50 Happiness Hacks That Will Banish the Winter Blues
You’re not doomed to a dismal winter.
The beginning of winter is filled with excitement: holiday parties, the first snowfall, and plenty of excuses to drink hot cocoa. But as the days get shorter and truly freezing weather sets in, even those who love the season can find themselves feeling, well, a bit down.
About 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka the winter blues) in some form, especially those who live in colder climates. While there’s no substitute for seeking the help of a mental health professional if you’re really hurting, those who are just feeling a tiny bit out of it can easily boost their moods with small, daily actions that are proven to make a difference.
So before resigning yourself to feeling less-than-great all winter, find out how to pick yourself up and enjoy the best of what the colder months have to offer.
Think of a song that you associate with fun times, laughter, and energy. Listen to it first thing in the morning, and you’re likely to have a good day. “The first song you hear in the morning usually gets stuck in your head for the rest of the day,” explains Ana Jovanovic, psychotherapist and life coach at Parenting Pod. “You can create a whole playlist of power songs that you can sing and dance to.”
Cell phones are a major part of modern life. But that doesn’t mean having one on you at all times is a great idea. Research shows more frequent cell phone use is associated with higher levels of anxiety and lower levels of happiness. So the next time you have a day off or a weekend with minimal plans, try shutting down your phone, leaving it at home, and going out to do something you enjoy—minus the distractions.
A little jumping around does the body—and the mind—a lot of good. So why not start your day with an endorphin high? Twenty jumping jacks will do the trick.
Not only will it give you something to look forward to, but also research shows that spending money on experiences makes us happier than spending on material things. Plus, there’s nothing better than dreaming of a tropical beach on a cold winter’s day.
“Place index cards with pictures of your favorite things or positive coping statements by your coffee maker or in your car visor where you can see them all the time,” suggests Dawn Raffa, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist. Having a quick reminder of something happy can be an instant pick-me-up.
If you aren’t near a window at work, try to relocate your desk. Indoor daylight is almost as good as getting outside for a walk, which is one of the best ways to fight the winter blues.
Yep, sometimes the brain really is that simple. Recent research suggests that remembering happy times can increase serotonin (the “happy hormone”) levels in the brain, which might help you get out of your seasonal funk.
Sometimes, changing your surroundings is all you need to lift your spirits. “Take an ‘adventuring’ trip at least 30 minutes away from your home to find a new coffee shop,” suggests self-help author Natalie Wise. “Be determined to find a new coffee shop, don’t return home until you find one. Bring a book or journal to further inspire you to stay and sit a while.”
Certain foods may increase your serotonin levels via an amino acid called tryptophan. Foods high in tryptophan include eggs, cheese, turkey, salmon, and tofu.
No, not just for old times’ sake. Science shows that doing complex math can neutralize a bad mood. Who knew?
This works best if it’s something you’ve been meaning to get to for ages. “Things that you accomplish for yourself will boost your self-confidence and self-worth,” explains Helena Plater-Zyberk, co-founder of peer support network Supportiv. “Do something that you haven’t tackled in ages: create new playlists, organize all the things your mom has ever sent you, or even just replace the batteries in your remote.”
It might sound weird, but try it. Finding one thing you really love about yourself—physical or otherwise—is the perfect way to remind yourself of the bright side.
Science shows that being kind to others can actually make you feel better about yourself. A genuine, “I love your coat!” or “The pastries you made taste delicious!” can go a long way.
Scent can impact our mental state, so find a candle you love—maybe something sweet that you associate with good memories, like vanilla, or something therapeutic, like lavender—and take a few deep, relaxing breaths.
“Color impacts us more than we know,” explains Nora Bouz, a wellbeing interior design expert. “Scientific research shows that certain colors can increase our energy and support focus, productivity, and even creativity. Colors can also relax us, annoy us and even make us feel bored. Avoiding dominantly white spaces in winter can help us feel more supported and less isolated.” So if you’ve been itching to redecorate, now might be a good time.
There’s a wealth of scientific research on the health effects of coffee. One of the biggest benefits? A reduced risk of depression.
Seriously. Stick all the ingredients in the pot before you leave for the day, and you’re set. “There’s nothing better than returning to a home full of the smells of delicious cooking and your dinner already prepared,” points out Julie Driver, a Pilates educator.
Exercise isn’t the only thing that releases endorphins. Turns out, the foods you find delicious also cause your brain to release endorphins, which can bump up your mood.
If there’s a recipe you’ve been wanting to try or a dish you’ve been meaning to learn how to cook, set aside some time to do it! “The very act of creating something that wasn’t there before gives us a sense of thrill, accomplishment, and newness,” Jovanovic says. “This is also great to do with friends and family.”
One of the best ways to lift your mood is to enable yourself to feel accomplished. Allow yourself to succeed by setting attainable goals for the day. “Make a list of the day’s ‘non-negotiables,’” Wise recommends. “These are the things you cannot end the day without doing, and make sure you do them.” Keep the list handy on a piece of paper in your pocket or in the notes app on your phone so you can cross items off as you go.
As cheesy as it might feel, studies suggest that taking an upbeat photo of yourself might be enough to help you feel a bit happier. Sharing the selfie with friends or loved ones only intensifies the effect, research indicates.
