Yep, it’s February. If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, this is America’s least-favorite month. And for much of the country, this February – and this winter in general — has been brutal. Much of the U.S. hasn’t seen temperatures above freezing in more than a month; regions that typically bundle up in 50-degree weather have found themselves blanketed in snow and ice; and even the folks in sunny California are fearing the consequences of the state’s worst drought in modern history. As a nation, we could use some cheering up.
Between the short daylight hours, the cold, and the snow, this is the time of year that people are most prone to falling into a rut, viewing the events in their days as drudgery they must endure, rather than making the most of their time. It’s easy to forget that peace and contentment can be found through simple measures.
Because of this, it seems to me that February is a good time to take stock of all the little ways you can find happiness in the moment. The point of these quick mood boosters isn’t that these are things you’ve never thought to do before, but rather that when done mindfully, the impact these steps can have on your mood is not insignificant.
1. Take time to stretch:
The mood-improving benefits of yoga and aerobic exercise are much-touted, but did you know that stretching can also provide a pick-me-up? Stretching releases accumulated tension in your body, which has a psychological as well as a physiological effect. It has also been shown to alleviate everyday aches and pains, including chronic back pain. Considering that chronic back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and the No. 1 reason for missed work in the U.S., everyone could probably stand to do a bit more stretching. Try stretching in the morning, preferably in a brightly lit room or outdoors if the weather’s nice, and consider taking breaks to stretch during your work day to prevent stiffness and boost your energy.
2. Indulge in a healthy treat:
Let’s face it — sometimes we just want an afternoon snack. But too often it comes in the form of candy, chips or other convenient junk food, which usually leads to an upset stomach or an eventual sugar crash. Choose your snack wisely, however, and it can have a positive effect on your energy and mood. It’s best to steer clear of highly processed foods and refined sugar, including high-fructose corn syrup. Combine healthy protein or fat with complex carbohydrates for a satisfying snack that keeps blood sugar levels even. Some of my favorites are almond butter with whole-wheat crackers (peanut butter works well too); fruit and cheese; or hummus and raw vegetables.
3. Cuddle with a furry friend:
The benefits of companion animals have been well-documented, and just interacting with a pet can calm nerves and make you feel happier in the moment. Next time you need a mood boost, spend some quality time with the family cat or dog. Don’t have a pet? Volunteer at a local animal shelter or rescue group to reap the benefits of lending a hand as well.
4. Soak up some Sun:
It may be February, but fortunately, the Sun’s rays are getting stronger as we get closer to spring. It may still be too cold to enjoy a brisk walk, but simply standing directly in the Sun for a minute or two can actually leave you energized and more focused.
5. Turn on some happy music:
A 2013 study from the University of Missouri found that people were measurably happier after listening to upbeat music. The catch? They had to actually focus on improving their mood while listening to the music in order for it to work. But, according to lead study author Yuna Ferguson, Ph.D, “Rather than focusing on how much happiness they’ve gained and engaging in that kind of mental calculation, people could focus more on enjoying their experience of the journey towards happiness and not get hung up on the destination.” In other words, just try to enjoy yourself in the moment rather than obsessing over the outcome – sound advice to apply to all areas of life, if you ask me.