It’s one of those days. You’re down in the dumps, negative thoughts circle around your head like vultures, and nothing seems to be going your way.
Days like these are inevitable. But we don’t have to just sit there and feel miserable. Science has brought to light dozens of ways to cheer up – and some don’t even require getting out of your chair! The variety is so large, you’ll definitely find something suited for you - whether you’re in a small village or big town, alone or in a crowd, bored silly or juggling 17 urgent tasks.
In this article, you’ll find 41 ways to immediately improve your mood. Keep on reading and you’ll be sure to lighten up your day!
- What not to do if you want to cheer yourself up
- Cheer up with these 41 science-backed tips
- 3 ways to cheer up with nature
- 6 ways to cheer up by being social
- 6 ways to cheer up with entertainment
- 4 ways to cheer up with food and drink
- 3 ways to cheer up by moving your body
- 4 ways to cheer up through touch
- 5 ways to cheer up by looking at things
- 3 ways to cheer up using smells
- 7 ways to cheer up using your mind
- Final thoughts
What not to do if you want to cheer yourself up
Many things help you cheer up. But others are counterproductive and hinder your efforts.
If you’re trying to improve your mood, avoid doing these three things.
1. Don’t ignore or invalidate your thoughts and feelings
Many people try to replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations like "I am a lovable person". Unfortunately, this often backfires, especially for people with low self-esteem.
Be very careful with what you say when you want to cheer up someone else too. Never use statements like these:
- “It could be a lot worse.”
- “Look on the bright side.”
- “It’s not worth getting upset about.”
- “Come on, cheer up!”
- "You're smart, talented, attractive - you have no reason to be upset."
So what should you do instead? Use “negative validation”: accept the feelings and give the person (or yourself) permission to feel them. You can say things like this:
- “You have every right to feel upset.”
- “It’s understandable you are stressed out.”
- "I can see where you're coming from."
- "I would feel the same way in your shoes."
If a loved one is trying to help you and using the wrong approach, try to change the topic or end the conversation. Or, you could try gently explaining to them what they can say to help you.
Want to read more about this topic? Tina Gilbertson explains it beautifully in her book “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them”.
Many of us absent-mindedly turn to social media to distract ourselves when we feel down.
You might be expecting me to say you absolutely shouldn’t do this. But studies have found very mixed effects of social media use on well-being. Some suggest it improves well-being, others say the opposite.
One particular study offers a possible explanation: it doesn’t depend on how you use social media, but rather how invested in it you feel. If you feel emotionally connected to the network and it’s integrated in your daily life, using it gives you higher self-esteem and well-being.
So if you’re logging in for the first time in a month and you don’t even remember who you’re connected to, it probably won’t help you. But if you use it to feel part of a community, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that.
I would argue it also depends on what kind of accounts you’re following. Several of the 41 ways to cheer up can be done through social media. For example, following these kinds of accounts could be a big help:
- Art accounts (sharing paintings, dance, music, etc.).
- Pet accounts (cat or dog videos).
- Funny accounts (things that make you laugh).
- Nature accounts (showing nature scenes and videos).
- Adventure accounts (sharing awe-inspiring experiences).
Even on a normal day, I’m a big advocate of only following accounts that add positive energy to your life. So if you’re seeing accounts that make you jealous, sad, or angry, then it’s time to clean up your following list! (Or at the very least, mute their posts).
3. Avoid ruminating
If something upsets you, it’s natural for it to float around your mind for a while. As mentioned above, you shouldn’t lock these feelings up, chase them away, or ignore them. But fixating on them doesn’t help either.
Instead, turn your focus onto something neutral:
- What are the people around you doing?
- What are they wearing?
- What’s the weather like?
- What colors do you see around you?
- What buildings are around you?
Your thoughts may naturally return to the negative event – don’t be angry at yourself for this. Just try to redirect your attention to something neutral each time, and then try one of the tips explained below.
Cheer up with these 41 science-backed tips
We’ve just seen 3 things you should definitely avoid. Now, let’s get into things that do help!
As you’re about to discover, there are dozens of ways to boost your mood, using different methods. Let’s start with 6 ways to cheer up with a change of location.
