Express Happiness

Three 5-Minute Methods For Boosting Your Mood

Posted May 29, 2018

You want to improve your mood, but your life is jam packed. It feels like there just isn't any space to give to working on your happiness. I get it! With everything vying for our attention these days -- work, family, eating and sleeping, and just the logistics of everyday life, not to mention leisure -- it's difficult to justify something that, by most accounts, seems a lot less urgent. Even if you COULD make some substantial time to work on happiness, you may FEEL like you can't, or at least you can't right now. 

I could spend an entire post on the reasons why it's worth it to make happiness a priority. It's good for your health, for your relationships, for your ability to do certain cognitive tasks, for your long term chances of success, and so on (here's an overview). Instead, however, how about we meet in the middle -- you accept the argument that happiness is a worthwhile pursuit, and I will accept the premise that you don't have more than 5 minutes a day in which to pursue it. Deal? Ok, here we go.

In this post, I am going to tell you my favorite three techniques for a quick happiness boost. I didn't invent them, but I have test driven them personally:

1) Have a daily happiness debrief with someone else. Every day, as we cuddle before bed time, my almost-5-year-old daughter and I tell each other about our days. Specifically, I ask her to tell me her favorite three things that happened. Sometimes, she is feeling grouchy about going to bed and this is hard for her. Other times, it's so easy that she blows past 3 things and I can't get her to stop! Either way, this exercise ends her day on a good note and draws her attention to good things that she may have forgotten about. Similarly, sometimes she helps me remember about good things that happened. We help each other with it!

Even if we were together all day, it feels good to reminisce about the fun parts of our day, and I learn something by hearing her tell me what experiences were best for her. It's not always what I think! Last night, for example, the first thing she mentioned was "having a sing-a-long." We had spent a few minutes listening to music from her favorite movie and singing with it. It was brief, and we almost didn't manage it at all -- it was a hectic day, and we tried several times to get around to it to no avail. We finally squeezed it in just before dinner, and only for a few minutes, so I didn't think much of it. Hearing that it was one of the top highlights of her day meant something to me, and also told me more about what sorts of activities she values.

Photo by Acacia Parks.

A dress-up picnic is but one of many good things we remembered at the end of our day.

Source: Photo by Acacia Parks.

Doing a happiness debriefing with someone else helps me remember to do it, and also makes it easier since I have someone else to help prod my memory. Practicing gratitude before bed is tied to higher sleep quality, which predicts better future cognitive functioning, immunity, and mood regulation. Highly recommended!

2) Do something that's consistent with your values. This one requires a bit of work up front, but once you do that work, it takes only minutes to maintain. Spend some time thinking about the best possible version of yourself 5, 10, or even 20 years from now. Make some notes about what that person is like, what other people say about that person when describing her, and what types of things that person does. Each day, review your notes and then, based on your aspirations for the future, do something that's consistent with your Best Possible Self.

Lately, my Best Possible Self is brave and bold, always trying new things and expanding her horizons. This can be as easy as reading about something new -- for example, I've been enjoying a chapter of Trevor Noah's "Born a Crime" when I have a few spare minutes. It can also be practicing a new skill. When I first had my daughter, I was a big fan of Babywearing, and whenever I had a spare minute, I'd pull up a YouTube video and learn a new carry (here's a dorky one of me teaching!). I expand myself one bit of knowledge at a time.

Another thing I have been doing lately is spending a few minutes here and there researching new, more time-involved things that I would like to do when my schedule allows. The latest one of those is Lyra, or aerial hoop.

Photo by Acacia Parks.

Lyra: Because the chances that I had ever tried anything like this were zero. 

Source: Photo by Acacia Parks.

I tried Lyra because a friend offered to buy me a free lesson. "Why the heck not?" I said. The chances that I had ever tried anything like this were zero, and I'm all about new experiences! It took an hour instead of just 5 minutes, but it was also quite a bit more satisfying than anything I could do in 5 minutes. My point is, it's a matter of degrees, and when it comes to living in line with your authentic self, the more you give, the more you get.

If you want to get really hard core, get your friends involved. I recently dragged my coworkers at Happily to a Lyra class in New York, when I was visiting our office in Union Square (I normally telecommute). The results were awesome! Check out our office manager, Alex, completely nailing it!

Photo by Acacia Parks/

Alex rocking the Lyra like a boss.

Source: Photo by Acacia Parks/

3) Really, really enjoy something. Think of all the things you go through on "autopilot" on an average day. Eating, showering, walking from place to place, even sometimes having conversations -- all of these things can be and often are done only part way, while the rest of your mind is somewhere else. Shake this habit by spending a couple of minutes savoring something as fully as you can. As you walk from your car to your office or the store or wherever, notice what it's like outside. What do you see around you -- what is nearby (trees? cars? storefronts?) and what little movements do you notice (people getting in and out of cars? construction? kids playing?)? What sounds do you hear? What do you smell? What is the temperature? Is there a breeze? If you see something that catches your attention, approach it and check it out for a minute. See what you can take in during this short period of time you have sectioned off to be fully in the moment.

Photo by Acacia Parks
I recently savored this awesome bowl of ramen with sake. Taking the picture is part of savoring for me -- so I can savor again later.
Source: Photo by Acacia Parks

If that doesn't float your boat, you can also try the more old-fashioned approach to savoring that most of us are more familiar with: eating something. The same principles apply, but you are focused on what you can see, smell, feel, and taste as it relates to your food. Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate with cool whipped cream, a crispy wafer, little sprinkles of chocolate that melt on your tongue. Enjoy each of the textures separately and together, seeing how they change your experience by combining them in different ways.

Whatever you decide to savor, doing so can give you a quick and satisfying boost of positive emotion. Positive emotion is essential for creativity and perspective, which can help with problem-solving and coping. If you get good at savoring, you'll have the perfect tool in your arsenal to induce a positive mood state when you need it.

And There You Have It! 

As promised, three 5-minute activities to boost your happiness -- with options to expand as time allows! I hope you enjoyed, and if you did, share this blog post with your friends. :)

References

Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? ​Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855.