1. Respond to good news enthusiastically. It's called "capitalizing." If your significant other tells you some good news, how do you respond? Four possible ways to respond are: 1) enthusiastically, 2) negatively, 3) positively but subdued, or 4) uninterested. Studies show when you respond enthusiastically, as opposed to any of the other ways, it makes a big difference in how satisfied your significant other is in your relationship, how committed s/he is, and how in love s/he is with you. And, of course, if your significant other is more satisfied with your relationship, is more committed to you, and more in love with you, that will really raise your mood, too.
2. Look at personal photos. Listening to music and eating chocolate didn't really change experimental subjects' moods very much. Alcohol and TV each gave people a 1% rise in their happiness score. But the clear winner was looking at personal photos. It gave people, on average, an 11% rise in their mood.
3. Experiment with your posture. Someone who feels down tends to slump. Someone who is happy tends to sit up straighter, walk more upright with the head held up, looking ahead instead of down. If you have been paying attention, you know this already. Posture tends to be a reflection of mood. What you might not have realized is that it goes the other way too: If you change your posture, it will influence your mood. Experiment with your posture while you're walking or sitting. Do more of what makes you feel better, and less of what doesn't.
4. Compare your situation to something worse. Think of something you are unhappy about. Now notice that the reason it makes you unhappy is that you are comparing your situation to something better. You're comparing your situation to something more ideal. But try this: Think of someone in this world who would take your situation over theirs in a heartbeat. Or imagine your own situation was much worse than it is. Whatever you are unhappy about, you can easily find a worse situation to compare it to. And from that perspective, you are lucky to have the problem you have, even though it is obviously not ideal. Who says the ideal is a legitimate thing to use as a comparison anyway? Something worse is at least as legitimate, and has a benefit too: You feel better.
5. Pretend the universe is in a conspiracy to make you happy. When something bad happens, pretend the universe is in a conspiracy to make you happy and it gave you this bad thing as the perfect way for you to learn something — a lesson that will ultimately make you happy. This way of reframing a setback will improve your mood in the moment, and will raise your mood in the long run. It'll help you learn and improve what you do in the future. It will help you make the most of whatever happens. What unpleasant situation do you have? Is it teaching you something valuable? Could it, if you looked at it that way? Your ongoing mood has a lot to do with how things look to you. And how things look to you has a lot to do with how you look at things. Use this to your advantage by using this reframe.
6. Think of something you're grateful for. It is surprisingly easy to think of something you're grateful for. It only takes a few moments. And as soon as you think of something, you feel noticeably better. If the first thing you think of doesn't raise your mood enough, ask yourself what else you're grateful for. We naturally have our attention on our goals and what we'd like to attain in the future, and the mind naturally compares what we have with what we want to have. That's motivating sometimes, but it can also make you feel demoralized or frustrated. It is equally legitimate — and ought to get equal billing — to think about what you have (compared to others or compared to your past), or what you have gained, or what you are just plain glad about. Try it the next time you feel discouraged or frustrated. Ask yourself, "What am I grateful for?"
7. Take some time and sit still quietly. Simply sitting and thinking can raise your mood consistently. All you have to do is sit still without doing anything. How often do you do that? You always have lots to do, and if you're not doing something, you're watching a movie or listening to music. Your mind is almost continually engaged. When you sit still, after about fifteen minutes, your mind seems to go into a defrag mode. Unresolved issues bubble up and get resolved. Your mind seems to naturally sort itself out. It feels almost as if you had things you needed to think about that were pushed to the back of your mind, waiting for an opportunity. Sit still and let your mind think for a half-hour to an hour. I think you'll be surprised at how clear-headed and peaceful you become.
8. Do some exercise. Exercise beats depression, but even if you're not depressed, a little exercise usually raises your mood. It's an all-purpose mood-raiser that just about anyone can use. If you haven't exercised in the last couple days and you're not feeling as good as you would like, try doing some exercise today and see if that helps. It probably will.
9. Get a little done on a purpose you care about. Think of one small goal you really want. And it's really important you think of something you want. You could do things you should do all day long, completing task after task, but if there's no juice in it, all that accomplishment won't raise your mood. For real enjoyment, you need: 1) something you want to accomplish, that 2) you enjoy accomplishing. Do a little of your joyful purpose today, or if the day is almost done, then start tomorrow. Think of something you really want to do that you really like to do, and get a little of it done.
10. Reframe a circumstance that makes you feel bad. "Reframing" means interpreting the situation differently. When something happens, you interpret it a certain way, and your mind usually does it automatically. The situation just seems a certain way to you, and you have feelings appropriate to the way you look at it. When you reframe a circumstance that makes you feel bad, you won't feel bad any more. Nothing has changed except how you're looking at it, but that's enough to change your feelings. To reframe something, all you have to do is 1) notice some circumstance is bringing you down, and 2) ask yourself if there is some other way to look at it than the way you automatically look at it.
There you have it. Ten good ways to improve your mood. Keep this list around and when you want to feel better, try one.
Adam Khan is the author of See Her Smile and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It.