You’ve probably noticed that the happiest people you know seem to be able to handle just about anything that unfolds with grace and ease.
That’s because they have a toolbox of coping skills to boost their mood when things get tough.
But you can swipe those same techniques and use them when you’re in need of a pick-me-up.
Here are 12 great examples of things happy people do when they want to feel a bit more positive.
1. They listen to music.
Never underestimate the positive effect that music can have on one’s spirit.
Listening to happy, upbeat music elevates mood, alleviates pain, helps people get along better, and can even help us to retain information that we learn.
Listening to music regularly can contribute to higher health-related quality of life (HRQOL). Additionally, studies have shown that dancing around to the music that you like best increases endorphin and dopamine levels, as well as creativity!
Make some playlists of the songs that make you feel happiest and crank those joyful tunes whenever you’re in need of a mood boost. Bonus points if you can dance around to them as well.
2. They play.
Adulthood involves a startling amount of responsibility and few opportunities for play.
This is both unfortunate and detrimental because taking time to play has a startlingly beneficial effect on our overall well-being.
In fact, if you look at the characteristics of happy people, you’ll find that the vast majority of them engage in some kind of play on a regular basis.
Just about every adult animal on the planet engages in some type of playful behavior. Dolphins play catch with puffer fish, primates play tag and hide and seek, and so on.
In contrast, adult humans often put play at the bottom of their to-do list because they may consider it “childish,” when in fact play is associated with a higher quality of life, and with greater overall happiness and fulfillment.
If you balk at the idea of playing because you think it’s juvenile, you may simply need to find the “play personality” that suits you best. Dr. Stuart Brown—founder of the National Institute for Play—identified eight primary personalities. Depending on your personal interests, the type of play you’ll enjoy will likely fall into one of these categories:
- “The Collector”: You find joy in building a collection of items you love, whether that’s interesting stones, vintage items, toys, artwork, and so on.
- “The Competitor”: You’re happiest when competing in situations that have rules and awards, like team sports, triathlons, or board games.
- “The Creator/Artist”: Creating (or using creative problem solving) brings you intense joy, whether it’s drawing and painting, fixing up old cars, carpentry, sewing, and so on.
- “The Director”: You’re happiest when planning and managing things, like special events or parties.
- “The Explorer”: You love to learn about or try new things, whether it’s learning a new language or traveling to a new country.
- “The Joker”: Silly, potentially foolish things bring you joy, so you may like to attend (or participate in) improv comedy or watch ridiculous movies that make you laugh.
- “The Kinesthete”: You’re happiest when moving your body, so you may take dance classes, go out dancing at clubs, do yoga, or hit the gym for fun.
- “The Storyteller”: Stories engage and enthrall you, whether you’re reading them, listening to them, or creating them.
Once you’ve determined the type of play that makes you happiest, ensure that you make time for it daily for much-needed mood-boosting power.
3. They get creative.
This can be related to play, though creativity can manifest in ways that aren’t playful per se.
Happy people often have at least one creative outlet. The creative endeavors they pursue will depend on their individual preferences, but they inevitably have some type of fulfilling creative hobby that they spend time on.
Those who engage in creativity regularly have been shown to have lower stress levels and higher levels of personal autonomy and self-confidence.
Some people might find great delight in baking creatively for those they love, while others might do home renovations. Creative pursuits help to boost one’s mood on bad days, and they make people more resilient to dealing with stress in the long term.
4. They spend quality time talking with a loved one.
Have you ever had a bad day get exponentially better because a friend of yours sent you an appallingly funny meme at just the right time? Or after you’ve had even a brief chat with someone you adore?
Never underestimate the power of love and friendship to keep us happy and fulfilled.
People who are lonely tend to suffer from more negative health issues than those who have regular companionship, especially meaningful conversations with people they care about.
A quick call with a good friend on a daily basis can keep you in good spirits long-term, and a heartfelt connection on a mad day will undoubtedly make you feel much better.
5. They enjoy mood-enhancing food or drink.
Food isn’t simply “filler,” but instead has a profound effect on our overall health—and that includes mood.
We are what we eat, and the compounds that various foods contain can have healing, anti-inflammatory, or mood-enhancing effects on us.
We’re not talking about the buzz that alcohol or cannabis edibles can provide temporarily, but rather foods that naturally make us feel happier because of the mood-enhancing chemicals they help us to release.
- Turkey’s tryptophan content helps us to create serotonin; a feel-good chemical that can make us feel relaxed and content.
- Dairy products such as cheese and whole milk contain casein, which relieves pain and inspires a sense of euphoria.
- Eggs contain choline, which helps us to produce neurotransmitters while offering support to our nervous system.
- Oats are anti-inflammatory and have a mood-elevating, relaxing effect on us.
