42 Scientifically Proven Ways to Improve Your Mood
Almost everybody wants to achieve a “good mood,” whether that be in the moment or an overall sense of happiness and fulfillment. Countless factors we experience everyday influence our mood, such as diet, physical activity, sleep, weather, season, social well-being, posture, financial stability, menstrual cycle, stress, exposure to news, social media use, clutter, and even the color that you’re wearing. Fortunately, there are some actions you can take and habits you can establish to help make positive moods more abundant and steady in your life. We have collected 42 mood-boosting tips that are backed by scientific research.
Click on the links to explore the studies and experiments that support each tip.
- Get more sleep. The Sainsbury’s Living Well Index found that sleep quality was the top indicator for living well: “Over 60 percent of the group living very well felt rested most or all of the time after sleep.”
- Exercise more. A study of 30,000 Norwegians discovered that even just an hour of exercise weekly can help prevent depression. The more exercise, the better. The key is to discover an activity that you enjoy.
- Volunteer in nature. The Wildlife Trusts of England tracked the mental health of wildlife project volunteers for 12 weeks. At the start, 39% of volunteers reported poor mental health. By the end, that number was reduced to 19%.
- Spend time outdoors. A 2015 study compared the brain activity of people who walked for 90 minutes in either an urban or natural setting. They found that those who went on a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is overactive during depression and stress.
- Cultivate eudaimonic happiness. A growing body of research supports two types of happiness: eudaimonic and hedonic. Eudaimonic happiness is gained by doing things that provide meaning and give a sense of striving to be one’s best self, such as volunteering, doing art, or spending time with loved ones. Try to devote a bit of time to self-improvement each day.
- Write down what (or who) you are grateful for. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley found that activities such as keeping a gratitude journal or writing gratitude letters are linked to increased happiness and mood.
- Listen to happy music. Study participants found that they felt better when listening to upbeat music while actively trying to feel happier, as long as they simply focused on the positive feelings and not the “destination” of being happy.
- Laugh! Laughter is proven to increase dopamine, a chemical that elevates the mood. It also oxygenates our bodies and cools down our stress-response systems, producing an overall calm, happy feeling.
- Work on decluttering your home and workspace. Just seeing clutter has been found to cause spikes in cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Give a hug. When you stimulate the pressure receptors of your skin, it lowers stress hormones. Touch also boosts oxytocin, a hormone that promotes a sense of well-being, security, and love. Hugs may even help reduce the severity of cold symptoms!
- Pet a dog or cat. A Washington State University study found that petting a dog or cat for even just ten minutes produced a major reduction in cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Consume omega-3 fatty acids. Many promising scientific studies have found that eating omega-3 fatty acids may alleviate depression and other mood disorders. Sources include fish and flaxseed.
- “What went well?” At of the end of the day, reflect on three things that went well that day. Replay the events in your mind and relish the positive feelings.
- Take slow, deep breaths. By breathing slower and more deeply, you signal your nervous system to calm down. It takes practice to reap profound benefits, so devote some time to deep breathing daily.
- Watch a cat video. A survey of almost 7,000 people found that people felt more energetic and positive after watching cat videos. The pleasure they got from the videos was greater than the guilt of procrastinating. Dog videos work, too!
- Do a puzzle. Any kind of puzzle will do. Every success we have while working on a puzzle releases dopamine, which grants us a sense of satisfaction and pleasure.
- Enjoy some coffee. Coffee has been shown to help lower the risk of depression, especially in women.
- Seek sunshine. A study spanning six years discovered that therapy patients reported less emotional distress on sunny days. Vitamin D has also been linked to mental well-being.
- Smiling can trick your brain into feeling happiness! A meta-analysis of 138 studies found that smiling can slightly lift our moods.
- Try “shinrin-yoku” (forest-bathing). A Japanese study discovered that a walk through the woods can alleviate acute emotions such as hostility, depression, and boredom.
- Smell lavender. Lavender interacts with the neurotransmitter GABA to help relax the brain and nervous system, reducing agitation, anger, aggression, and restlessness.
- Enjoy the scent of fresh-cut grass. Scent researchers have found that a chemical released by fresh-cut grass may provide joy and stress relief.
- Enjoy the smell of citrus. An ambient orange aroma in a dental office was found to relieve anxiety and boost the mood of female patients.
- Chew gum. Chewing gum has been found to alleviate poor mood and reduce cortisol, the stress hormone.
- Admire flowers. Gazing at flowers has been shown to nurture a lasting positive mood. Flowers and plants also boost productivity and creativity at work.
- Eat some chocolate. The antioxidant in chocolate (resveratrol) provides a burst of endorphins and serotonin.
- Visualize your best self. Research shows that five-minute visualizations of one’s best possible self boosted optimism immediately and over time.
- See green. A study found that we associate the color green with happiness, comfort, excitement, and peace. In fact, gardeners tend to be happier than most people.
- Touch something soft (or hug a teddy bear). In a study of consumers, those in a negative state found more comfort in pleasant tactile sensations. This may be linked to the mammalian instinct to return to our mothers during vulnerable states (sick, injured, cold, lost).
- Do something nice for someone else. Offer a compliment, hold open a door, or send a quick note of appreciation to a loved one. Research shows that happy people tend to do more for others.
- Listen to birdsong. Birdsong has been found to lift the mood for more than four hours. This effect is complemented by being present in nature.
- Do some yoga. Yoga is widely considered a low-risk, high-yield way to benefit overall health. It may even increase pain and stress tolerance.
- Engage in cultural activities (seeing a play, visiting a museum, dancing, singing, etc.). A study of 50,000 Norwegian adults found that those who participated in cultural activities reported greater happiness and less anxiety and depression.
- Eat vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli). Vitamin C is essential for your body to create neurotransmitters that regulate mood and combat depression.
- Partake in a Mediterranean diet (olive oil, fish, nuts, herbs, veggies, whole grains). A 2013 meta-analysis of 22 studies showed that the Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of depression.
- Talk to a stranger. Brief, positive interactions with strangers may boost mood and create a stronger sense of belonging to one’s community.
- Listen to sad songs. Sad songs may help people experience a much-needed emotional release.
- Set small, attainable goals (micro-goals). Completing a goal, no matter how small, has been shown to boost our moods. That is why checking off to-do lists can be so satisfying.
- Take a break from Facebook. Studies have found that Facebook use predicts a decline in the mental well-being of young adults.
- Indulge in a massage. Several studies have shown that massage increases serotonin levels, especially in pregnant women and infants. Even just rubbing your own shoulders, neck, hands, and temples can help.
- Practice good posture. Sitting up straight and releasing your shoulders can help alleviate stress, depression, and fatigue, according to recent research.
- Play in the dirt. UK scientists have found that a type of friendly bacteria found in soil may influence brain cells to produce serotonin in a similar way that antidepressants
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