3 ways to cheer up with nature
Thankfully for us, nature gives to us much more than we give to it. It's one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood, not to mention your health. If you have this option, I highly recommend cheering up by using one of the tips below.
1. Walk in a park or forest
Is your mind swarmed with negative thoughts? A 1.5-hour walk in nature is just the thing to dispel them.
Choosing a natural area is key - people who walked in an urban area didn't have any reduction in negative thoughts. (But if the city is your only option, walking still boosts your mood in other ways. You'll find out more in the moving your body section.)
If you have a forest nearby, try the Japanese practice of "shinrin-yoku", or forest bathing. It's essentially spending time or walking in a forest. A study shows this practice brings the following benefits:
- Decreased hostility.
- Increased liveliness.
- Decreased depression.
2. Get some sunlight
Even if you don't have a forest or park around, there's one piece of nature you can find nearly anywhere: the sun.
There's a reason why happy scenes in movies are sunny and sad ones are dark and gloomy.
Exposure to sunlight increases both serotonin and endorphins - two happiness hormones. Go outside and walk around or sit on a bench. If you have to stay indoors, try the balcony or a sunlit spot near the window. Soak it in for at least 10-15 minutes.
Make sure you’re careful not to overdo it - and if you’re tanning during peak sun hours, don’t forget to use sunscreen!
3. Do something awe-inspiring
Have you ever dreamed of doing something totally extraordinary? There's no better time to make this dream come true.
This will take some extra time and planning, but it’s worth it. Apart from creating a beautiful memory, experiencing a sense of awe reduces stress and increases satisfaction.
Get inspired with these ideas:
- Take a scenic hike.
- Watch the sunrise or sunset.
- Go stargazing.
- Explore a beautiful part of your city or country.
Don’t feel like being alone? There are plenty of ways other people can help us cheer up, too. Here are 6 great tips.
1. Participate in a cultural activity
Immerse yourself in culture and boost your mood at the same time. People who take part in more cultural activities have several benefits:
- Less anxiety.
- Less depression.
- Higher satisfaction with life.
No matter where you live, there are surely some cultural activities happening in the area. Here are a few ideas:
- Visit a museum.
- See a concert.
- Watch a play.
- Join a club.
- Go to a market or fair.
- Attend a festival or event.
2. Spend time with friends
If you’re not up for being around strangers or meeting someone new, a familiar face can cheer you up as well.
Spending time with both family and friends increases happiness. But interestingly enough, friends lead to a much bigger increase than family.
Of course, this can be highly subjective. The important thing is to choose someone who makes you feel good and whose company you enjoy.
Volunteering may not be what we consider a “pick-me-up” - but it’s very worth considering.
A study by United Healthcare found that 93% of volunteers felt happier as a result. Not only that, but:
- 88% felt increased self-esteem.
- 85% developed new friendships through volunteering.
- 79% felt less stress.
You know what to do next - pick a cause, any cause, and start volunteering!
4. Cuddle or hug a loved one
If the only thing you feel like doing is cuddling up in bed, then go ahead – just grab a loved one to cuddle up with you.
Physical contact releases oxytocin and reduces stress. This happens no matter the age and sex of the people, as long as they both view their relationship as positive. Even 10 minutes of warm contact can have a significant effect.
If physical contact isn’t possible, hearing or seeing a beloved person also releases oxytocin and improves your mood.
5. Do something kind for the world
How would you like to cheer up and become a better person at the same time? All you need is an act of kindness.
There are two types of kind acts:
- Kindness towards a specific person.
- Kindness to benefit society as a whole.
The ideas end only with your imagination - here are some to get you started.
- Make someone smile (give a compliment, tell a joke...)
- Make someone's day easier (help them with their groceries, pick up something they dropped...)
- Rake someone's yard, shovel their driveway, or walk their dog.
- Pay for the next customer in line.
- Donate blood or hair.
- Sign a petition for a cause you believe in.
- Leave sticky notes with positive messages in random places.
- Increase the amount of recycled or reused materials.
