Want to Feel Happier by the End of the Day? Read This.

Gretchen Rubin on creating your own personal happiness

Do you need a happiness boost — right now? If so, take a look at this menu of options and make your choices. Remember, the more you tackle, the bigger the boost you’ll receive.

When you’re feeling blue, it can be hard to muster up the physical and mental energy to do the things that make you happier. Plunking down in front of the TV or digging into a tub of ice cream seems like an easier fix.

However, research shows (and you know it’s true) that these aren’t the routes to feeling better. Try some choices below. The more you push yourself, the better you’ll feel; but if you can’t tackle a big task, just do something small. Even a little step in the right direction will give you a lift.

According to my ground-breaking happiness formula, to be happy, you need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. What’s dragging you down? Is it a lack of fun, of connection? Do you feel a lot of guilt, boredom, or anger? Do you feel that something’s “not right” about your life? Do you feel stagnant or stuck? Focus your efforts on the choices that will do the most to address what’s not working in your life.

Your menu of choices — commit to doing as many items as you can:

Friends
* Call or email one of your closest friends
* Call or email three friends to whom you haven’t spoken in a while
*  Track down an old friend who has drifted out of your life

Fun
* Add a fun thing to your calendar
* Better, add a fun thing to your calendar that involves other people
* Best, add a fun thing to your calendar that involves other people doing something outside

Challenge
* Think of a subject that you wish you knew more about (be honest! something that really interests you!) and spend 15 minutes on the internet reading about it
* Take a step toward acquiring a new skill that you want – research Italian classes in your neighborhood, investigate Photoshop
* If you absolutely can’t think of one single subject that interests you, visit two bookstores (one huge chain, one independent) and browse until some book catches your attention – and buy it

Do good, feel good
* Sign up to be an organ donor, and remember to tell your family
* Give $25 or more to a worthy cause
* Sign up to volunteer or participate in an organization

Energy
* Walk around the block
* Do ten jumping-jacks
* Go the gym or go for a run

Order
* Clear out the space around your computer
* Clear out a closet
* Walk through your house with a garbage bag, and clear clutter until the bag is full of trash; then walk around again and fill a new bag with things to be given away; repeat

Guilt
* Make a dentist’s or doctor’s appointment that you’ve been putting off
* Reach out to a family member whom you’ve been neglecting
* Make something right: apologize, confess, repair, replace, or return something you borrowed

Nagging tasks
* Clean out three old emails that you haven’t answered
* Stop off at the drugstore to buy supplies you need
* Stop off at the hardware store to buy supplies you need
* Fix something broken

Good citizen
* Throw away someone else’s litter
* Be helpful to an elderly person or a person with small kids
* Be friendly to a store clerk who seems grouchy

Gratitude
* Reflect on the following quotation, from Marjorie Williams’ The Woman at the Washington Zoo:

We could hear her friends pull up to the curb. As her momentum carried her to the top of the stairs, Alice looked back and tossed me a radiant smile. She had become my glimmering girl: She looked like a rock star. She looked like a teenager. She looked absolutely stunning. She thundered down the stairs in those shoes, and as the front door slammed behind her, it came to me — what fantasy I had finally, easily entered this Halloween.

I’d just seen Alice leave for her prom, or her first real date. I’d cheated time, flipping the calendar five or six years into the future. The character I’d played was the fifty-two-year-old mother I will probably never be.

It was effortless.

Editor’s Note: A month after Marjorie wrote this, her oncologist concluded that there was no further treatment to recommend. Marjorie died, at home, on January 16, 2005, three days after her forty-seventh birthday.

* Reflect on the following quotation, Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, June 4, 1940:

We shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender; and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.

* Reflect on the following quotation, from Thomas Arnold, diary, June 5, 1842:

[Of reading the newspaper] “So much of sin and so much of suffering in the world, as are there displayed, and no one seems able to remedy either. And then the thought of my own private life, so full of comforts, is very startling.”

At the end of the day, look back on your list. Did you hit all the items you checked off? Do you feel happier?

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. Each Wednesday is tip day on her blog.

4 comments so far.

  1. avatar D C says:

    What a great list!  Confession… I’m a list maker.  I loved this one.  Several things from that list, I’ve done in the last week.  Several I’m doing this weekend (going to a family reunion that will including doing something fun, outside, visiting neglected relatives, being helpful to the elderly, going to the drug store to get supplies… YAY!  I’ll even be nice to a grouchy store clerk at some point on the way there or back (it’s a 3 hour drive to the reunion). 
    My oldest son is not a happy camper about going to this reunion.  We don’t do this kind of thing often, and we are just holding onto that leg of the family by a thread.  We are forcing No. 1 Son to do this, and he won’t be happy while it’s happening.  But later on, in a few years when those people are dead and gone, and we look back at the pictures we’ll take on this trip, he will be glad he went.  And it will cause a moment of happiness for him.  No. 2 son will just be glad there’s a pool. 

  2. avatar LandofLove says:

    Love that Churchill quote!

  3. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    While I love the list of things to do and find it really comprehensive, I find that a few minutes on the end of the phone with my friends who are upbeat but also have the ability to be concerned and really listening allows me to get my worries, my upsets off my chest works the very best.

    When you have the blues, you are down (and sometimes “out”), the feeling of dragging tells me you are caring a big load on your back.  You can do anything on that list but if it is the kind of blues I am thinking of, you need to “spill”, handing your feelings over to another you can trust.
    Usually, that good friend also “gets it”, have good responses, is there for you, and right away you feel lightened.  As time goes on and the reason for the blues is revealed and more or less handed over, I find our conversation gradually changes.  The friend – who has really listened – would now like to tell us something that has happened to her.  More often than not, it is a good story . . . and that story leads to some outrageous thinking that makes us laugh. 

    My friends and I normally laugh a lot — more on the phone than any place.  In thinking about this column, I would say that – better than anything – that “unloading”, having understanding, and if possible, end up laughing like fools.  I find when you are tense, this extreme laughing – and we sometimes laugh until tears roll down our faces – is a tension reliever.  Without thinking about it, the world has turned around and and we haven’t left our room. 

    I call it a release.  It can’t be planned.  But when we have someone on the other end who cares, who listens and responds, and then the laughing jag over something really outrageous becomes the best medicine we could have.  One now do I perhaps want to clean the closet or feel that I am upbeat enough to visit a shut-in. 

    The phone call works .  . almost every time I would say.

  4. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    If I wasn’t so damned depressed all the time, this post would do me a lot of good!  From time to time, I attempt some of these things.

    For me, the best fix is “doing good.”  For years I used to serve dinners at churches or AIDS facilities at Christmas or New Year or Thanksgiving.  I always wondered– was I doing it for others or really just for myself?  In the end it didn’t matter, I was doing something.  And it did make me feel more worthwhile.  I hated myself  a little bit less. 

    Unfortunately, depression increased and trying to make myself feel better fell to the wayside.

    I’m printing this out right now and putting it on the fridge.  Hell, maybe I’ll even clean the fridge!  (That’s in the “Order” or “Nagging Tasks” catagories.)