Last week, a reader e-mailed me about a struggle with depression: while this person was working, good moods were possible, but at other times depression would creep in. Here are some suggestions that came out of that discussion.
In terms of immediate help, here are some things that might be especially helpful to try but that require at least a little time and effort.
First, walking somewhere beautiful–by a stream, in a park, in a quiet and beautiful park of town, or anything like that, especially near water and in natural places–can quickly make a difference in mood. It’s a calming practice that allows time to think, but it also gets your body moving and puts you in an environment that will tend to lift your spirits. I know it sounds so simple that it’s almost silly, but the research suggests this is an unusually good way to change your mood: see The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise .
A second approach is to get out and do something with people you enjoy spending time with, or to find a group that does something you enjoy (www.meetup.com is a good place to look). The moods of people nearby us affect our own moods, so that just spending time with happy people can help us be happier. (See Want to Reduce Stress? Increase Social Time.)
It seems that you can get some similar benefits sometimes with a pet (especially a dog or cat), if you enjoy pets, and I’ve certainly experienced pet-driven happiness myself.
Third, volunteering can be an enormous boost to mood and feelings of self-worth: there’s a different feeling to doing something good that you don’t have to do and don’t get paid for. Anything from donating blood to volunteering to shelve books at a local library to helping out at a fundraising event for a local charity can offer these benefits. Alternatively, you could just reach out to people you know, helping them with a difficult job–moving, for example.
A fourth thing that I can think of takes very little time and effort, although it will probably also sound silly: make yourself smile. Surprisingly, making an expression as though you have an emotion can set off the same neurophysiological reactions you would have if you actually have that emotion, so that a fake smile can become a real smile. See Using Body Language to Change Our Moods.
Each of these approaches is a short-term fix that reflects a long-term habit that can help mood: exercise, time in nature, time with friends, a sense of helping others, and a conscious effort to encourage positive emotions all can help create happiness as they become more habitual.
If you find that short-term approaches like this aren’t helping, a good cognitive therapist really might be able to open up new doors, provide essential support, and cultivate habits that support lasting happiness. I’d like to be sure to mention that I’m not a licensed therapist myself, and this shouldn’t be construed as professional or expert advice.
Photo by tanakawho