Did you know that 50 percent of your happiness is determined by genetics and 10 percent by major life circumstances? Where does the other 40% come from? Answer: your daily thoughts and actions. This gives you an impressive amount of control when it comes to influencing your own moods. When you’re in need of a shift in perspective, try one or more of these 7 proven techniques based on psychological research.
- Be curious. When you are inquisitive, you are more likely to derive pleasure and meaning from your day. The key, however, is to be actively engaged. (Watching television won’t do the trick.) Another component is to step out of your comfort zone, because when you become completely absorbed in the moment, you create positive energy.
- Think fast. Depression is characterized by slow thinking, so making your brain race gives you a mood boost. Try this. Read something very quickly. Keep at it until you find a shift in your mood. In one study, subjects who read even depressing statements quickly said they felt happier, more energetic and more creative afterward.
- Talk to strangers. Surprisingly, interacting with a stranger is a safe way to improve your mood. Because it’s a strong social norm to want to make a good impression with someone you don’t know, you tend to act more cheerful. And the more cheerful you act, the more cheerful you feel. In one study, participants were told that in three minutes they would be talking with a stranger. The anticipation alone boosted the subjects’ moods.
- Do a good thing. While it may be easier said than done, practicing compassion and kindness brings positive returns to the giver as well as the receiver. Experts found that gestures as small as doing a household chore for someone or buying a friend flowers can enhance your mood. In one study, participants who carried out five “acts of kindness” in one day showed significant increases in happiness.
- Exercise outdoors. Get out of the gym. No matter whether it’s sunny or cloudy, you get the best effect from outdoor exercise. All that’s required to get a mood benefit is a brisk five-to-ten minute walk. No sweat is necessary. And another benefit of getting out of the gym is it prevents social comparison, a downward spiral trigger.
- Create a flower show. If you anticipate a stressful period, buy yourself flowers. Perhaps it’s our innate attraction to vegetation as a signal of food and water, but whatever the reason, researchers found that women who were sent fresh flowers reported feeling less anxious, less depressed, more compassionate at home and more enthusiastic at work.
- Add music and take a whiff. Music affects the pleasure center of the brain. And here’s an extra bonus. When you’ve been listening to music you like, the positive effect lasts even after the music is over. Similarly, smelling any scent that appeals to you can improve your mood. After you’ve been exposed to a scent for about 20 minutes, even if you no longer smell it, the good mood will stick around.
The notion that you can affect your own moods isn’t new. Over 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We are disturbed not by events, but by the views we take of them.” But what is new is the immense amount of research that proves just how right Epictetus was. The next time you’re on a downward spiral, why not put these techniques to the test. Are the experts right? Were you able to shift your mood?