For exclusive access to all our stories, including sequences, teacher tips, video classes, and more, join Outside+ today.
If your day is bringing your mood down or you’re stuck in a funk, you don’t have to write it off altogether. You can boost your happiness and brighten your outlook instantaneously—seriously! We’ve got simple tips and tricks that’ll improve your mood in no time at all, and they’re so easy you can try them anywhere, anytime you’re feeling sad, frustrated, or just a bit blah.
Working out? You do you. Physical activity powerfully promotes well-being, and new studies show even a single session can significantly lessen depression.
But research suggests exercise is more effective when you choose the style, pace and intensity, rather than following a prescribed regimen. And if you’re working out in a way you love, you’ll be more likely to move when you’re feeling down.
To improve your mood, try inspiring activities you can do with others. Dancing, tennis and hiking with a friend all encourage interaction, which is known to foster happiness. For immediate ease, take a walk; even 10 minutes of brisk walking is proven to measurably upgrade disposition. Listen to cheerful music and install an app to keep track of times and steps—Pacer, Stepsapp, and Walkmeter are simple to use (and free!).
Neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine influence mood, and a shortage or imbalance is often a key factor in sadness, tension and negative outlook. Nutrients in food are the building blocks for neurotransmitters, so what you eat has a profound effect on how you feel. Plus, snacking on cookies, candy and sugary treats creates blood sugar fluctuations that can trigger irritability, anxiety and worry.
Support your sunny disposition with a whole-foods diet rich in brain nutrients like B vitamins, protein, magnesium, zinc, vitamin E and omega 3 fats. Kick sugary snacks; instead, nibble on nuts, seeds, vegetables and hummus. If you do eat sweets, do so in small amounts after balanced meals. Protein, fiber and fat slow sugar absorption, lessening its impact on your serenity.
Labeling your emotions creates instant clarity and can ease that vague sense of discomfort and edginess you might be feeling. Potent emotions, like rage, are easy to name. It’s the low-grade disquiet we tend to ignore – but left unattended, those simmering sensations gather strength and power. Specifically naming what you’re feeling releases the charge and puts you back in control.
Try this: Next time you’re vaguely dissatisfied, take a minute to name what you’re actually feeling. Is it anxiety? Worry, tension or sadness? Write it out in a journal or express your emotions out loud to a trusted friend to loosen their grip on your peace of mind.
For instant equanimity, kick off your shoes and walk outside barefoot. Connecting with the earth – called “earthing” or “grounding”– has been shown to relieve depression and promote tranquility.
Wondering why it works? Direct contact with the vast supply of electrons on the earth’s surface stimulates the transfer of free electrons into the body, restoring lost electrical imbalances, improving functioning of cells and systems, and triggering rapid, sometimes instant, physiological changes. Studies suggest even short periods of grounding enhance mood, and also boost immunity and dampen inflammation.
For a speedy attitude adjustment, walk barefoot for 20 minutes on natural conductive surfaces, like grass, soil, stone and sand. Or, go barefoot for a minute in the snow: Icy temperatures are thought to activate electrical impulses, reset the nervous system and encourage an optimistic state of mind.
Crying frees up pent-up feelings so you can process and release them, and studies show weeping helps restore emotional equilibrium. On a physiological level, shedding tears activates the parasympathetic nervous system associated with calm and rest. Sobbing also flushes out stress hormones contained in tears, and it prompts your body to breathe in more cool air, which further soothes the nervous system. And crying triggers the release of endorphins, feel-good brain chemicals that ease emotional pain.
Stop sucking it up and holding it in – let your tears loose! Watch a sorrowful movie, visualize sad memories, listen to weepy music; whatever gets the tears flowing. Afterward, shift to serenity with pure essential oils proven to promote a peaceful mood, like sandalwood, ylang ylang and frankincense.
Water accounts for about 75 percent of your brain’s mass, and a lack of fluids impacts how your brain works. Even mild dehydration has been shown to influence mental health, promoting moodiness, irritability and malaise.
Water is especially important if you drink coffee. Caffeine is a potent diuretic, dehydrating the body and leaving you listless and cranky. Plus, too much caffeine puts the nervous system in a state of hyperarousal, making you edgy and letting emotions run rampant.
Next time you’re feeling negative, improve your mood by downing a glass or two of filtered water. Try to stay hydrated throughout the day. Keep a bottle of water near your desk and set a timer to remind you to drink. Instead of plastic, try a lightweight bottle you can refill again and again.
Tuning out the world and connecting with yourself is proven to promote a positive outlook. In one study , a four-day retreat that included meditation, journaling and other activities significantly decreased depression and anxiety – and it improved happiness. Even an hour of checking out can reset your worried mind.
Take a mini, mid-day retreat: shut down your laptop, turn off your phones and tune out the world. Try journaling, walking in nature, drumming, praying or meditating. Studies show just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system and, over time, creates measurable, structural changes in brain regions associated with well-being. And deep breathing practices reboot the nervous system, calm and relax both body and mind.
Need direction? Try iBreathe, a free app that guides you through simple deep breathing exercises.
For more ideas to instill happiness and improve your mood, keep reading: