answering this question. Happiness can mean different things for different people. When I think of happiness, words like joy, gratitude, and contentment come to mind. While this is my conception of the word, it may not be another’s. As a cognitive behavioral therapist, I help my clients explore their own thinking patterns, while also dissecting how those patterns impact behavior. As a yoga teacher, I also have to explore the mind-body connection.
Below is a list of ten simple tools you can incorporate into your daily life to improve your mood, and set you on your path to happiness:
- Refraining from complaining– Pause and ask yourself “Am I living in the problem? Or am I living in the solution?”. Feeding the problem will only make it bigger. What does feeding the problem look like? Complaining to other people, and wallowing in self-pity. We have all been there. Rather than turning to negative thinking and adding to the problem, focus on being in the solution. Being solution oriented means asking for help, being willing to take suggestions, and taking small steps toward change.
- Mind your body– Pay attention to your habits. What are you feeding your body? Are you hydrated? Are you exercising? All of these factors have a huge impact on mood. Avoid processed foods and start carrying a water bottle. Start an exercise routine, and this doesn’t mean you have to wake up at 5 AM or join an overpriced gym. Schedule a walk outside with a friend or make time to practice some yoga at home. Also, take care of any pain or chronic health issues by consulting with your primary care physician.
- Stop comparing– Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. First of all, no two people are exactly alike. As an identical twin, I should know. So why do we constantly compare ourselves to others? Everyone has their own unique story and a different set of problems. Do not fall into the comparison trap. Comparing yourself to another person is a futile exercise.
- Say “yes” and say “no”- Say “yes” to the things you enjoy and surround yourself with people who lift you up. Be open to new experiences even if they seem scary at the time—this is how we grow, and get happier. Say “no” to the things you cannot fit into your schedule and to people who drain you of energy.
- Avoid mind wandering– Sometimes, when we let our negative thinking take over, we can end up overthinking and spiraling into unpleasant stories. Our minds are designed to scan for threats. So how do we enjoy our lives despite this negativity bias? One way is to try to stay more present for your life. This could mean having a daily meditation practice, pausing to notice your breath or simply doing one thing at a time.
- Check your “emotional hygiene”– Watch how you talk to yourself. Negative self-talk can hugely impact mood. What does negative self-talk look like? “I am a loser”, “No one will ever ask me out”, and “I will never be happy with the way I look”. Just like we have to clean our bodies and watch what we eat, we also should be watching what we feed our minds. Positive affirmations and a daily gratitude practice can be a great way to counter negative self-talk.
- Gratitude- As stated above, a daily gratitude practice has been linked with happier lives in general and can be a great tool to counter negative self-talk. Your gratitude practice could be writing down 5 things you are grateful for, telling your support people that you are thankful for their presence or taking the time to thank your god/higher power/deity/universe when something good happens.
- Get outside-There is a reason a lot of hospitals use pictures of nature and plants to add to the decor. Because research shows that being outside in nature can have a positive impact on mood. Studies indicate that spending time in nature can combat rumination- repetitively or obsessively thinking about one’s negative feelings.
- Make sure you are getting enough sleep- I shared this in a previous blog post, and if you don’t believe me, you can google it. Sleep impacts mood. The CDC recommends 8 to 10 hours of sleep for adolescents and at least 7 hours of sleep for adults. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are going to be tired, irritable and feel drained. Because sleep directly affects your mood, it can have a significant impact on your personal pursuit of happiness
- Self-soothe- Finally, give yourself some love. Why? Because you are worth it! Take a bath, listen to a guided meditation, read a book, smell some essential oils or book a massage. Make it a routine and if you have to- put a reminder on your phone.
Remember if you are struggling with a mental health diagnosis always consult with a mental health professional. If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 911 or go to your nearest Emergency Room.
For further reading, check out the resources below.
TED Radio Hour- Simply Happy.
CDC’s recommendations for sleep by age group.
Standford News- how nature decreases depression.