7 Instant mood lifters
1. Don’t try too hard
Why do we sometimes feel so disappointed at our own birthday party?
Research published in Perspectives on Psychological Science showed that putting too much stock into the pursuit of happiness for its own sake can backfire.
The trouble is the expectation that, for example, the party itself will make us happy; that leads to too much focus on the end point versus simply engaging in the activities that make us happy—in this case, socialising with friends and family in a pleasant atmosphere.
“When people have expectations, this can lead them to become disappointed when their current emotional state doesn’t match their happiness ideal,” says June Gruber, co-author of the study.
“It’s critically important to try to liberate oneself of psychological expectations, especially those focused on happiness, and instead foster greater acceptance of one’s current happiness state.”
2. Set personal goals and go after them
People who strive to reach personal goals engage in more purposeful leisure and are, therefore, happier...
...according to research by Bernardo J Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University. He says “purposeful leisure” is any activity that involves self-
improvement and reflects a sense of choice—for example, learning a language, pursuing a hobby or trying a new sport. “It may seem obvious, but happiness comes from acting towards those goals.”
3. Don’t underestimate your ability to bounce back
We find our way to happiness even when things aren’t working out the way we want...
...according to research by Karim Kassam, who’s done extensive research on the topic of happiness.
“Our research shows that people tend to get over negative events much faster than they expect.”
The theory is that we have an emotional immune system—much like our physiological one—that fends off negative emotions.
But can we boost this emotional immune response?
The research has yet to provide a conclusive answer, Kassam says. One thing we do know, he adds, is that you get over negative emotions quicker when you’re in a situation that you can’t change.
4. Nurture relationships with people you care about
One of the strongest determinants of happiness is enjoying meaningful relationships with friends and family.
But how do you define “meaningful”? To begin with, it involves being with the actual person rather than just their online persona, says psychologist Randy Paterson. “Beyond this, a meaningful relationship with, say, a partner or a friend is one that’s authentic, where you set out to understand what the person is thinking and experiencing.”
Paterson adds that a meaningful social bond is one in which the goal is, at least in part, to benefit the other person rather than solely benefiting yourself (by being amused, by having loneliness held at bay or by gaining comfort).
5. Forget retail therapy
Material possessions aren't the be all and end all
A study of high-school students published in Applied Research in Quality of Life supported something we probably already know intuitively: the desire for materialistic possessions—regardless of actually obtaining them—leads to lower life satisfaction.
James Roberts, the study’s author, says, “Material possessions can’t deliver on their promise to make us happy. It’s how we feel about ourselves, our relationships with others and our involvement in the larger community that brings happiness and contentment.”
Based on his decade-long study of the psychology of consumer behaviour, Roberts contends that a love of material possessions can in fact undermine how we feel about ourselves, costing us personal relationships and, ultimately, our happiness.
The key is to make choices that have us spending more time supporting the social relationships that are the sources of our happiness. This may include volunteer or charity work, which has been shown in many studies to boost personal happiness.
6. Focus on the good, not on getting over the bad
Research has shown that happier people tend to focus on the things that make them happy, whereas unhappy people tend to focus on trying not to think about negative things.
The researchers at Indiana University explain, “Happier people really d focus on the positive”—it’s the proverbial glass half full. “If we attend only to what we haven’t yet attained, we will inevitably experience disappointment.”
One strategy to counter this is reallocating our attention. “If we make an effort to focus on what we’ve done, we’re more likely to see ourselves as making progress.”
7. Be empathetic and grateful
Tragedy and compassion compel appreciation
Psychologist Paterson points out that in clinical psychology, “Tragedy and the misfortune of others can awaken our compassion for people, but also our appreciation of our own good fortune and its temporary nature.”
He adds that the uncomfortable emotions haven’t been given their due. “It’s through them that we attain many of our greatest traits and skills: empathy, compassion, altruism, trust.”
We can cultivate a sense of gratitude by reminding ourselves of the positives in our own lives, Paterson adds. “We can also engage in mindfulness exercises to focus our attention on the world of the present, pulling back from our regrets about the past and our fears of a catastrophic future.”