6. Give a stranger a smile or a compliment
Here's some good news if your friends are not available, or you don’t want to see them. Even brief positive interactions with strangers can boost your mood. Not only that, but they also increase your sense of belonging to your community.
See if you can offer a stranger a compliment or a smile, and chances are they’ll give you one back. Or pass the time waiting in line with a short pleasant conversation. You’ll both be happier for it.
6 ways to cheer up with entertainment
It’s called entertainment for a reason! Use one of these 6 fun activities for a boost in your mood.
1. Watch a funny video or movie
They say laughter is the best medicine, and it's 100% true. In fact, several forms of therapy are based on humor.
Laughing improves wellbeing and mood. More specifically, it increases endorphins and your pain threshold.
You can get a great 2 for 1 deal from laughter by grabbing a few friends to watch a funny movie with you. Laughing with others strengthens social bonds, bringing you and your friends closer.
2. Watch a cat or dog video
Need a good excuse to procrastinate? Now you've got one!
A survey found that people feel more energetic and happier after watching cat videos. They enjoyed it so much, they didn't even feel guilty about procrastinating!
So hop onto YouTube or social media and get ready for cuteness overload - and a dose of happiness.
3. Make some art
Although your feelings are negative, something beautiful can come from them. Use them as fuel for creative expression and channel them into a work of art. This lets you explore your feelings in a calm and introspective way. You’ll end up with a beautiful creation and a happier mood to boot! You don't need to stick to only visual art:
- Paint or draw.
- Play a musical instrument.
If you can’t get your creative juices flowing, you can also just look at art - more on this further below.
4. Do a puzzle
Puzzles take a lot of patience, but they're very rewarding. A study found that each success we have while doing a puzzle releases dopamine in the brain. And with most adult puzzles starting at 500 pieces, that’s at least 500 little successes by the time you finish!
The same study shows any kind of puzzle will do. Grab one with a design you love, and you'll have a beautiful work of art when you finish!
5. Listen to music
Studies show that music can give us similar pleasure to food, sex, and drugs. This is quite remarkable for something that’s completely unnecessary for our survival!
This also means music is a powerful and easy way to cheer up.
The obvious choice is upbeat music - but it only boosts your mood if you actively try to feel happier as you listen. Focus on the positive feelings and not on the “destination” of being happy.
But if you're not up for this, there are several more options. Sad songs can help you feel better by giving you a much-needed emotional release.
None of these tickle your fancy? Choose anything you like and hit play. Listening to music you love also increases dopamine.
6. Read an adventure story
Remember the nature section, where we mentioned awe-inspiring experiences? If you’re not up for creating your own adventure, cozy up with a cup of tea and a dive into someone else’s.
A study found that reading about an awe-inspiring experience made participants happier and kinder:
- More satisfied.
- Less stressed.
- More willing to volunteer to help others.
4 ways to cheer up with food and drink
Though comfort food often isn’t the healthiest approach to cheering up, we’ll make an exception for a few items. Read on to find out 4 types of happiness-inducing snacks.
1. Dark chocolate
This list is already starting to look pretty good, with dark chocolate as our first mood-booster. It has an antioxidant that gives you a burst of endorphins and serotonin.
But don’t just grab the first bar you see – look for good quality. The best chocolate will have a short ingredients list with cocoa mass and cocoa butter at the top of the list.
Also, check if the chocolate is fairtrade - it’s just a few dollars for us, but a huge difference to the cocoa farmers!
2. Eat happy foods
Food helps us survive, so it necessarily makes us feel good - otherwise, we wouldn’t feel any urge to eat and starve!
But certain foods have a direct effect on happiness - they trigger the release of happiness hormones. For your next meal, choose something with one of these ingredients:
- Spicy foods with chili peppers (increase endorphins).
- Foods high in tryptophan: milk, canned tuna, turkey and chicken, oats, cheese, nuts and seeds (increase serotonin when eaten with carbohydrates).
- Foods containing probiotics: yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut (increase dopamine).
- Moderate amounts of Velvet beans (increase dopamine, especially for Parkinson's disease symptom relief).
- Foods high in tyrosine and phenylalanine: turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, almons, soy and legumes (increase dopamine).
