The morning is golden and bright as I write this, the sun glinting off jewel-colored birds streaking between the trees. A puppy is sprawled in a contented heap on the floor by my feet. My home is redolent with the smell of bacon and coffee from this morning’s breakfast.
But I am in a funk.
The thought of doing chores makes me groan more than usual. Watching TV sounds dull. I’m neither tired nor hungry, and life is otherwise going wonderfully well. I’ve been wonderfully productive for days. I’m looking forward to going to a concert tonight, and to a brunch date I have with friends tomorrow.
Those things are important to point out because knowing the difference between depression and a down-in-the-dumps day can be essential. Depression can’t be simply “snapped out of.” It can be devastating and, more importantly, depression lies: depression will convince a person that they’re worthless and unlovable, and that nothing will ever change those things. Depression robs people of hope, and that’s why it is so essential to reach out to an understanding friend or seek treatment.
But for now? Meh.
I’m in a funk. It’s a passing mood where everything seems lackluster, irritating, or too much effort. Since this is not the first time I’ve been temporarily down in the dumps, I know in a few days I’ll have forgotten about this morning when doing anything feels like jogging through Jello.
But I don’t have time to wait it out and, fortunately, I won’t need to. After polling friends (see #1 below), I know I’m not the only one who goes through a blue day periodically. We all have ways of dealing with them, and here are 10 of the best ones I’ve found.
UPDATE: By the time I was halfway through writing this I’d already done several of these steps and snapped out of my mood. That’s how I know these “ways to be happy today” work — several of them are my go-to strategies for dealing with days I’d rather not.
10 Ways To Be Happy TODAY
1. Reach out to friends.
If social media and Pinterest are a big part of your life it’s easy to think everyone else is constantly happy, going to exciting places and living in beautiful, perfectly clean and uncluttered homes. It’s also easy to think we’re getting plenty of interaction with others through social media.
We often forget that what we see of others’ lives online isn’t necessarily their reality — it’s the impression they want to create and share, and not necessarily accurate at all. If social media is our primary form of socializing, we’re not truly interacting with others: we’re just consumers of the image they’re putting out.
Swapping real-life interaction for social media for an hour or two is a great way to short-circuit that funk. A phone call to a trusted friend reminds us we have emotional roots with others who really do know us, and we know them. Meeting a girlfriend for a quick cup of coffee gives us a chance to laugh together, and to interact on a more honest level. We leave those experiences feeling affirmed, not diminished. That change in perspective can turn your entire day around.
2. Go sit outside (or, better yet, walk).
Most of us have low Vitamin D levels, either due to our diets or a seasonal lack of sunshine. There’s a link between vitamin D deficiency and depression. Not surprisingly, exposure to bright light is a quick way to improve a blue mood.
Sitting in the sunshine for 30 minutes in the winter, or 10 minutes in the summer, can help your body produce up to 30,000 IU of Vitamin D — enough to counteract that mood-destroying deficiency while helping you fight a number of diseases. Use that time to walk in a greenspace, rather than merely sit, and your brain will reap benefits similar to having meditated that whole time.
3. Do something creative.
Like walking outdoors, creative pursuits also put our brains into a state similar to meditation. No wonder those coloring books for grownups are so popular, right? Not into coloring? Try knitting, sketching, or writing in a journal. (Writing this blog entry has certainly helped improve my mood!)
If you just aren’t the creative type, don’t worry: visiting a museum or attending a concert can have a similar effect. Or stay home and fingerpaint!
4. Indulge in a small treat.
When I told friends about my blue mood this morning, one immediately suggested “a bit of self-indulgence in the kitchen.” Although his suggestion was to make brownies — and I’m not a fan of them — he’s definitely onto something. Cooking is a creative pursuit, after all, and many people swear baking is a great mood-booster.
Rather steer clear of food-based treats? Sink into a warm bubble bath in the middle of the day, indulge in a homemade beauty treatment, or go ahead and watch 30 minutes of that reality TV show you’d never admit to enjoying. Pampering yourself is a fantastic way to make yourself feel better, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune!
5. Throw out five things.
Clutter is a mood-killer that causes physical and mental stress. For some of us, merely looking around our cluttered homes can feel overwhelming and leave us wondering where to even begin dealing with it all. It’s like Brad Pitt said in Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.”
The good news is that simply throwing out five things can lift your mood by restoring your sense of power over your surroundings. Five is a small enough number that you can do it quickly without agonizing over a series of decisions, but large enough that you can significantly affect how messy a countertop or desk looks.
Who knows, you might find those 5 items turn into 10, or that you’re suddenly in the mood to clean the entire room, but if you just stick with five things that’s okay, too: you’ve made progress.
6. Do a random act of kindness.
A 2015 study by Yale and UCLA researchers showed a positive correlation between the number of kind acts people did for others and their ability to handle stress in their lives. The reason may be that when we help others we stop focusing on our own pain or problems. As a friend put it, helping others can help us get out of our own heads.
It doesn’t have to be a major undertaking, either. Something as simple as moving your neighbor’s newspaper from their damp lawn to their doorstep still counts. So does being friendly to the cashier, buying coffee for the person in line behind you, or even mailing a funny card to a friend for no reason. There are hundreds of simple acts of kindness you can do, and all of them help improve your mood along with someone else’s.
7. Car (or shower) karaoke.
Singing releases endorphins, those feel-good hormones that some people (literally) go running in pursuit of. While group singing in a choir or flash mob is the most dramatic mood-improving way to sing yourself happy, singing solo still counts.
Personally, I love getting behind the wheel of my minivan and going for a sunny drive on country roads as I sing along with my favorite CDs. Not only does my minivan have great acoustics (somehow, it makes me sound just like Adele, which is not the case anywhere else in the world), it also lets me get some of those sunshine and greenspace benefits, too. Plus, the cows I drive by don’t seem to care when I’m off-key.
Don’t have any country roads nearby? Hop in the shower and sing into your bottle of shampoo like you did when you were a kid!
Just because you got eight hours of sleep last night doesn’t mean you slept well. Allergies, pets, ambient or outside noises, a tossing-and-turning partner, or even the temperature of the room can all affect your sleep quality, leaving you still tired after when you thought was a full night’s sleep.
Poor or inadequate sleep saps productivity, reduces memory and alertness, and leads to higher stress levels and lower moods — all of which can be improved by a nap.
To improve your mood, go for a 10-20 minute “power nap” OR a 90-minute nap that allows you to experience the whole sleep cycle — anything in between can lead to grogginess that might leave you feeling even worse.
9. Pick one priority and tackle it.
A friend of mine put it this way: “I choose the one thing that finishing will make me feel like the day wasn’t wasted then I make myself do it, even if it sounds like a bore.” She reports that she’s usually in a much better mood by the time she’s done, and science backs her up: finishing a task is what leads to that dopamine surge.
The trick is finding something large enough that you’ll feel good for accomplishing it, but not so large that you get overwhelmed and quit halfway through. Purging clutter from your bedroom is too much, but tackling your dresser drawers might be just the right-sized task.
10. Go with the flow.
Sometimes, no matter our best efforts, there’s just no quick way out of a low mood. If it truly is a short-term feeling unrelated to any major life events, the best approach might just be to take a “mental health day” and let yourself feel blue. Ironically, listening to sad music or watching sad movies can improve your mood. So shrug on your favorite pajamas, put on some emo music, and give yourself a day to revel in it, then see if you don’t wake up feeling better the next morning.
IMPORTANT NOTE: if your “blue mood” has lasted longer than two weeks, is causing you to self-medicate, has negatively affected your job performance, or is related to a major life event, you may be in need of depression support.