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33 Things That'll Make You Happy That Don't Cost a Thing

That good ole saying ("money can't buy happiness") rings true as ever.

You can stock up on as many Mega Millions lottery tickets as you want, but you know what they say: Even if you're the (very!) lucky person who wins the big bucks, money can't buy happiness. In fact, when it comes to experiencing true joy, you don't even need to spend a cent. Science shows some of the simplest things are the true mood-boosters in life—not big houses, extravagant trips around the world, or nice cars. (Though, to be frank, those all sound pretty nice…) The next time you're feeling down, these 33 things will surely make you smile.

Be Near Water


If you've ever felt an instant calm from being around water—whether that's taking a walk along the beach or lazing away by a pond—there's a reason for that. Many studies have shown being near the blue stuff can make you happier. In fact, as a 2010 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology showed, even just looking at pictures of beautiful scenic views with lots of water has can decrease stress and make people feel more joyful.

Take Your Dog on a Walk

old couple walking dog

Going on a walk with your pup isn't just a great way to get some fresh air and exercise. A 2017 study published in IJERPH found it's a great way to improve both your and your dog's happiness levels, too. You don't even have to get outside if you don't want to, though: A 2009 study published in the journal Hormones and Behavior found even just being around your pup in general can increase the amount of oxytocin in your body, giving you an instant boost of joy.

Spend Time Reading a Book

woman reading

There's nothing like finding a good book that helps you totally escape into a new world. Aside from taking your mind away from reality for a while, bookworms are also a lot happier. The organization Quick Reads found those who read just 30 minutes a week were 20 percent more satisfied with their lives and 28 percent less likely to be depressed.

Go Bird-Watching

bird watching

Now let's get one thing straight: Bird-watching isn't just something old people do, and you don't even need a pair of binoculars to get in on the happiness-boosting activity. In a 2017 study published in the journal BioScience, researchers found the simple act of looking at birds—no matter the species or where you do it—can help lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Birds, in other words, are basically magic.

Put Your Phone Away

man holding cell phone

All that time spent on your phone might seem harmless, but it has a really negative affect on your mental health—especially when it comes to scrolling through social media. A 2016 study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety found those who did it often had a higher chance of being depressed than those who steered clear, so if you want to stay your happiest, focus on your real life—not what's going down online.

Meditate for 15 Minutes

man meditate

Meditation doesn't have to be a long, complicated thing. In fact, reaping the benefits only takes a handful of minutes out of your day. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found meditating for just 15 to 20 minutes five times a week does wonders for increasing your happiness levels. And the best part? You can do it anywhere.

Visit a Farm Sanctuary

petting cow

Farm sanctuaries give lifelong homes to cows, pigs, chickens, and other farm animals that have been rescued from the meat and dairy industry, and spending some time giving them love will instantly put a smile on your face. There might not be any scientific evidence that cuddling cows in particular can boost your mood—just yet!—but cuddling in general totally does, so find a sanctuary near you for the ultimate feel-good vibes.

Unleash Your Inner Yogi

couple doing yoga on a beach

You don't have to go to a yoga class to reap the benefits of the calming practice—you can do a free workout right at home on YouTube. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found the practice can help decrease anxiety, boosting your mood and making you feel happier. You don't have to be good at it, either—you just have to devote the time to doing it.

Sit in the Sun for 5 Minutes

woman wearing sunscreen

Sitting in the sun for long period of time is bad news for your skin, but taking even just five minutes to bask in it can do some serious good for your happiness levels. According to a 2008 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the light boosts your levels of the hormone serotonin, putting you in a more positive mood. On top of that, it can also give you more energy—and who doesn't want that?

Donate Things You Don't Need

Box of Old Clothes for Donation

Having a space full of clutter is only going to stress you out, but going through your belongings and figuring out what you don't need is an instant way to feel lighter, more energetic, and—of course—happier. Especially when you donate the items to those who need it, whether that's to a shelter or to Goodwill.

Go to the Library


When you were a kid, you probably visited the library all the time—so what's stopping you from taking a trip as an adult? When you enter those doors, you can totally immerse yourself in books and magazines to read, all while being in a calm, quiet environment. It won't just bring back that nostalgic feeling, but you'll also get a happiness boost from all that time spent looking through those book-filled shelves.

Play Your Favorite Songs

woman listening to music and dancing

There's no way blasting your favorite songs—and (most likely) singing along to them!—isn't going to make you feel happy. In fact, science says so. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found it only takes 12 minutes for your mood to totally shift, so get your playlist ready and turn up the volume.

Get Out and Talk to People


When you're feeling down, the last thing you probably want to do is leave the comfort of your own home to have face-to-face communication with other people. It's worth making yourself, though. A 2008 study published in BMJ found happiness is totally contagious, so spending time around other happy people is only going to benefit your own mood, too.

Walk Through a Greenhouse

greenhouse free things to make you happy

Most people go to greenhouses to stock up on new plants, but you don't have to spend a cent to get a total mood boost. A 2005 study published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology found flowers and plants make you feel genuine joy, and those effects are long-lasting. The next time you're in need of a smile—and some stress relief!—head over to your nearest greenhouse and walk up and down those aisles, taking in all the relaxing sights and smells.

Cuddle Up with Your Favorite Funny Movie

watching a movie

Who's up for a movie night? Grab some popcorn and your favorite funny flick because the simple act of adding a little humor into your life can help you feel happier and more positive overall, says a 1993 study published in the journal Psychological Reports. And if you want an extra mood boost, add some chocolate into the mix, too.

