We all have down days, weeks, or months from time to time, and there are multiple reasons why this might be.
The weather, hormones, negative news, stress, loneliness, and expectations – among many other things – can affect how we perceive the world. Sometimes, there might also be no obvious reason why we feel sad.
And while it’s important to give ourselves permission to feel down sometimes, there are also things we can do to pick ourselves up and start feeling better. Many of us know the more obvious mood boosters – such as exercising, eating well, and practising gratitude – but what else is there? Below, we’ve pulled together a list of 10 science-backed ways to feel happier.
However, it’s worth noting that, if your low mood lasts for more than two weeks and you think you may be experiencing feelings of depression, it’s important to reach out for help. For example, speaking to a friend, family member, counsellor, or GP.
10 science-backed ways to feel happier
1. Watch birds
Birds are beautiful, fascinating creatures that can take us on a journey into a world that’s hiding in plain sight. Most of us know birds are around us – in the park, the street, and outside our windows – but how many of us take the time to really watch them, learn about their quirks, and understand how they live?
One of the reasons that birds are so good at lifting our moods is because watching them encourages mindfulness, which can distance us from negative or ruminating thoughts, and help us find greater joy in the little things that we might otherwise take for granted.
There are also numerous scientific studies that support the link between positive mental health and the presence of birds. For example, one study found that birdsong can boost our attention span and help us recover from stress, while a further study of 26,000 adults revealed that people’s happiness levels increased with the number of bird species present in their area.
Another study also showed that depression, anxiety, and stress were less common in areas that had more ‘vegetation cover and afternoon bird abundance’.
To get started with birdwatching, you might want to read our introductory guide.
2. Surround yourself with positive smells
While there are many activities you can do to feel happier, making small changes to your environment can also make a difference to how you feel.
For example, science has found that ambient odours can improve mood and wellbeing. Dr Rachel Herz – neuroscientist and author of The Secret Desire – says, “This is because of the unique connection in the brain where scent, emotion, memories and associations are processed.”
Some studies suggest that the smells with the most powerful mood-enhancing abilities are those that are linked with positive memories. However, there are also plenty of specific scents – such as lemon, pine, and peppermint – that science has linked more reliably with improved mood, regardless of previous experiences.
So, if you want to boost your mood, why not invest in a scented candle or reed diffuser? Yankee Candle is known for having some of the strongest, longest-lasting fragrances – though, you could also consider making your own! Check out Moral Fibres’ guide to making your own reed diffuser or Hobbycraft’s helpful guide on making candles.
3. Dance it out
Many of us will agree that dancing – whether alone or with others – feels good. And there’s plenty of scientific evidence to explain why.
In a 2021 health study from UCLA, conscious, free-flowing dance resulted in positive mental health in 98% of participants; giving them more confidence and compassion.
Another study found that dance lowered depression and anxiety in participants while increasing quality of life and interpersonal skills.
And if that wasn’t enough, this research involving a group of 60 and 70-year-olds with healthy brains found that those who spent time learning country dancing (as opposed to walking or stretching) had denser white matter in the part of the brain that processes memory. White matter is involved in learning and memory and tends to break down with age, contributing to cognitive decline.
So next time you’re having a bad day, why not dance it out? There’s a lot of fun to be had from freestyling – but, if you’d prefer a more structured approach to dance, you might want to check out our list of 11 online dance classes for beginners.
4. Drink more water
Our brains are made up of about 75% water, so it makes sense that even mild dehydration can have an effect on our mood, energy, and cognition. In fact, studies have shown that people who drink more water may have a lower risk of developing anxiety and depression.
Other research looked at what happened to the mood of people who usually drank lots of water when they decreased their water intake. It revealed that these people felt more tense, and less calm and content. However, when their water intake increased, they felt happier.
The NHS recommends that we drink six to eight cups of fluid a day. However, while water is often the healthiest and most effective way to hydrate yourself, many people find it difficult to drink enough of it. This is especially true as we head into the colder months.
If this sounds familiar, you might want to check out our article, 9 healthy and hydrating alternatives to water, which includes options like milk and coconut water.
5. Eat little and often
Fluctuations in blood sugar may leave you feeling tired, irritable, anxious, confused – or just not like yourself. This is largely because, when your blood sugar drops, your body tries to raise it by pumping out the ‘flight or fight’ hormone, epinephrine, which tells your liver to make more glucose. However, epinephrine can also make you feel sweaty, anxious, and on edge.
Therefore, to keep your blood sugar levels – and your mood – steady, it can help to eat little and often, and to choose foods that release energy slowly. For breakfast, this can include things like oats and eggs; for lunch, meals like protein-rich salads; and for dinner, foods such as turkey and chickpeas. There are also plenty of snacks you can eat that won’t spike your blood sugar, such as bananas, almonds, and hummus.