Speaking of happy scents, science says clementine is one of the most invigorating of them all.
Your life is busy; we get it. But your level of social connection is a major predictor of happiness, so it pays off to keep your community links strong.
Clutter makes you feel stressed, so take an hour or two to reorganize your workspace and get back to work with a clear mind and a good mood.
“Doing something nice for someone else lets you think outside of yourself and brings you joy and fulfillment,” explains Aerin Ogden, an outreach expert with Utah Addiction Centers. “Make a treat and look for ways to serve someone around you.” Of course, feel free to eat the leftovers.
Sometimes you just need a little warmth to get you out of a cold weather slump. “Getting hot and sweaty in the wintertime just feels good,” says Patrea Aeschliman, founder of 15 to Fit. “Make sure you have a change of clothes for your trip home.”
We’re not saying you have to buy your spouse a new car, but grabbing their favorite dessert on your way home could score you some extra happiness points. A Harvard University study gave participants money to spend. Half were instructed to spend it on themselves, and the other half to spend it on someone else. Those who spent on someone else reported feeling happier about it.
“Maybe it’s an elderly neighbor who is having trouble shoveling snow or a small business clerk who’s seeing less foot traffic now that it’s cold out. Befriend them,” Plater-Zyberk recommends. “This gives you purpose, something fulfilling that fills any void you feel in your own life.”
Science shows that pets are natural mood boosters. Better yet, if you have your own pet, give them a cuddle or take them for a walk.
Helping others is one of the most reliable ways to help yourself. “There are calendars with ideas for a do-good activity each day of the month,” notes Ellen Wermter, FNP-BC, a nurse practitioner who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. “Consider downloading one and making the cold winter months more joyful through giving.”
Turns out, most people wear jeans when they’re depressed. There’s also evidence that if we wear clothes we associate with happy moods, we just might start feeling happier. So swap your jeans for something you’d wear on a special occasion and reap the benefits.
“Whether it is a walk in the park, a bubble bath, meeting a friend for lunch or a steamy hot chocolate, have one thing every day to look forward to,” Raffa says.
Just as listening to a happy song can affect your mood, listening to a sad song you love can help you feel calmer. A song that makes you cry can even be therapeutic.
Remember that thing about color affecting your state of mind? “Another way to bring more color into your life is to wear strong and vibrant colors,” Bouz says. Since most winter clothes are dark or neutral, give yourself a chance to try something different.
A good mood can rub off on you. Call up your friend who is always in good spirits and get a quick coffee or a bite to eat. You’ll directly benefit from their company.
“Find songs, movies, plays, art, and other media about overcoming hardships,” Ogden suggests. “There are countless forms of media that can uplift you by showing you people can overcome hard things.”
Yes, it sounds silly, but do your best to imagine what a “happy” walk would look like. Then, try it. One study found it made depressed participants feel brighter.
Sure, you probably say “thanks” to the person who makes your coffee or the stranger who holds the door for you. But how about the co-worker who always covers for you when you’re sick? Or the friend who always shows up when you need them? Take a few minutes to let someone know how much their actions mean to you and you’ll be feeling more joyful in no time.
Listening to music often works well, but taking part in making music is actually even better, research says. Whether you sing along to a song, hum a tune, or tap out a rhythm on your desk, performing music in any capacity can produce positive vibes.
“Listen to your favorite comedian either when you are getting ready or on your way to work in the morning,” Raffa recommends. There’s no better way to ensure you start your day smiling.
Instead of letting things that bum you out slide, make an effort to speak up for yourself next time something happens at home, work, or elsewhere that bothers you. Research shows that complaining to the person who can help fix an issue can make room for happiness that lasts, especially in relationships.
“Make the goal specific and achievable,” Wermter advises. “For example, completing a ten minute HIIT workout first thing in the morning for every day in December. Keep track of your progress and aim for consistency. Plan a small celebration for when you meet that goal.” And consider asking friends to join you in the challenge. “Inviting others to participate in the challenge too will bolster human connection.”
Tapping into your parasympathetic nervous system, or your body’s “rest and digest” state, can help you feel more content and at peace with the world around you.
No matter the religion, spirituality is associated with better well-being and higher levels of happiness. So even if you hated attending religious services as a kid, you might find them uplifting these days.
It might sound a little morose, but there’s a decent reason to try it. We know that comparing yourself to others who you feel are better off than you can make you feel worse, but research suggests that making a downward comparison—to someone who is in a worse situation than you—can perk you right up.
Even if she makes you crazy, one study found that hearing your mother’s voice can reduce stress and give you a mood boost.
“Whether it’s plants, natural wood, stone, water feature or the sound of nature, integrating natural elements indoors will rejuvenate and refresh you, simply because we are biologically encoded to associate with natural features,” Bouz says. “Connections to nature are instrumental to our wellbeing.”
Picking yourself up literally can help you do so figuratively, too. Research shows that poor posture is linked to poor mood.
Self-care is all the rage, and according to science, something about taking that candlelit bath that makes you feel warm on the outside actually carries over to what’s going on inside.
Yeah, it might be the oldest trick in the book, but it works. To learn more about happiness and how to be a happier person, check out these 50 Facts About Happiness That Will Change the Way You Think Forever.
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