3. Drink enough water
If you’re feeling down, you might just be dehydrated. Up to 60% of the adult human body is made up of water – so clearly, we need a lot of it to function well. Our brains especially are very sensitive to a lack of water, resulting in a drop in mood.
Aim to drink at least 2 liters of water per day to stay well hydrated and keep your mood high.
4. Chew gum
Not hungry? Try chewing some gum. A study found this too alleviates poor mood and reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
3 ways to cheer up by moving your body
If you've been sprawled out on the couch all day, this section is for you. It's time to get up and use one of the tips below to cheer yourself up.
1. Walk or jog for at least 20 minutes
Groundbreaking news: exercise is good for you! Oh wait, we all knew that already. There are so many studies on the physical and mental benefits of exercise that including any here feels superfluous.
Here’s a quick overview of the benefits of exercise:
- Better mood.
- Decreased depression.
- Decreased anxiety.
- Increased endorphins.
- Decreased stress.
If you’re not particularly active, don’t fret - even low-intensity exercise has these positive effects.
Here are 4 tips to make the most of your workout for an immediate boost in happiness.
- Exercise for at least 20 minutes.
- Do aerobic exercise rather than something calmer like yoga.
- Exercise with a buddy or in a group.
- Exercise in the sunlight for an extra serotonin boost.
Dance is both a form of exercise an expression of creativity – two tips we’ve already seen on this list.
Why not combine them into one with a quick dance session?
Dancing is an excellent way to relieve stress and may have more benefits than any other form of exercise. It’s even offered as an anti-stress extracurricular activity in some universities.
So let loose and shake off that bad mood – just be careful not to overdo it and hurt yourself.
3. Practice good posture
If you don’t have the energy to exercise or dance, sitting is fine too – but be mindful of how you sit.
A study compared people walking with a slump and those walking with good posture. The second group had much more positive memories of the experience.
This goes for sitting down too. Sitting upright has many positive mental health effects:
- Increased persistence at unsolvable tasks.
- Greater confidence (also a form of happiness).
- Increased alertness and enthusiasm.
- Decreased fear.
4 ways to cheer up through touch
When we're upset, we feel more pleasure through touch rather than sight or hearing. Why? It's our mammalian instinct to return to our mothers for protection and nourishment when we are sick, lost, or vulnerable.
Let's take advantage of this. Have a look at the 4 touch-based tips below.
1. Get a professional massage
As we saw in the social section, close physical contact in good relationships produces oxytocin to cheer you up.
- Decreased anxiety.
- Increased wellbeing.
- Reduced perception of pain.
Regular massage treatments will give you these benefits long-term.
The person giving the massage enjoys increased happiness hormones too - do a massage exchange with your partner for a double dose!
2. Practice self-Reiki
If a professional massage isn’t possible, you can practice self-Reiki instead.
Reiki is a Japanese energy healing technique that uses gentle hand movements to guide “life force energy” through the body. The client is fully clothed, and the practitioner may move their hands either on or above the client’s body.
A 20-week study found that self-Reiki practice reduced stress and increased relaxation.
Try following this self-Reiki guide to get started. If you really enjoy this technique, you might even consider taking a Reiki training.
3. Stroke a cat or dog
Pet owners will know that as annoying as pets can be, they are also nonstop happiness boosters.
Having a pet already gives you many long-term health and happiness benefits over non-pet owners. But for an immediate boost in mood, just grab your furry friend for a quick cuddle session.
Oxytocin increases considerably in both dog owners and their dogs when they interact. The biggest effects are seen when the owner strokes their dog.
Cats don't have such a strong effect on increasing positive emotions, but they ease negative ones.
Don’t have a pet? No worries – even interacting with cats or dogs you don’t know significantly reduces stress. Try one of these ideas:
- Visit a friend with a pet.
- Find a cat cafe.
- Go to a pet store.
- Volunteer to walk dogs for an animal shelter.
4. Hug or stroke a teddy bear
No furry four-legged friends around to pet? Try grabbing a teddy bear to hug or stroke. Of course, it’s no replacement for a real animal. But you’ll get enjoyment from it all the same.
