Happiness can seem like an elusive thing. Try as we might, it often feels like it’s just beyond reach. And even when we’re experiencing something that isn’t exactly unhappiness, it can still seem like genuine, life-embracing joy is lacking.
When you’re feeling unhappy, dissatisfied, or apathetic, it is important to remember that happiness isn’t some tangible thing that is “over here” or “over there”. Happiness is ever-present. It’s always right here, right now. We simply forget or refuse to access it.
Here are fourteen things you can do to break free whenever the doldrums are holding you down:
- Organize your living space.
One of the most immediate things you can do to boost your mood is get organized. Not only does getting off your ass to clean things up a bit provide you with some distraction from whatever’s got you down—you also end up with better space to live in. A clean and organized living space provides a more comfortable and stress-free atmosphere. It’s also a place you feel more excited about inviting friends, family, and potential romantic partners to, and good company always brings happiness.
- Get some exercise.
Exercise is one of the surest methods of attaining happiness. It has been proven to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression due largely to the happy hormones and endorphins it sets loose in your brain. It’s also a great self-esteem booster as it helps you look better and provides a sense of accomplishment and capability. Bottom line—health is a key part of happiness, and exercise allows you to take the condition of your health into your own hands.
- Cook a healthy meal.
Once again, cooking is an enjoyable activity that can help take your mind off your troubles. And pretty much everyone enjoys eating when they’re feeling low. The key is to not pack yourself full of junk, which generally leads to a sense of self-loathing, i.e. too much ice cream syndrome. Put on some music and make yourself a healthy dish. Or better yet, invite someone over and cook for them. Food is best enjoyed with company.
- Do something nice for someone else.
And don’t tell anyone about it. Whether this means paying a compliment, helping a little old lady carry a bag of groceries to her car, or donating to a philanthropic organization, doing something nice for another person always makes you feel good—but don’t brag about it afterwards. Just allow your positive actions to speak for themselves.
- Go outside.
When we’re feeling unhappy, it is all-too-common for us to lock ourselves indoors and hide from the outside world. We’ve got to cut that out. Fresh air, sunlight, and even rain can help wash away our negative feelings. So read a book on your porch, go for a walk, or strike out into the woods for a hike. And whenever you can combine getting outside with exercise, you’re attacking your unhappiness on two fronts.
- Learn something new.
I recommended this to an unhappy friend once and he responded sarcastically that not everyone is some intellectual or academic who finds pleasure in burying their nose in a book. (Ever notice how unhappiness hates advice? It will defend itself at any cost.)
Humans are inherently curious, and we love learning new things. Whether that means extensively researching the history of the Punic Wars, learning how to build a home generator, or picking up a new card trick, everyone expresses their curiosity in one way or another.
- Do something creative.
Humans are also inherently creative. It goes hand in hand with our sense of curiosity. Some people don’t think they’re creative, but that’s because they don’t know how to paint or write or do any of the more traditional creative activities. First of all, even if you’re not “good” at something, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing. Try your hand at drawing or put down a few lines of poetry. Or do something else creative, like landscaping your yard or building a piece of furniture. Expressing ourselves creatively is one of the surest methods of coping with and ridding ourselves of unhappiness.
- Contact someone you haven’t in a while.
All of us have old friends and acquaintances with whom we could do a better job of staying in touch. Call them up on the phone, shoot them an email, or go old-school and write a letter. It’s always great to hear from an old friend. Not only will it make you feel better, but you’ll be doing something to increase your friend’s happiness as well.
- Spend time with family or friends.
It isn’t uncommon to feel unhappy simply because we can’t find the time for our family and friends. Make time. We are social creatures, and we need the support system offered by these attachments. Relatives and friends can also be there to lend a listening ear, provide advice, or simply make you laugh.
- Take a break from your phone and the internet.
In our hyper-connected world, it can be difficult to unplug. Force yourself to do it occasionally. It isn’t difficult to see how the constant bombardment of advertisements, catastrophic news, online social etiquette, and photos from other people’s vacations can take a toll on your psyche and steal away from your ability to live in the here and now. Humans are creatures of flesh and blood, but sometimes we forget that. Give yourself a chance to spend some time entirely in the real world, unbound to the digisphere.
- Stop thinking negative thoughts about yourself.
This can be difficult to do when you’re feeling unhappy, because generally speaking a big part of unhappiness involves feeling negatively about some aspect of yourself. It is important to understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with you. Perhaps you have made some negative choices, or external circumstances are making it difficult to achieve happiness, but you still exist unharmed beneath all of this.
You can dislike the choices you’ve made, or the situation you find yourself in, but looking down on yourself will not provide a solution. In fact, your goal should be to think positively about how strong you really are at your core. That strength is essential to solving problems posed by poor choices, or to breaking out of bad circumstances.
- Stop thinking negative thoughts about other people.
Misery loves company, and it will do anything to convince you that everyone else is just as miserable as you are. Thinking negatively about others does absolutely nothing beneficial for you. In fact, it helps perpetuate a cycle of negativity.
The solution is compassion and empathy. Instead of looking down on other people for whatever reason, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what it is to be in their situation. Your goal should be to find more in common with others rather than less. This can take practice, but whenever you find yourself thinking negatively about someone, gently remind yourself that you’re through thinking that way, and replace the negative thoughts with questions. Who is this person? Where were they born? How did their parents treat them? What kind of music do they like? What are their dreams?
By asking questions such as these, you’ll find yourself remembering that other people are humans just like you. They’re not the objects of disgust or contempt or dislike that unhappiness wants you to believe they are. They’re people with flaws, strengths, fears, and aspirations.
Meditation means different things for different people. There is the traditional concept of sitting with your legs crossed and your eyes closed, but that’s just one method. Mediation is really nothing more than giving your mind a chance to rest. This involves not putting pressure on it to think, but that doesn’t mean you try to force it not to think.
Go someplace quiet and let your thoughts enter and leave your mind of their own accord. Don’t dwell on them and don’t try to stop them. Basically, mediation is a hands-off moment for your mind. Just let it be. Even when practiced for just a few minutes per session, you’ll find that it’s an effective way to prevent anxieties and negative thoughts from clouding your brain.
- Remember that unhappiness is temporary.
This last one is essential, because when you’re feeling unhappy enough it can seem like it will never end. It’s kind of like taking hallucinogens for the first time. You think to yourself, “Is this just how I am from now on?” Thoughts like these can be scary—being unhappy forever is a terrible proposition.
But like everything in life, unhappiness is temporary. It comes and goes. It is also important to remember that happiness is temporary as well, because it can be dismaying to be knocked of your pedestal when everything seems to be going so well.
Happiness ebbs and flows, like everything else. One day it’s here, and the next it’s gone. There are things we can do to make it more or less stable, but there are very few people out there who don’t cope with its fluctuations.
So remember that you’re not alone in your unhappiness, and you’re not alone in your happiness either. Take courage—we’re all in this together.