Everyone has a few tricks for beating the blues – things you do when you’re feeling down to try to boost your mood. It turns out, however, that several of the most popular strategies don’t actually work very well in the long term. Beware if you are tempted to try any of the following:
1. Comforting yourself with a “treat.” Often, the things we choose as “treats” aren’t good for us. The pleasure lasts a minute, but then feelings of guilt, loss of control, and other negative consequences just deepen the lousiness of the day. So when you find yourself thinking, “I’ll feel better after I have a few beers…a pint of ice cream…a cigarette…a new pair of jeans,” ask yourself – will it REALLY make you feel better? It might make you feel worse. In particular, beware of…
2. Letting yourself off the hook. I’ve found that I sometimes get a real happiness boost from giving something up, quitting something, or breaking a bad habit. For example, I feel very happy about having given up fake food. When you’re feeling down, you might be tempted to let yourself off the hook, to think, “I’ll allow myself to skip my run today, I need a break.” In fact, sticking to a resolution will boost your sense of self-esteem and self-control. So NOT letting yourself off the hook might do more to boost your happiness.
3. Turning off your phone. Studies show that extroverts and introverts alike get a mood boost from connecting with other people. Although it can be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re feeling unhappy, you’re better off making plans with friends or family.
4. Expressing your negative emotions. Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves their feelings. Not so. Studies show that expressing anger only aggravates it; as Plutarch observed, “Anger, while in its beginning, often can be ended by silence, or neglect.” I’ve certainly found this to be true; once I get going, I can whip myself into a fury. It’s better to stay calm.
5. Staying in your pajamas all day. One of the most helpful things I’ve learned in my happiness research is that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. As improbable as this sounds, it really works. Sometimes it can be fun to hang out in your sweats all day, but if you’re feeling lethargic, powerless, or directionless, not getting dressed is going to make you feel worse. Put on your clothes—including your shoes—so you feel prepared for whatever the day might offer. While you’re at it, make your bed.
Have you ever tried to cheer yourself up using a strategy that just made you feel worse, in the end? Or what are more effective ways to beat the blues?
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.