We're all looking for ways to improve ourselves. Whether it be our looks, or our outlook, there is definitely something that could be better about the way we do life. Recent research suggests that we have more control over our emotional state than we believe. In fact, we can change our mental outlook by simply changing our physical experiences in the moment. From the simple to the silly, we've got the top 10 easiest ways to get happy now:
1. Start it off with a Smile
There's something to be said for "fake it 'till you make it." Smiling releases endorphines: chemicals in the brain responsible for pain reduction, and serotonin: a natural anti-depressant. As your body releases endorphines your immune system gets a boost, which helps you to fight off symptoms of illness. Even though a fake smile will do, the most effective kind of grin is what scientists call a Duchenne smile. It is a more genuine smile that involves activating the muscles around the corners of the mouth and the eyes. So even though you may not be a morning person, a smile is an easy way to set your mental state to happy.
2. Sing it out with a group of friends
You know the moment when that song comes on - the one that everybody knows - and you all just belt it out together? Well, that giddy rush comes from the release of some feel-good endorphins. Singing packs a triple punch of pleasure! Your body benefits from the extra oxygen, and, depending on the song, a good heart and lung workout too. Although all types of singing can boost your mood, those who sing with others experience positive mental benefits of a reduction in anxious and depressive thinking. Finally, there's the social aspect: singing together in harmony (ish) unifies you with a group which provides a sense of belonging and security.
3. Have a 30 Second Dance Party
The fastest way to brighten your day really is to dance like nobody's watching. In a summary of 20 years of research published in 2013, scientists found that dancing consistantly improves well-being, mood and body image. They conclude that "... dance movement therapy (DMT) and dance are effective for increasing quality of life and decreasing clinical symptoms such as depression and anxiety." Dancing is considered a form of exercise and it even releases more endorphins - those mood-boosting chemicals - than running or cycling.
4. Make a list of positives
An easy practice that increases in benefits over time is keeping a gratitude journal. Studies have shown that maintaining a gratitude journal can result in fewer visits to the doctor, increased optimism and a positive outlook on life. Although these studies don't demonstrate cause and effect, there is a connection between gratitude and individual well-being. The point of keeping a gratitude journal is to train your brain to think positively - which, for some of us, is a workout in itself! Forming a good habit takes time and a lot of repetition. Science Alert explains that it takes about 66 days of practice before an action becomes a habit. So, in theory, after 66 days of writing and reflecting on the things you're grateful for, you should notice an improved mood and outlook on life!
5. Breathe deeply
We all know what it feels like to panic: that tight chest, shallow breathing, racing heart - before you know it, you're in full-on meltdown mode. One of the quickest ways to break out of that state is by taking a deep breath. Go ahead, try it right now. See? Doesn't that feel better? While you're in the practice of forming positive habits, you might consider adding a short relaxation exercise and mindfulness to your day. Studies show that mindful relaxation is a proven way to reduce: stress, dwelling on the negative and emotional reactivity. By practicing relaxation exercises for as little as 10 minutes you can: increase the oxygen flowing to your brain, decreas your heart rate, your blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension. For it to become a habit, the Harvard Medical School recommends practicing for 10 minutes, twice a day.
6. Clean up
Organize your thoughts as you organize your environment. One good way to change your mental outlook with physical experience is by tyding up. When I have a problem on my mind, the best way to solve it is not to think about it at all. Think of it as simultaneous decluttering: while you're tidying the physical space, you're mentally mimicing the process - metaphorically, you're cleaning house. Put on some upbeat music, and turn it into a dance routine - the extra effort will have your body pumping with all kinds of positive energy.
Some studies suggest that consuming Omega-3 Fatty Acids can be an effective way to improve your mood. The American Heart Association recommends that adults and kids consume about two or more servings of fish in a week (or one 500 mg Omega-3 capsul per day) to experience the benefits. Make a mood boosting meal with salmon, herring, sardines or tuna in order to give your brain a boost. These freshwater fish have some important acids that Americans just aren't getting enough of. Making fish a part of your weekly meal plan will contribute to alleviating depression and balancing your mood.
8. Get pumped up
Sometimes all you need is a little boost of confidence and that's where best friends come in. A ten-year study determined that having close friendships with others can reduce anxiety, depression and stress related illness. Having just one close friend can even extend your life by 10 years! Close friends act as buffers to negative events; having someone on your side gives you the confidence to move forward through difficult times. Men and women both benefit from having a solid pal to inspire them to be and do their best. Sure, they'll get right down into the dirt with you on a bad day, but supportive friends also know when enough is enough - they'll give you the motivation you need to crush it.
9. Get outside
Have you ever seen an unhappy person frolicking in the park? No. No you have not. There is a lot more to the great outdoors than beauty - although that certainly does help. In addition to benefitting from fresh air and exercise, researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest that a healthy dose of the sunny outdoors can actually help your body fight against cancer, depression and heart attacks. A Japanese study suggests that even as little as 15 minutes of walking in the woods can have a positive physical effect: a drop in cortisol (the stress hormone), blood pressure and heart rate suggests that our bodies relax in more biologically familiar surroundings. So, the next time you're feeling frustrated or fatigued, step outside and go for a walk in the woods. Or, you know, a frolic in the forest.
10. Laugh it off
If all else fails, laugh. One of the best ways to physically turn around a crummy mental state is to laugh out loud. The Mayo Clinic advises that one really good bout of laughter enhances oxygen intake, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles. Laughing releases endorphines and neuropeptides, these are the feel-good chemicals in our brains that boost our mood and fight stress. If you really want to pile on the benefits, get together with a group of your closest friends and talk about the crazy things you did together in the past. Not only are you getting that boost of friendship confidence we spoke of earlier, but you're also likely to laugh longer and more deeply.
What are some of your favorite ways to shake off those blues? Let us know in the comments below - don't forget to like and share!