Bad days happen. A bombed job interview, a broken coffee machine (when you really need coffee), stepping in dog poop on the way to a date—we know, life can sometimes suck. We can’t get rid of a terrible commute or an intolerable co-worker (sorry), but we do have some sweet suggestions for improving a mood regardless.
So You’re Having a Bad Day...
- Smile. It’s cheesy, but apparently it’s true: The act of smiling really can turn a frown upside down.
- Jump around. Get happy-making endorphins pumping fast with some jumping jacks, jump rope, or random flailing around (hey, no judgment here) Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders. Saeed, SA, Antonacci, DJ, Bloch, RM. Department of Psychiatric Medicine, The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, North Carolina. American Family Physician, 2010 Apr 15;81(8):981-6..
- Sniff certain scents. Inhaling the scent of orange (or essential orange oil) or lavender can reduce anxiety and improve mood.
- Chew gum. The repetitive action of gnawing on gum can promote relaxation and reduce anxiety and stress Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress. Scholey, A., Haskell, C., Robertson, B., et al. Physiology & Behavior, 2009 Jun 22;97(3-4):304-12. Epub 2009 Mar 5.
- Ogle (or buy) some flowers. Studies find flowers provide an instant—and lasting—mood boost. Bonus: they can also make us more productive.
- Eat some chocolate. As if we needed a reason other than delicious: Eating chocolate can make us feel happy.
- Visualize your best self. Let’s be honest: None of us are exactly the person we want to be all the time. But imagining our “ideal” selves—calm, confident, movin’ like Jagger—can make us feel better, even when we’ve got miles to go before we get there Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention. Meevissen, Y.M.C., Peters, M.L., & Alberts, H.J.E.M. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 2011; 42, 371-378..
- Expose yourself to green. Color psychologists say green symbolizes happiness—and can create the feeling of it, too. Throw on a green sweater, pick up a green pen, deck yourself out like the most dedicated of Leprechauns, and it’s possible your mood will be over the rainbow.
- Light a candle. We discovered this hands-on at Greatist headquarters: Flickering flames (as long as they’re contained!) can burn away stress and help us feel better all around.
- Get present. Studies find the best way to stay cheerful is to stay centered in the present—even when it’s not all that pleasant. In contrast, a wandering mind and daydreaming can bring people down. The best way to re-center? Sit quietly for a few minutes and try some deep, calming breaths. Focus on the breath moving in and out of the body and gently guide attention back to the breath if the mind starts to wander.
- Count your blessings. Think about or write down what you’re thankful for. Even if there’s not time to write down everything, expressing gratitude creates an instant mood boost.
- Snuggle up. Climbing under a soft blanket for a few minutes might make us more relaxed and flexible. Researchers found there’s something about contact with soft things that just makes us feel better.
- Do something nice for somebody else. Yep, being nice can help us feel nicer. Small actions—holding the door for the person behind you, sending a quick love text to a partner or friend, or donating ten bucks to a favorite charity—count, so there’s no excuse not to get your nice on.
- Listen to a happy song. It’s quick; it’s easy; it’s an instant mood-lifter. Sing along (perfect pitch not required) for extra benefit.
- Go somewhere quiet. Even if it’s just the office bathroom, taking a few minutes to sit in a quiet space with no external stimulation can do wonders for a bad mood.
- Cuddle. Physical touch can decrease stress, make us feel happier, and even improve our health. For the single folks among us, don’t fret: Even a quick hug with a friend or acquaintance can yield benefits.
- Hang out with a pet. Cuddling, playing, or just chillin’ with Fido can help us feel happier and less stressed Friends with benefits: on the positive consequences of pet ownership. McConnel, A.R., Brown, C.M., Shoda, T.M. et al. Department of Psychology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011 Dec;101(6):1239-52.
- Achieve a goal. Even small successes can have big mood payoffs. Toss a crumpled ball of paper into the trash can Michael Jordan style, win a game of Solitaire, pick up a pencil off the floor using only your toes—in moments you’ll be basking in the glory of accomplishment.
- Give yourself a massage. A quick rubdown (focus on the neck, shoulders, lower back, and feet) can improve mood and release stress.
- Meditate. Meditation is a quick, effective way to chill out and improve our outlook, and it might even make us smarter Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders. Saeed, SA, Antonacci, DJ, Bloch, RM. Department of Psychiatric Medicine, The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, North Carolina. American Family Physician, 2010 Apr 15;81(8):981-6.. Just a few minutes of sitting quietly, focusing on the breath, and maybe chanting a few Oms (silently or out loud) can snap us out of a funk.