For more tips on what the best and worst foods are to eat at different times of day, you might want to check out our article on the subject. And if you struggle with portion control, and would like to get into the habit of eating little and often, check out our article; 9 tips to prevent overeating and encourage portion control.
6. Buy yourself some flowers
We all know that flowers look nice, but according to science, the effects of flowers on mood can be more powerful than we might think.
According to one study, flowers had an immediate and long-term impact on the happiness of people across all age groups. Participants reported feeling less anxious, depressed, and agitated after receiving flowers, and had a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction.
A separate study also found that living with fresh flowers strengthened feelings of compassion, relieved anxieties and worries at home, and provided a boost of happiness, energy, and enthusiasm at work.
So, next time you’re feeling low, what better excuse to buy yourself some flowers? Flowers don’t need to be expensive – you can pick up a bunch for less than £5 at your local supermarket (with a small bouquet of roses coming in at around £3).
If you want to experiment with buying and arranging different flowers, you might also like to read our article; 17 of the most popular and classic flower arranging styles.
7. Practise good posture
If you’ve heard of the ‘power pose’, you might be aware of the effect that good posture can have on our mental health.
Research suggests that maintaining upright posture positions can help to maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood, compared to a slumped posture.
Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard Business School, believes that – based on her research – everyone should spend two minutes power posing to boost their mood and/or confidence levels. It’s based on the theory that how we hold our body influences how we feel and behave. Check out the video below to learn more.
There are also plenty more tips on how to improve posture in our articles; 5 exercises to help improve your posture and How to use the Alexander technique to relieve chronic aches, pains, and tensions.
8. Make someone else smile
One of the best things we can do to increase our happiness when we’re feeling low is to do something for someone else.
Helping others can add meaning and purpose to our lives, increase confidence and self-esteem, and activate the regions of the brain associated with social connection, pleasure, and trust; creating a ‘warm glow’ effect. It can also boost the release of ‘feed good’ chemicals – such as serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine – in our brains.
What’s more, scientists have revealed that even just thinking about helping others can improve mood.
The even better news is that there are endless ways that you could choose to make others smile. Saying a heartfelt thank you, spreading good news, giving someone a hug, and helping out at a soup kitchen are just a few examples. For more ways to give back, you might want to read our article on the subject.
9. Do some cleaning
Cleaning is often given a bad rap but it has many mental health benefits. Not only can cleaning help us to declutter our living spaces and gain control of our environment but the process can encourage mindfulness, which is an effective mood booster.
Psychiatrist, Dr Gregory Scott Brown, told Psych.com, “Mindfulness is all about conscious awareness. Tuning out the stress of the outside world but bringing your conscious awareness to the task at hand, and focusing on accomplishing that one thing in the moment, may actually be advantageous for your mental health.”
Plus, the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment when the cleaning is done can have a longer-term positive effect on our mood. This, coupled with the physical activity of cleaning, has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.
If you want to get stuck into some cleaning and decluttering and you’re not sure where to start, our articles, 28 tips for a successful spring clean and How to declutter and reorganise your home, have some helpful tips.
10. Escape into a book
If you love reading, then you’ll probably be aware of just how immersive a great book can be. Hours can fly by and we can feel as though we’ve been transported to another world.
But, according to scientific research, there are also plenty of benefits beyond pure enjoyment. Science suggests that narrative absorption can provide opportunities for escape and meaningful contemplation.
One study also found that just 30 minutes of reading lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and psychological distress, just as effectively as laughing or yoga.
Reading is associated with living longer too. Another study revealed that older adults who regularly read books had a 20% reduction in mortality, compared with those who didn’t read.
If you’re wondering what to read next, you’ll hopefully find some inspiration in the books, literature, and writing section of our website, which has everything from 16 crime and mystery books that you won’t be able to put down to 27 of the best must-read novels.
It’s normal to have bad days or weeks from time to time. And while allowing ourselves to feel sad, angry, or annoyed sometimes can be helpful, there are also plenty of things we can do to pick ourselves up and start feeling better when we’re ready. From bird watching to immersing yourself in a captivating read, we hope that you’ll find some joy in the things on this list.
You might also find it useful to read our article, How to learn the skill of optimism, which explains how you can take a more positive, proactive, approach to every situation.
You might also find it useful to read our article, How to learn the skill of optimism, which explains how you can take a more positive, proactive, approach to every situation. Or why not take part in the Feel-Good Club on Rest Less Events, which is a monthly safe space dedicated to sharing good vibes?
However, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t suffer in silence if you’re experiencing a prolonged low mood. The NHS recommends reaching out for help if you’ve been feeling down for more than two weeks. You could speak to a friend, family, member, counsellor, or your GP.
Alternatively, if you’re ever feeling desperate and aren’t sure where to turn, you can get in touch with Samaritans by calling 116 124, or with Silver Line by calling 0800 470 8090. Here, someone will be able to offer you a listening ear and some friendly words of advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.