Touching a teddy bear also helps reduce existential anxiety. If that’s what’s getting you down, then it’s time to dig out your childhood plush toys!
5 ways to cheer up by looking at things
Though the effects won't be as big as with touch, looking at certain things can also improve our mood. Here are 5 ways how.
1. Get some flowers
Flowers are another great way to cheer up.
A series of three studies showed that people responded with much more happiness to receiving flowers than other thank you gifts. This happiness even lasted for several days.
Psychologist Loretta G. Breuning explains how flowers contribute to increases in happiness hormones. She also suggests there are several ways to use flowers for increased happiness:
- Give them as a gift.
- Receive them as a gift.
- Buy them for yourself.
Guess it might be time to hit the nearest flower shop!
2. Get some indoor plants
Since nature is so therapeutic, why not bring some of it into our homes?
Of course, indoor plants don’t have as strong of an effect as forests. But even having a few leafy friends for company can noticeably boost your happiness.
Several studies found that indoor plants:
- Improve mental health and wellbeing.
- Improve physical health.
- Reduce stress.
Don't have a green thumb? Go for house plants that don't need a lot of water.
3. Surround yourself with the color green
The color green is associated with nature, life, and positive meanings. And you don’t need to be in a forest to reap the benefits.
Studies in a lab environment found that green colors in your environment improve your mood in several ways:
- Increase enjoyment.
- Decrease mood disturbance.
- Increase self-esteem.
- Increase motivation.
- Decrease anxiety.
An easy tip is to set a forest scene as your computer and phone screensaver. And if you can’t decide on a color for your home decor, here you have your answer!
4. Look through a photo album
Taking a trip down memory lane can also help you cheer up.
Just take a photo album or flip through it - if you don’t have one, scroll through pictures on your phone. This improves people's moods by 11%.
You can put together a “happy memories” album to look at you need a little mood boost.
5. Look at art
Be inspired and cheer up all at once by looking at some art.
We mentioned creating art in the section above. Observing art made by others has a similar positive effect.
You can use this opportunity to get out of the house and head to the nearest museum. Alternatively, find some art at home, in your surroundings, or online:
- Look at paintings.
- Listen to music.
- Read poetry or creative writing.
- Watch a dance performance.
- Admire the architecture.
3 ways to cheer up using smells
Did you know smelling things can help cheer you up? Here are some mood-boosting scents for a better day.
Each helps you feel better in slightly different ways, so choose a scent based on the particular mood you’re in.
1. Freshly cut grass
Next time you hear someone mowing a lawn, head straight over! Freshly cut grass releases at least 5 chemicals with stress-relieving properties.
If mowing season is over, you can take matters into your own hands and smell like a freshly mowed lawn yourself. No, we’re not kidding - scent researchers have combined 3 of the chemicals into an “Eau de grass” called Serenascent.
The perfume seems to regulate the release of stress hormones. Several studies seem to confirm the positive effects of this perfume.
It’s not Giorgio Armani, but hey – you’ll make yourself a little happier, and cheer up anyone else who passes you by too!
The second scent which helps you cheer up is lavender.
This calming flower perfume interacts with the neurotransmitter GABA. The effect is a relaxed brain and nervous system, reducing negative emotions:
Keeping a cloth bag of dried lavender by your pillow may also help you get a quality good night’s sleep.
3. Lemon or orange
The third happiness-boosting scent is something you almost definitely have at home: lemon!
While lavender primarily helps you relax and reduces negative feelings, a lemon or orange scent enhances a positive mood.
A study found lemon increased happy hormones but had no effect on stress levels.
Another study found people who waited in an orange-scented waiting room had:
- Lower anxiety.
- Elevated mood.
- Greater calmness.
You can go for this aroma if you’re not down because of anxiety or stress, but simply need a little boost in your mood.
7 ways to cheer up using your mind
We’ve already seen tons of tips above. Being in nature, spending time with others, doing something fun, eating, moving, touching, seeing, smelling, …
But what if you don’t have the option to do any of that? You might be stuck at work, on a bus, or with a task you can’t put off.
There’s still one very powerful tool that’s always at your disposal – your mind. Here are 7 final tips on how you can cheer up without relying on anything or anyone else.