- Laugh. Laughter can cheer us up and decrease anxiety—and the best news is it doesn’t have to be “genuine” to have a positive effect. So even when it seems like there's absolutely nothing funny in all of this world, busting out a big guffaw might just change your mind Laughter and depression: hypothesis of pathogenic and therapeutic correlation. Fonzi, L., Matteucci, G., Bersani, G. Dipartimento di Scienze Psichiatriche e Medicina Psicologica, Sapienza Universita di Roma. Rivista di Psichiatria, 2010 Jan-Feb;45(1):1-6. Need help getting started? Check out the latest viral youtube videos, the Greatist tumblr, or anything said by Zack Galifianakis.
- Do something new. We know, you’ve only got a few minutes; it’s not like you can change careers or fly to Iceland. The good news is even adding something small to a normal routine can brighten up a day. Order a chai if you normally drink coffee, take a different route to the bathroom at work, wear something you would normally never wear.
- Dress up. Speaking of clothing: Buying new garb can amp up mood, but a person doesn’t have to drop cash to reap clothes’ benefits. Wearing the color red can boost confidence and self-esteem—which might just be the pick-me-up you were looking for.
- Notice small miracles. Cultivating positivity and a sense of wonder can build positive outlook Counting blessings versus burdens: an experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Emmons RA, McCullough ME. Department of Psychology, University of California, Davis CA. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2003 Freb; 84(2):377-89. Feeling stuck? Look around for small wonders (a butterfly, an act of kindness, something beautiful) or check out sites like Happy News, Good News Network, and Daily Good for a happier outlook on the world.
- Have sex or masturbate. This one might take longer than 10 minutes—but no guarantees. Regardless, it’s probably best to avoid this one at the office. But if you’re cranky at home (or somewhere else that’s private), orgasms can mellow people out.
- Call an upbeat friend. If you want to be happy and calm, spend time around calm, happy people. If you only have a few minutes, call one of them.
- De-clutter. Getting organized can help us feel instantly calmer. Just five to ten minutes is enough to tackle a small project, like a desk or the kitchen table.
- Invite distractions. Step away from worries for a few minutes and get absorbed in something neutral, like folding laundry or washing dishes. The repetitive actions of these everyday chores can help us get present with the here and now: the smell of clean laundry, soapy hands, the grime of meals past disappearing down the drain.
- Eat for a positive mood. We are what we eat, so step away from the unhappy meal. Instead, try out these meals to boost your mood. Up the happiness quotient by setting a nice place for yourself, lighting a candle, and giving thanks for the meal.
- Vent to a friend. So long as it doesn’t go on and on (and on), venting can actually make us feel better about our problems.
- Celebrate good times. Look at happy photos or spend a minute or so thinking back on positive memories (that first 5K finish line, a group trip to the waterpark, that amazing scone from a no-name coffee shop)—nostalgia can trigger happiness.
- Get some sun. A boost of vitamin D can keep the blues at bay Depression is associated with decreased 25-hydroxyvitamin D and increased parathyroid hormone levels in older adults. Hoogendiik, WJ, Lips, P., Dik, MG, et al. Research Institute Neurosciences and the Center for Neurogenomics and Cognitive Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2008 May;65(5):508-12.. Head outside for a brisk walk around the block. If that’s not possible, station yourself near a window for a few minutes (and ignore stares from co-workers).
- Do some yoga. A few hip openers might be the answer to a brighter day Exercise, yoga, and meditation for depressive and anxiety disorders. Saeed, SA, Antonacci, DJ, Bloch, RM. Department of Psychiatric Medicine, The Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, North Carolina. American Family Physician, 2010 Apr 15;81(8):981-6.. Think it’s impossible to do yoga in a cubicle or other small work space? Think again.
- Rearrange some furniture. Changing an environment can help us feel refreshed, enabling us to bust out of a negative mood.
Tried every tip on this list and still in a funk? Just give it time. We can’t force ourselves into a good mood, but the good news is no mood sticks around forever. But if a foul mood lasts for two or more straight weeks, it might be a good idea to seek professional help, as this could be a sign of depression. Whatever the cause, it’s important to address any underlying problem(s) in order to fully move on.
Originally published November 2012. Updated January 2015.