Increasing happiness might seem like a big task — but sometimes, a simple activity can have a profoundly positive impact on your mood.
It’s not always easy to know what will make you feel happier, especially when you’ve been feeling down for a while.
Whether you’re looking for a quick mood boost or are hoping to implement positive habits, you might benefit from trying some science-backed ways to increase your happiness.
Here are some suggestions:
Before we get into the fun activities, let’s talk about your basic needs.
Your mood is directly affected by factors like sleep and food. To give your brain the foundation it needs to feel happy, you need to be fed and well-rested.
If your mood is low, try asking yourself:
- Have I had enough sleep?
- Have I had a nutritious meal recently?
- Did I drink enough water today?
Often, you might feel moody without realizing that it’s because you’re tired or hungry. In that case, increasing happiness might be as simple as eating, taking a nap, or having a glass of water.
You can read about evidence-based ways to improve your sleep here.
When did you last take time out of your day to do something creative just for fun?
You can use art to express and process your emotions or as a fun hobby that simply brings you pleasure. Creative activities may even help soothe symptoms of depression.
Doing something creative can bring you a sense of achievement and boost your self-esteem.
You might find that one of the following creative hobbies brings you joy:
- coloring or sketching
- embroidery, crocheting, or knitting
- digital art
- writing fiction, poetry, or songs
- baking or cooking
- playing an instrument
And if the end product isn’t a masterpiece, that’s totally fine. Your creative output doesn’t have to be “good,” just good for you.
Taking time to reflect on happy moments, good things that happened in your day, or people you appreciate in your life can be a welcome mood boost.
Remembering good times can lend some helpful perspective when you’re feeling down, serving as a reminder that good times exist and your low mood won’t last forever.
One way to cultivate gratitude is to try writing down what you’re grateful for regularly. This can take as little as 5 minutes a day.
Researchers in a 2019 clinical trial of 1,337 participants found that writing a daily gratitude list for 14 days might increase positive emotions and boost feelings of satisfaction.
Similarly, researchers in a 2021 review found that “individuals who experience more gratitude have lower levels of depression” and suggested further studies should look at how gratitude could help with depression.
Consider getting into the habit of writing down what you’re grateful for. You can also try saying it out loud to yourself or a loved one.
Journaling is a way to boost your mood using just pen and paper. According to a 2018 study, expressive writing can have both emotional and physical health benefits.
There are many mental health benefits of journaling. It can help you process your emotions, express your feelings, and think through a difficult situation. It can also promote self-awareness and allow you to work out what your values are and what’s important to you.
Stuck on what to write? You can try using these journaling prompts.
Spending time in nature can increase feelings of happiness and decrease stress.
Researchers in a
Experts recommend spending at least
Hiking outdoors is great, but if that’s not your thing, consider the following:
- Plan a day at the beach or a forest with loved ones.
- Eat outside, whether at restaurants or at home.
- Have your morning coffee in your garden, balcony, or a local park.
- Visit a park for a 15-minute break.
- Walk your dog through a leafy area.
- Go for a walk while listening to guided walking meditation.
Sunlight is associated with a number of benefits, both mental and physical. It plays a role in regulating the circadian rhythm, which tells the body when to sleep and when to wake up. This affects our mood.
Sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D, which many of us are deficient in. Various studies, including a 2018 review, discuss how vitamin D deficiency may have links with depression.
Listening to music can have stress-relieving effects. Upbeat music, especially music you associate with a positive memory, might put a smile on your face.
Consider the following ideas:
- Search for happy, upbeat playlists on YouTube, Spotify, or iTunes.
- Try listening to pop music from a few years ago. The nostalgia might lift your spirits.
- Listen to the soundtrack from your favorite movies or games.
- Make a “happy playlist” for when you need a mood boost in the future.
You might have heard this before, but exercise can benefit your mental health.
Physical activity can stimulate the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. A 2017 trial found that even light exercise could help improve the symptoms of depression.
If working out isn’t your thing, you might simply make it your goal to move more. You could take your dog or a neighbor’s dog for a walk, do some jumping jacks on your lunch break, or try out a yoga video.
It helps to find a kind of exercise that makes you happy and motivated to keep it up. Some people find the following exercises fun and engaging:
- tai chi
- team sports
- rock climbing or bouldering
- bike rides
There’s a reason why meditation has such a positive reputation. Meditation and mindfulness might boost your mood, both in the long term and immediately.
During a 2021 study conducted in Hong Kong, researchers found that people who practiced mindfulness were “more likely to notice positive life experiences and be grateful for them.” This included feeling joy when looking forward to things, remembering happy moments, and making the most of good times.
Meditation might positively change the brain, improving focus and reducing stress. If you’ve tried meditation and found it challenging, you might find a different type of meditation to be more enjoyable.
Psych Central’s meditation for beginners guide may help you get started.
Support groups, whether online or in person, can be a great way to connect with people who have had similar experiences to you. Support groups can bring you comfort and help you help yourself.
You can find local support groups through Google, on social media, or by asking a local church, community center, or doctor’s office.
If you are unable or prefer not to attend in-person support groups, you can check out Psych Central’s guide to finding online support groups.
Talk therapy can help you improve your self-awareness, address potentially harmful patterns in your behavior and thinking, and process painful experiences. In other words, it’s a good way to invest in your mental health and increase your happiness in the long term.
You don’t need to have a mental illness to go to therapy. Almost anyone can benefit from therapy.
If you find it difficult to feel happy or fulfilled, or if you often find yourself feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed, it might be a sign to talk with a therapist.
The following resources might benefit you:
Increasing happiness can sometimes be as simple as engaging in exercise, a creative activity, or a journaling session. However, in some cases, you might need a little more support.
The following resources might be helpful:
- Feeling down? A popular Tumblr post may help you figure out how to feel better: Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: Questions To Ask Before Giving Up.
- If you’re ready to reach out for help, Psych Central’s guide on how to find mental health support can point you in the right direction.
- If workbooks are your thing, consider checking out Anna Napawan’s “Happiness Workbook: A CBT-Based Guide to Foster Positivity and Embrace Joy.”
- Author Gretchen Rubin spent a year trying to discover what increasing happiness really looks like. You can read about this in her book, “The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.”
Lastly, if joy feels elusive to you and you often feel like happiness is impossible, know that you’re not alone. Many people have felt the way you feel now and have gone on to create happy, fulfilling lives. It all starts with reaching out for help.