If you’re feeling down or stressed out, it can feel like there’s no way to ‘flip a switch’ and make yourself feel better.
But there actually are a few things you can do near-instantly (ie in the space of five minutes) which are proven to make people feel better.
MORE: Style out a mini British heatwave (when you still have to go to work)
Need a quick boost? Read on.
Do a ‘happy walk’
It sounds silly, but researchers found that doing a stereotypically happy walk – with large arm swings and exaggerated motions, actually makes people happier.
Researchers got volunteers to do ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’ walks on treadmills – and found that people who did ‘happy’ walks had more positive thoughts.
‘Our results show that biased memory towards self-referent negative material (a feature of depression) can be changed by manipulating the style of walking,’ said lead author Johannes Michalak.
Read for five minutes
A 2009 study by University of Sussex researchers found that reading for five minutes busts stress more effectively than music or going for a walk.
It even works better than a cup of tea.
Researchers tested various methods of relaxation and found that reading was the best, reducing stress by up to 68%.
Give someone a gift
Giving money to others – or to charity – reliably puts a smile on your face – and it’s been proven in numerous studies.
One Harvard study questioned 632 Americans on how much of their income they ‘gave away’ in the form of charitable donations or gifts – and how happy they were.
Professor Michael North and his colleagues found that people who spent money on others were happier.
Take a selfie
Pouting selfies might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but taking them – and sending them to friends – actually makes people happier, according to new research.
Researchers asked student volunteers to take selfies every day – and contrasted them with groups who took pictures of objects they believed would make others happy.
The group who took the selfies were happier, the researchers say.
‘Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it,’ said lead author Yu Chen of the University of California, Irvine.
Spend money – but on experiences, not things
The Beatles might have been right when they sang ‘money can’t buy me love’ – but it can help you be happy.
But most of us get it wrong – by buying things, rather than experiences.
Instead, you should treat yourself to a nice meal out – or a day at the aquarium, for instance.
San Francisco State Associate Professor of Psychology Ryan Howell says, ‘People actually do know, and accurately predict, that life experiences will make them happier.
‘What they really underestimate is how much monetary value they will get out of a life experience. Even though they’re told experiences will make them happier and they know experiences will make them happier, they still perceive material items as being a better value.’
Go outdoors (ideally in the sun)
A study in the United Arab Emirates linked going outdoors in the sun (easy if you live in the United Arab Emirates) with improved mood.
Researchers believe that Vitamin D might be the key.
Dr. Fatme Al Anouti of Zayed University said ‘This is just a pilot study and we need larger sample size but we found that behavioral change is associated with mood change and vitamin D status.
‘So participants who adopted a more outdoor lifestyle got better in terms of mood and vitamin D status.’
Plan a holiday
Oddly, going on holiday doesn’t make us much happier afterwards – but planning and anticipating a holiday does make people happy.
A 2010 Dutch study interviewed 1,500 volunteers before, during and after their holidays.
The researchers write, ‘Vacationers reported a higher degree of pre-trip happiness, compared to non-vacationers, possibly because they are anticipating their holiday.’
Write down all the things you are grateful for
Some researchers believe that the emotion of gratitude is key to happiness – and writing down things you are thankful for in a ‘gratitude journal’ helps to focus this.
Robert A Emmons of the University of California, Davis says, ‘In an experimental comparison, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life event.’
Do something impulsive
Making decisions – even big ones – at random can have long-term benefits in terms of your happiness.
In fact, leaving life’s ‘big’ decisions up to the toss of a coin might not be such a bad idea, argues Freakonomics author Steven D Levitt.
Levitt’s study – shared as an unfinished ‘working paper – let thousands of volunteers flip a coin to decide on questions such as whether to leave a job, or whether to leave a significant other.
The volunteers weren’t forced to follow the coin’s ‘decision’ – but up to 63% did – and Levitt found that those who did were happier.
Levitt says, ‘Those who were instructed by the coin toss to make a change were both more likely to make the change…and, on average, report greater happiness on the follow-up surveys.’
In fact, making a change – as opposed to sticking with the status quo – made people, ‘substantially happier than those who do not make a change,’ Levitt said.