When something bad happens, how do you make yourself feel better? Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you’ve been crushed in a relationship. What can you do to lift your spirits?
1. Remind yourself, “It could be worse.” Making a downward comparison by comparing your situation to people with worse troubles puts your problems into perspective. Because I live in New York City, I know a lot of people who have lost their jobs. When talking about it, they often say things like, “We have two healthy children, and that’s what’s important” or “We almost moved to London a few months ago, we’re so glad we didn’t, and so we’re here near our family and friends now.” They’re reminding themselves that, in many ways, they’re fortunate.
2. Remember your body. Take a twenty-minute walk outside to boost your energy and dissolve stress. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Get enough sleep. When you’re anxious, it’s easy to stay up late cruising the internet and eating ice cream — and that’s going to make you feel a lot worse in the long run. It’s very tempting to run yourself ragged trying to deal with a crisis, but in the long run, you just wear yourself out.
4. Do something fun. Distract yourself from the stress, and re-charge your battery, with an enjoyable activity. Watching a funny movie is a reliable way to give yourself a pleasant break, and listening to your favorite music is one of the quickest ways to change your mood. Be careful, however, not to “treat” yourself by doing something that’s eventually going to make you feel worse (taking up smoking again, drinking too much, indulging in retail therapy). My comfort food activity is reading children’s literature.
5. Take action. If you’re in a bad situation, take steps to bring about change. If you’re having trouble with your new boss, you could decide to try to transfer. Or you could change your behavior. Or you could find ways to pay less attention to your boss. Ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem?” It’s astounding to me that often, when I take time to identify a problem exactly, a possible solution presents itself.
6. Look for meaning. Re-frame an event to see the positive along with the negative. Maybe getting fired will give you the push you need to move to the city where you’ve always wanted to live. Maybe getting cancer has strengthened your relationships with your family. You don’t need to be thankful that something bad has happened, but you can see that even a catastrophic event can have (to use a cliché) a silver lining.
7. Spend time with friends and family. Strong social relationships are a KEY to happiness, so fight the impulse to isolate yourself. Ask for help, offer your help to others. Or just have some fun (see #4) and forget your troubles for a while.
8. Make something better. If something in your life has gotten worse, try to make something else better – and it doesn’t have to be something important. Clean a closet. Organize your photographs. Work in the yard.
9. Act toward other people the way you wish they’d act toward you. If you wish your friends would help you find someone to date, see if you can fix up a friend. If you wish people would help you find a job, see if you can help someone else find a job. If you can’t think of a way to help someone you know, do something generous in a more impersonal way. Become an organ donor. Donate things you don’t need anymore to charity. (This is also a way to keep #8). When you’re feeling very low, it can be hard to muster the energy to help someone else, but you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
One of my Secrets of Adulthood is “It’s okay to ask for help,” and I’m asking for your help. If you consider yourself a super-fan of The Happiness Project (I ask sheepishly), and would be willing to help me out in a few ways, I’d love to hear from you.
First item: before long, I’m going to launch my super-secret, super-fabulous, happiness-related website. I’ll send the super-fans the link ahead of time, in case they’d be interested in being beta testers (i.e., using the site in its early stages, to help work out the kinks before I make it public).
If you’re not interested in that sort of thing, there are some other issues that will come up in the next few months — all purely voluntary, of course, so if you sign up as a super-fan but then don’t have time or don’t want to do anything, that’s perfectly fine.
If any kind souls would like to sign up, please just drop me an email at
gretchenrubin1[at]gmail[dot com]. (I added brackets to thwart spammers, but just use the usual email format.) No need to write anything more than “super-fan” in the subject line, and I’ll put your name on the list.