When we're aiming for a happier life, there's no question that patience is a virtue. It takes time and effort to change our lives and rewire our minds for a more optimistic outlook.
However, not all mood boosts have to be earned through sweat equity. There are always (healthy!) ways to feel better in the here and now.
Instant gratification is doable — and science agrees.
Here are seven practices that will help you reap immediate mood rewards. On that note, time for a happy break, perhaps?
1. Do something kind for someone.
Kind acts lead to good feels. Anyone who's paid it forward at Starbucks or helped an elderly person cross the street is well aware of this phenomenon. Yet we often get so caught up in our mile-a-minute lives that we forget to practice the acts of kindness that make ourselves (AND OTHERS) feel so damn good. Research suggests that giving to others makes us happier (and happier people give more to others). So embrace kindness and generosity, and feel better immediately.
Exercise is the ultimate healthy mood-enhancer. Studies have shown that exercise can even improve mood in folks suffering from depression. Moving your bod (in any way you choose!) kick-starts those endorphins, and it's all uphill from there.
3. Practice loving kindness meditation.
Meditation is awesome in general. And loving kindness practices in particular have been shown to produce positive emotions that, in turn, lead to lots of other benefits — more mindfulness, a sense of purpose, decreased illness issues, and so on. Plus, it can help you extend love and compassion to the person who probably needs it most: yourself!
4. Find flow.
Flow, that almost-magical state of being where you're completely immersed in the task at hand, is pretty fantastic. Time stops, you're totally focused — you let go of everything but what you're doing. And research suggests that people who enter flow regularly are happier. Getting out of your own head is the best feeling ever, and that's the gist of flow.
5. Look for three good things.
Taking time to write about three good things that happened each day (and why) can make you feel fantastic. This type of task puts your attention on good over bad, boosting your brain's optimistic outlook and fostering appreciation about all that's worth appreciating in your life.
6. Hug it out.
Human touch is everything. In Western culture, we shy away from it, but it's hugely important for health and happiness. It even releases oxytocin, the "bonding hormone" that helps us feel more connected. Try touching someone you care about — hug, give or receive a massage, hold hands with your honey — even just gently touch a friend's arm or back to show support or care. The littlest touches can make us feel more connected to one another, and that's a surefire path to happiness.
A dance party, whether it's with 700 of your closest friends or solo in your kitchen, is an instant cure for the blues. On the science side, a recent study of teen girls showed dancing to be a highly positive experience with long-lasting effects. And as anyone who's gotten down to Pharrell's Happy in their living room knows, it's nearly impossible to stay bummed out when you're bouncing around like a little kid.