- Bananas: Their high vitamin B6 levels encourage us to synthesize “feel-good” serotonin and dopamine, while their sugars and fibers stabilize insulin levels.
- Nuts and seeds are also high in tryptophan and have a cumulative effect when combined with other items on this list. Toss a handful of walnuts or sunflower seeds into oatmeal or eat nutty chocolate with a mug of warm milk.
- Chocolate: There’s a solid reason why eating chocolate makes us happy—it contains anandamide (aka the “bliss chemical”), endorphin-boosting phenylethylamine, and magnesium (which helps us relax). It’s no small surprise that we offer chocolate to our loved ones to cheer them up! Aim for dark chocolate rather than milky, and savor slowly and mindfully rather than hoovering it up.
6. They spend time outside.
Have you noticed how many people choose to spend time in the great outdoors to rest and replenish while on vacation?
Whether they prefer to lounge on a Caribbean beach or chill lakeside in a forest retreat, folks generally gravitate to outside spaces when they’re in need of soul-nourishing R&R.
Many studies have been done on how nature can improve mood. In addition to improving the cardiovascular system, spending time in nature improves the immune system, lowers inflammation, and alleviates anxiety and depression!
If these combined benefits aren’t enough of an incentive to get out into the forest or down to the beach more often, what is?
7. They cuddle their pets.
Animal companions aren’t just adorable: spending time with them can boost one’s mood significantly.
Cuddling a furry friend increases oxytocin (happy) hormone levels in the human and non-human alike. Furthermore, giving and receiving affection from pets alleviates depression, and can ease anxiety and panic by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels (which calm us down).
Emotional support animals come in all different shapes and sizes, from hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits through to cats, dogs, horses, and cows.
There’s an ideal animal companion for everyone, depending on one’s personality and the space and time they have available to care for them. Spend quality time with yours, and you’ll be sure to see your mood—and general health—improve exponentially.
8. They take naps.
Happy people recognize that sleep is integral to one’s health and emotional stability. In fact, being well-rested is one of the key signs of happiness.
If you’ve ever dealt with a stubborn toddler, you’ve likely seen their tantrums turn into smiles after they’ve gone down for a much-needed nap.
Just because we get taller doesn’t mean we stop benefiting from short resets like this. If and when you’re struggling, try lying down for a 20- to 30-minute nap, and see how much better you feel after you’ve rested a bit.
9. They perform a conscious meditation.
People who meditate regularly develop techniques that improve their mental and emotional states, thus giving them the ability to boost their own moods.
Meditation requires bringing one’s attention entirely into the present moment. As a result, there’s no focus on past woes or future anxieties: simply what’s going on right now.
One of the best techniques is MBT: Mindfulness-Based Therapy. This is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy that’s often used by therapists to teach people how to be more present, and thus less likely to spiral into severe panic or depression.
If you don’t already have a therapist with experience in this type of therapy, consider seeking one out. They can teach you some simple techniques that bring you fully into the present moment, allowing you to turn a bad mood around and boost your spirits as needed.
10. They engage in physical touch.
Infants who don’t receive enough physical touch from caregivers—such as being held and cuddled—often fail to thrive.
Similarly, relationships that don’t involve a significant amount of physical affection generally fall apart. Meaningful physical touch—including sex—makes us feel better and more emotionally well-balanced.
If you aren’t dating anyone or don’t have friends you’re comfortable hugging (or sleeping with, for that matter), book a massage for yourself instead. Deep-tissue massages like shiatsu and other types of therapeutic touch have a similar mood-boosting effect, without the negative repercussions you may get from texting your ex for a hookup.
11. They engage in pursuits that bring them sincere joy.
Many of us put off doing whatever makes us truly happy and engaged in favor of responsibility and obligation.
From a young age, we have been shamed or reprimanded for spending our time “frivolously” instead of being responsible—we may have received contempt from others for playing a game when there were dishes to be washed or for reading a book instead of studying.
But happy people learned that time spent doing things they deeply enjoy is essential to increase and maintain their mood. They prioritize their most treasured pursuits and refuse to sacrifice them unless a genuine emergency comes up.
12. They avoid situations that knock them down.
You won’t need as many mood-elevating tools in your belt if you avoid the things and situations that tend to bring you down in the first place.
We all have to deal with situations we dislike at various points in our lives, from uncomfortable meetings with coworkers we despise to interactions with difficult family members. After these situations, most of us turn to something that may help to pull our mood up and out of the gutter it’s festering in.
As such, avoiding situations that we know will bring us down is a great preventative measure for long-term mental and emotional well-being, rather like a long-term investment in health and happiness.
These things aren’t rocket science, but how many can you honestly say you engage in, or get the most from? If you want to be in a generally better mood, take these things seriously and make them a priority.