Science of happy: 7 small daily habits proven to boost your mood

Feeling tired and emotional? These daily habits are so simple, you’ll hardly have to think twice about them – and they’re scientifically proven to elevate mood.

The problem with happiness is that we tend to ascribe it to some mystical force, rather than an everyday habit that is accessible to all. And while lots of happiness literature rightly focuses on the long-game with rituals such as meditation or sleep discipline, little incidental things can also bring about an instant mood lift. 

In this rather bleak era of multiple lockdowns and depressing coronavirus news, here are seven science-backed ways of tapping the pick-me-up you need:

1. Listen to upbeat music for 10 minutes

Just nine minutes of listening to feel-good music is enough to make you feel uplifted, according to research released earlier this year from theBritish Academy of Sound Therapy. Given the average song length is just over  three minutes long, that’s three and a bit tracks to trigger a marked increase in energy levels, laughter and a sense that you can “take on anything”. For this type of effect,  researchers found that music with a driving rhythm, fast tempo and positive lyrical content worked best. Beyoncé it is.

2. Eat a few squares of dark chocolate 

A landmark study from University College London last year found that those who ate dark chocolate were 70% less likely to report clinically-relevant depressive symptomswithin a 24-hour period than those who had no chocolate at all. 

Why? Chocolate made with a minimum of 60% cocoa solids is packed with antioxidants, which may reduce inflammation levels linked to depression. It also contains psychoactive ingredients that help to regulate mood and may spark feelings of euphoria. Obviously, it’s all in moderation, though; so a square or two a day works best.

3. Soak up the daylight 

Exposure to sunlight triggers the release of “happy hormone” serotonin, which promotes feelings of calm and focus. “The sun works through a number of receptors in the brain to affect our mental status and alertness,”  Dr. Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer at Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, tells Forbes

Needless to say, you should keep the habit in check by wielding high SPF sun cream at all times. Naturally, you can’t exactly order ahead on sunshine in the UK, but even gentle winter daylight exposure is enough to improve sleep patterns (an effect that is enhanced if you grab some morning sunlight) and strengthen the body’s immune system. 

4. Re-watch Titanic or another sad film

Yup, it’s official. Researchers from Ohio State University found that watching sad films like Titanic actually lifts happiness in the short-term, because it causes people to reflect positively on their own lives. 

“Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings,” explained Professor Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study. “They appeal to people because they help them to appreciate their own relationships more.” Participants in the study watched tragic war drama Atonement, based on Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel: but really, any tear-jerker will do the trick.

5. Take a 12-minute walk

You don’t have to work up a sweat negotiating complex HIIT drills to reap the happiness benefits of exercise. The simple act of walking for just 12 minutes a day can powerfully influence mood. Psychologists at Iowa State University found that campus students who went on an “uneventful” campus stroll for this period felt more joyful, energetic and self-assured as a result. 

Being in nature may also have a role to play here: countless studies have shown that when the brain is exposed to stimuli from the Great Outdoors, it rewires to make us feel happier and more positive about the world.

6. Bask in a long warm bath

For many years, hydrotherapy has been used as means of relaxation and pain relief but it’s easy to underestimate the power of “taking the waters” (as it used to be known). One eye-opening 2018 study from the University of Freiburg in Germany found that a regular 30-minute bath has a more profound effect than physical exercise when it comes to boosting mood (that doesn’t mean you can slack off on your weekly jog, though – both will do nicely). 

There’s also research to suggest that we use warm bathing to ward off feelings of loneliness, while a warm bath before bed has been proven to help with sleep. All of which adds up to a strong incentive to spend even longer in the bath than usual…

7. Smell the lemons (or the freshly cut grass)

When life gives you lemons – smell them. Research has found that the aroma of citrus induces a positive mindset that elevates mood and reduces feelings of helplessness. One Japanese study found that the effect of the scent was so strong, it reduced feelings of tension and anxiety for up to 30 minutes after the initial stimulation. 

Meanwhile, another body of research showed that the smell of freshly cut grass can also relieve stress. So the next time you’re feeling a bit fraught, simply mow the lawn (if you have one) or reach for that bottle of citrus verbena shower gel. Happy days.

Images: Getty

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