There’s not much to smile about after a year filled with anxiety, grief and fear, and with warnings that a surge in COVID-19 cases will make it a “very dark winter.”
Americans in 2020 are sadder than they’ve been in most years over the past decade, with more than a quarter, 27%, reporting they experienced a lot of sadness the previous day, the Gallup 2020 Global Emotions Report found.
Even experts who specialize in happiness are struggling.
“It's been really hard for me and it's been really hard for everyone,” Neil Pasricha, author of “The Happiness Equation” and director of The Institute for Global Happiness in Toronto, Ontario, told TODAY.
“Everybody is feeling this way.”
So TODAY asked happiness experts, psychologists and our readers to share small tips to boost mood, and feel happier and less anxious.
Here’s what they said:
1. Try a two-minute morning practice.
Pasricha prescribes this technique as a way to prime the brain for positivity right after waking up and feel happier the rest of the day.
Start your morning by saying:
“I will let go of…” — and list things that are causing worry and regret.
“I am grateful for…” — and think of people of events that have filled you with gratitude. Rather than saying “my husband, my child and my dog,” be very specific, Pasricha advised.
“I will focus on right now…” — and carve out one task from your endless “should do” list to make it a “will do.”
2. Do a yoga class.
“To be totally honest, I never think it's going to work when I'm in a really bad place, but I always leave feeling happier and more centered. And if you're new to yoga, there's lots of free classes you can try on YouTube.” — Laurie Santos, psychology professor at Yale University who teaches “Psychology and the Good Life,” the most popular class in the history of Yale College.
3. Write a to-do list for the day or week.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment as I cross each project off when done. It helps keep me focused on the positive.” — Sue Adamczak, TODAY reader from Buckley, Michigan.
4. Go outside.
“Spending time in nature is good for psychological and physical well-being. It increases happiness, reduces stress and strengthens the immune system. And spending time in nature doesn't require moving to Wyoming — it can mean taking a walk in your neighborhood or in an urban park.” — Catherine Sanderson, chair of psychology at Amherst College and author of “The Positive Shift.”
“I have a personal rebounder — a trampoline — that I used to use for group fitness workouts. Now it is my go-to for a quick psychological and physical pick-me-up. Jumping up and down gets those feel-good endorphins going. Of course, if you don’t have your own trampoline, try jumping on the bed — I won’t tell your mom!” — Elizabeth Lombardo, psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect."
6. Put things in perspective.
“Remember that while this has been a large chunk of time in the moment, and yes, led to lots of lost beautiful moments, these are small when you look at the totality of our life.” — Deborah Katz, TODAY reader from Somerset, New Jersey.
7. Spend a couple of minutes every hour to reset.
“This might include taking some slow deep breaths, listening to a favorite song, reading an inspirational quote, removing yourself from wherever you are to get a change of environment. You are basically preventing yourself from ever feeling really bad by catching slips of a negative mood early.” — Joshua Klapow, a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of public health at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.
8. Count your blessings.
“Just stopping to write down all that you do have going well in life — from your health to the people in your life to simple things like the smell of your morning coffee — can provide a huge boost to your overall well-being.” — Laurie Santos.
9. Start the day with a run or walk.
“Fresh air, feeling good and starting the work day with a rush of energy, a sense of accomplishment and positive vibes. It helps for at least half the day!” — Lorna Campbell, TODAY reader.
10. Give, any way you can.
“During this time of year — and in the midst of a global pandemic — giving is especially important, whether that's giving blood at the Red Cross, donating food or money to a food bank, supporting small businesses in your community, or doing a random act of kindness for a friend, neighbor or stranger.” — Catherine Sanderson.
11. Go for a belly laugh.
“Watching a comedian or even a comedic sketch on YouTube can lift my mood — no need to spend hours binge watching a Netflix sitcom. Even just a few minutes can reduce my stress and give me a positive boost of energy, regardless of how I was feeling before. Laughter is powerful ‘medicine.’” — Elizabeth Lombardo.
12. Stop trying to fight the bad mood.
“Give yourself permission and grace to feel bad for a defined amount of time. This is not a pity party, but rather an honest acknowledgement that you are stressed, you do feel down, you are not as happy as you would like. Often by not fighting the mood, we find that the bad mood is very temporary.” — Joshua Klapow.
13. Turn off the TV and social media.
“All we see on TV and social media is doom and gloom. The days without any media are always brighter and better in my opinion.” — Denise French, TODAY reader.
14. Focus on the positive.
"I remind myself of what has not been cancelled and try to focus on what I do have control over," April Halbert, TODAY reader in Bismarck, Missouri.
15. Seek out touch.
"Your spouse, kids, those inside your quarantine pod, your pet — anything that gives you some tactile stimulation will almost automatically elevate your mood. We are more content when we have physical connection and we are living in a world where that must be scarce right now." — Joshua Klapow.