1. Use the power of gratitude
There are many ways to practice gratitude and many benefits to doing it - including increased happiness.
These benefits generally occur over time. For example, a 2007 study asked participants to write down three good things that went well and their causes each day for a week. They showed a gradual but consistent improvement in happiness over six months.
So if you’re going through a long slump, this is a great strategy for lasting long-term benefits.
A different gratitude practice can also create an enormous and immediate spike in happiness. You will, however, need a bit more time, a quiet place to think, and a pen and paper.
It’s simple: write and personally deliver a letter of gratitude to someone who had been very kind to you, but who you had never properly thanked.
The biggest effects last for a couple of days, but you'll still have increased happiness one month later.
Gratitude is always worthwhile, no matter how you practice it. Here are some more ideas:
- Write down things you are grateful for, even on your phone.
- Think of as many things as you can that you're grateful for in 1 minute (or more).
- Pick 1 thing you're grateful for and visualize it for 1 minute (or more), focusing on feelings of gratitude.
- Say to a friend or partner what you appreciate about them.
- Text a friend that you appreciate their friendship.
If you want more, here is an entire article about different examples of gratitude.
You might be imagining monks sitting perfectly still for hours on end – and that's one way to go about it.
But even just 15 minutes of meditation has these benefits:
- A more relaxed state.
- Decreased stress.
- Improved reaction times.
Another study found similar effects from a 13-minute session.
If you’re not sure how to meditate, here's an article that will help you get started.
3. Brainstorm solutions
There may be moments when meditation feels almost impossible – try this tip instead.
Pick a problem you’re experiencing, and try to come up with as many solutions to it as possible in 10 minutes. Don’t worry about if the solutions are good or not - just jot down anything that comes to mind without judging it.
Doing this exercise makes people feel many positive things:
Plus, you might find a great solution to a problem at the same time!
4. Visualize your best self
Feeling down in the dumps often makes us very critical of ourselves. We think of everything we’ve done wrong, ever. We remember all we’ve failed and disappointed ourselves.
If this is you, then this tip might help. Take five minutes to visualize your best possible self:
- What do you look like?
- What are you doing?
- Who are you with?
- What are you wearing?
- What are you feeling?
Research shows that this 5-minute visualization boosted optimism both immediately and over time.
5. Set some attainable life goals
Feeling down often makes us reevaluate our lives and think about where we’re headed. Take advantage of this to set some life goals. They can be anything you want - as long as you consider them attainable.
A four-year study compared people’s happiness and life goals. The goals could be anything in the following categories:
- Personal growth.
- Social relationships.
- Responsibility/care for younger generations.
The results were quite interesting. People who saw their goals as attainable had higher mental and emotional wellbeing at the end of the study - even if they didn’t actually attain their goals. This held true for all ages, from 18 to 92 years old.
This suggests that a sense of control over your own life is what matters most.
When we’re happy, we smile - but did you know it can also work backwards?
As Dr. Ronald E. Riggio puts it, “Each time you smile, you throw a little feel-good party in your brain.”
More specifically, it’s a happiness hormone party, with the prized guests being:
Not all the research on smiling confirms these results, but there is certainly enough for it to be worth a shot. Worst case scenario: you’ll smile at someone and make their day a little nicer!
7. Practice love and kindness
As long as you’re in a setting with other people, there’s one last powerful technique you can try to cheer up.
Practice love and kindness towards the people around you. Look at them and think to yourself, “I wish for this person to be happy”. You should try to really mean it as you think it.
A study had participants do this during a 12-minute walk outside. After this walk, they felt:
- More connected.
- Less anxious.
- More caring and empathetic.
Try this during a stressful day at work to shield yourself emotionally from difficult colleagues and clients. Or in any situation, really - we could all use a little more love and kindness!
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Congratulations - you are now armed with 41 ways to cheer up. No matter what, this list has got you covered - whether you’re in the office, on a crowded bus, or alone at home. Once you feel better, see if you can help someone else - happiness grows the more we share it!
Do you have another tip to cheer yourself up that I've missed? I'd love to hear yours in the comments below!