MOOD-BOOSTING EQUATION: Organize + Support Others + Be Creative
SOLUTION: Declutter and donate
Decluttering has been a hot topic ever since Marie Kondo hit the scene—and for good reason. Research shows that clutter can make it harder for us to concentrate. But when we can find things easily in our homes or offices and don’t feel overwhelmed by stuff that has no place to live, we’re less anxious.
And the mood boost we get from decluttering is heightened if we give the belongings we’re shedding to a person or group that can put them to good use. That’s because when we perform acts of charity or altruism, our feelings of self-esteem rise while our feelings of anger diminish, studies show. This might be connected to the benefits of gratitude. “Gratitude is not just expressing thanks—it includes giving to someone else without expecting anything in return,” says Lynnea Villanova, M.D., a family physician and certified medical acupuncturist in New York City, who found that an active and regular gratitude practice helped her when she was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition. “Providing a useful item or giving time, an ear, connections, advice, or help with a chore—these are all forms of gratitude.”
A third mood booster involves tapping into your creativity: When the piles of stuff have been put away or donated, try rearranging your furniture or giving your home a mini face-lift, which may give you a renewed sense of control over your surroundings.
MOOD-BOOSTING EQUATION: Listen to Favorite Songs + Sing + Socialize
SOLUTION: Sing karaoke with friends
Hearing a favorite tune can raise your spirits (even a sad song if it’s one you love, says one study). And that happiness can be increased when you sing it yourself. Recent studies have delved into why relaxed, informal singing is a powerful pick-me-up, says Paula Carino, a psychotherapist and musician in New York City. It’s been shown to raise the body’s levels of oxytocin (which can elicit feelings of bonding and helps regulate anxiety) and reduce levels of cortisol (a hormone usually associated with stress).
This is especially true when we’re singing with other people: Hanging with friends has been shown to improve people’s moods as well as their overall health. One potential explanation is called the “stress-buffering model,” which says spending time with supportive loved ones helps us better weather the trials of life. So how about some karaoke? Since you probably can’t gather with friends at a crowded karaoke bar right now, try a virtual sing-along. Gather friends in a Google Hangout or Zoom call and find karaoke versions of favorite songs on YouTube. Then sing! You’ll be creating a feel-good community via your screens.
MOOD-BOOSTING EQUATION: Bond With Animals + Volunteer + Exercise
SOLUTION: Help out at an animal shelter or walk an elderly neighbor’s dog
Time with a pet is a big-time mood enhancer; multiple studies have shown that it can bolster emotional health and even physical health. But you can get a dose of this love even if you can’t have a dog or cat because of your work schedule or a family member’s allergies. Volunteering at an animal shelter or helping out a neighbor is a great option. Spending time with a critter you’re just getting to know has similar payoffs to those you’d get from having your own pet—and carries some of the same health benefits, such as potentially lowered blood pressure. Combine that with the boost you get from volunteering—studies have shown that it increases feelings of life satisfaction and wellbeing—and the exercise from romping with an animal. A workout can strongly improve your mood, says science! ■