As the temperature continues to drop, the days continue to shorten and the pandemic rages on , I cannot help but be reminded of the title of a poem by William Shakespeare: Now Is the Winter of Our Discontent.
Because this second consecutive pandemic-winter is going to be rough. The fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 are very much all around us, but now we need to deal with it during the winter, when many of our usual uplifting outlets won't be available to us.
While our physical health is certainly at the forefront of our concerns, our mental health needs attention, too. If you're dreading the months that lie ahead, know that you're not alone—but also know that there's good news: There are a lot of easy, inexpensive and science-backed ways we can improve our moods every day and feel happy during winter time.
Now, the one hugely important caveat to remember is that there is a big difference between feeling a little down and having a mental health diagnosis such as depression or anxiety. Mental health diagnoses are medical issues—you do not have control over them, and they usually require the help of a trained professional. None of the "happiness boosting" tricks below are meant to cure mental illness—so if you are suffering, please, please seek help. You are not alone, and you are so deserving of support. Reach out to your health care provider, a therapist or visit a site like psychologytoday.com to get started. And if you ever feel like harming yourself or others, reach out for help immediately.
But if you are in need of an emotional boost, here are 19 easy ways to feel happier this winter:
1. Go to therapy.
I know I just said this—but it warrants repeating. Therapy is amazing; and it's not just reserved for people who have been diagnosed with an official mental health concern. Therapists help us deal with our very complex human brains and the emotions they induce—and who couldn't use a little assistance with that every now and then?
We see a dentist every six months and primary care physicians for check-ups every year; why should our mental health be any different?
Make an appointment with a therapist—even if you think you don't need one.
2. Eat chocolate.
Researchers have found that mindfully eating a piece of chocolate can improve your mood. Eating mindfully means being fully present in the experience, savoring the taste and smell and focusing on the deliciousness (all easy to do when it's chocolate).
So eat some chocolate. You're welcome.
3. Not a chocolate fan? Try these happiness-inducing foods instead.
Researchers have found that an amino acid called tryptophan makes it easier for our bodies to make and utilize serotonin, a chemical that makes us happy.
As I share here , tryptophan is contained in the following foods:
The goods news is that most of these foods are pretty healthy for us, especially if eaten in moderation. So, plan your meals in such a way that you regularly incorporate these delicious and tryptophan-rich foods into your diet.
Can I be honest? I am not a huge fan of working out—at least not in the conventional sense of the term. So I am always a little bummed when I see it on yet another list of things I should do . Well, I used to get bummed out, I should say, until I redefined what working out means for me.
I will never love going to the gym or running. Not ever. But, I adore hiking. Getting lost in the woods for an hour is such a delight to me that I actually forget that my heart rate is up, my breathing is harder and my legs are burning. Low and behold, I have just worked out—and I loved it.
So, figure out how you love to move your body, and then do it—as often as you can. Not only will it help you stay healthy, but it will also help you sleep better and will give you a big release of endorphins, which will improve your mood a lot.
This one seems kind of obvious, but I think we very-serious grown-ups could all use the reminder; especially right now, when life is hard . Laughter is, of course, a marker of being in a good mood—but laugher can also help you elevate your mood if you're sad. So make a point of laughing every day. Cue up your favorite funny movie, call your hilarious friend or let yourself laugh at your toddler's silly antics.
You are not imagining it—your mood really does improve after you have those spontaneous dance parties with your little one in the kitchen. So why not add even more of them to your day? In addition to feeling happier, dancing has been found to contribute to a healthier brain and of course, it's exercise. Win, win, win.
Need some music inspiration? Check out 50+ fun workout songs to motivate you, mama .
7. Call a friend.
The implications of friendship are amazing—it's been found that the quality of one's friendships impacts their overall physical health and longevity more than the quality of their marriage or partnerships!
And, friendship can impact your daily mood, too. Interacting with a friend makes you happier immediately–so give someone a call or plan an outdoor, socially distanced and masked visit.