Change Your Sheets


You're supposed to change your sheets at least once a week, but how many people actually follow that rule? Even if you can't keep up with that tight schedule, make sure to put 'em in the laundry anytime you could use an instant happiness boost. Nothing will make you feel better than crawling into a squeaky-clean bed at night.

Call Up an Old Friend

woman on phone

Even when life gets super-busy, make sure you're taking the time to chat with your best friends. And not just through texting—on the phone or FaceTime so you can actually hear their voice. In a 2017 study published in the journal Personal Relationships, researchers found that friendships are crucial for happiness, and catching up with a BFF can instantly make you smile.

Enjoy Some Alone Time

happy man living his best life positive

While spending time with other people can make you happy, so can taking some time to be by yourself. Sometimes you just need to take the time to do your own thing, and a 2016 study published in the British Journal of Psychology found it's incredibly beneficial for your mood, making you feel more joyful.

Start a Gratitude Journal

man writing

Sometimes happiness is all around you and you just have blinders on that are making it hard to realize it. One way to remind yourself and bring those happy vibes back into your life once again is to start a gratitude journal. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found focusing on your blessings versus your burdens does wonders for your mood.

Spend 10 Minutes Stretching

Woman Stretching in Chair

How can you not be grumpy when most of your day is spend sitting at a desk in front of the computer? For an instant pick-me-up, take the time to do some stretching. In a 2016 study published in the journal Menopause, researchers found stretching for 10 minutes right before bedtime helped decrease depressive symptoms.

Take a Quick Nap

couple sleeping

Sleeping too much during the day can make you feel even more groggy and grumpy than before, but taking a quick nap can do your happiness levels some good. A 2017 study from the University of Hertfordshire found 66 percent of those who took short naps—defined as shuteye that lasts less than 30 minutes—felt really happy once they woke up, improving their overall wellbeing. Taking long naps, on the other hand, could lead to health risks.

Go on a Hike


Nature is a beautiful thing—especially when it comes to being able to totally shift your mood. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Ecopsychology, simply lacing up your hiking boots and talking a walk surrounded by chirping birds and trees will make you feel less depressed and less stressed overall. Yeah, it's that easy to make yourself smile.

Put on Something Yellow

woman slipping on yellow shoes

If you have something yellow in your closet, grab it and put it on stat. In a 2010 study published in the journal BMC Medical Research Methodology, happier people were more likely to associate their mood to the bright and cheery color while those suffering with depression more closely related to gray. The simple act of surrounding yourself with more cheerful colors can brighten your mood, giving you a piece of that happiness.

Make a Gift for Someone You Love


There's a lot of good that comes from giving, and you don't have to spend a cent to reap the benefits. In a 2017 study out of the University of Zurich, generous people were found to be happier than selfish individuals; one easy way to boost mood is to make someone you care about a homemade gift. Once they receive it, they're sure to be just as happy as you are giving it.

Brew a Pot of Coffee

Cup of Coffee

Coffee does wonders for your energy levels and helping you power through your day, and brewing up a pot can also affect your mood. In a 2011 study published in JAMA, researchers found caffeine can bring on a wave of happiness, releasing dopamine and serotonin into your body, and those who drank it regularly decreased their risk of depression.

Grab Some Crayons and Get to Coloring


Ready to feel like a kid again? Go dig out that box of crayons. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found unleashing your creativity can better your overall well-being, making you flourish and feel happier. And what's better than testing out the whole adult coloring book trend to bring on the joy?

Paint a Picture

woman painting

Not in the coloring mood? You can also get creative by grabbing some brushes and painting a picture. In a 2011 study published in the journal Arts & Health, those who took the time to paint upped their happiness levels. You don't have to be on Bob Ross' level and paint "happy trees," either—all it takes is simply having some fun, no matter how good the final outcome may be.

Get Off Your Computer

thoughtful woman on computer

When you're on your computer, there's so much to look at that you could be glued in for hours without even realizing how much time has gone by. That's not going to make you happy, though. In fact, a 2018 study in the journal Emotion found spending a lot of time on technology is only going to make you unhappy, so ditch it and do something else instead.

Have a New Experience

smiling happy family

Doing the exact same thing day after day can start to feel old after a while, so why not switch things up? A 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found having new experiences opposed to buying new possessions is the way to go when it comes to improving your happiness levels. You don't have to spend money on those experiences, either: Look for free things to do right in your community to add some fun into your schedule.

Ask a Friend to Hang Out

Friends hugging

Sure, you can call up a good friend—but why not just hang out in person? A 2008 study published in the journal Social Indicators Research found that face-to-face interaction—whether that's inviting them over for coffee, going on a walk, whatever—can make you instantly happier. Basically, you can always count on your BFF to cheer you up.

Learn a New Dance

Friends Dancing

Back in the day, you'd want to learn all the dances in your favorite music videos (whether you'd ever admit it to anyone or not). Well, taking the time to get your groove on can drastically improve your happiness. According to a 2012 study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, you only need to do the fun, care-free dance sessions a couple times a week to boost your mood for months—and you can find the free instructions on YouTube.

Take a Bubble Bath

Bathtub bathroom

There's nothing like a warm and cozy bubble bath to bring on the happiness. Plus, it's one of the easiest things you can do. A 2018 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found bathing not only brought on more smiles and stress-relief than showering, but it also helps with fatigue and pain. You basically get the effects of the spa in the comfort of your own home.

Clean Out Your Fridge and Make a Homemade Meal


Cleaning out your fridge won't just make you feel great from having a cleaner, less-cluttered space. Making a homemade meal out of that food that would have just gone to waste can also make you happier. In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found cooking—especially when you're stressed—can make you feel more joyful.

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Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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