8. Have an orgasm.
Orgasms release oxytocin, a hormone that can help make you feel happier. Whether with a partner or by yourself, have an orgasm, and feel the oxytocin wash over you,
Orgasms aren't the only oxytocin-releasing things our bodies can do: Snuggling works too! So grab a kid, a partner, a pet or all three, snuggle up and get that oxytocin flowing.
10. Go outside.
Feeling connected to nature promotes a sense of well-being and happiness—so get outside, mama. Yes, it's cold, but even a few minutes will do you good: A lap around the block, a quick stroll in a nearby park or stepping out before bedtime to marvel at the stars. It all counts, and it's all beneficial.
11. Get a plant.
Nature's impact doesn't need to stop when you go back inside—it turns out that houseplants can make you happier, too! Whether you have one low maintenance succulent or an indoor-rainforest, plants can help you to feel calmer, in addition to potentially improving the air quality in your home.
Need some inspiration? Read about these indoor plant decor ideas—from the nursery to kitchen .
There's a good chance you have a young child at home, which means that there's a really good chance that sleep eludes you at the moment. But, to the extent you can, try to get as much sleep as possible—not only does sleep itself boost your mood , it also gives you more energy to do the things you love during the day.
13. Make art.
Did you know that there is an entire branch of therapy focused on the impact of art? It's called art therapy, and it's awesomely effective. In addition to finding an art therapist near you (or online), try incorporating some art-making into your life. Painting, drawing, sculpting, scrapbook making—it's all great. And they key? It doesn't have to be "good;" besides, that's so subjective. Don't let your fear of 'not being artistic' stop you from, well, being artistic! There is so much benefit to making stuff, even if no one ever sees what you've made.
14. Set little goals.
Setting huge goals for yourself is awesome—but huge goals can take a while to achieve, and in the process, we can become hard on ourselves. So while you work towards those big goals, try to set some little, very attainable goals as well. Perhaps those little goals are steps within the big goals, or perhaps they are totally unrelated.
Here are a few little (yet totally awesome) goals you might consider:
- Play with your child for 20 minutes uninterrupted every day for a week.
- Go for a 5-minute walk every day.
- Clean out the junk drawer.
- Learn how to write your name in calligraphy.
- Redecorate one wall in your home.
Or anything else you want that would feel great, even if it feels small. Remember that life is made of lots and lots of small moments—so you're small victory isn't actually small, after all.
15. Smell something lovely.
Scent can have a huge impact on our mental state. I always encourage my clients to incorporate scents into their birth plans, but there's no reason it needs to stop there! Find a way to bring the smells you love into your home: A diffuser with some essential oils, a wonderful smelling lotion and fresh flowers are all things to try.
16. Get a pet.
Dogs, cats and other animals have been found to have profound impacts on our moods —and if you're stuck at home during the pandemic, this might be the perfect time to go for it. But of course, getting a new pet is not a decision to go into lightly, so please, only get a pet if you're ready for the commitment they require.
17. Incorporate more routine into your day.
When I was a teenager, I was convinced that spontaneity was the key to happiness. Now that I'm an adult, I find that while an occasional unplanned occurrence is awesome, too many of them is actually pretty stressful. It turns out that science agrees. Routine can be instrumental in establishing a sense of calm and happiness (especially right now, when the world feels particularly chaotic). So sit down and create a routine for yourself and your family. You can even plan for spontaneity within the routine if you so desire!
Tons of research has shown that meditation can profoundly impact your happiness levels—so give it a try. Know this: There is no such thing as "being bad at meditating."
Not sure where to start? Check out this IG Live I did with Meditation Teacher, Josephine Atluri !
19. Get some sun.
There's a reason why so many people feel less happy in the winter: The lack of sunlight. Exposure to the sun's light makes us feel better, so in the winter when there is less sun, we really feel the consequences. Make a point of going outside during the day to soak in the rays that you can (wearing sunscreen still, please). You can also invest in a light box that brings artificial sun into your home!