When you’re stuck in a 9 to 5 rut, it’s easy to get a little, well, down in the dumps. Most of us are perpetually waiting for happiness to magically appear in the form of an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy or a winning lottery ticket. But in the sage words of Winnie the Pooh, “sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart”—and it’s true! Just by making simple tweaks to your daily routine, you can beat back stress, conquer anxiety and feel empowered to tackle whatever your goal may be—whether it’s climbing the corporate ladder, being the best mom ever or losing those last five pounds.
Work out first thing. We know, we know: “Morning workouts are for crazy people,” you’re thinking. But hear us out! Whether you go on a brisk walk or do some light yoga poses, carving out some time in the a.m. to get your blood pumping will make your whole day so much better. Why? Exercise fires off a surge of feel-good chemicals in the brain that instantly boost your mood and stave off stress. In fact, research from Duke University shows exercise is as effective as antidepressants in treating depression. Conversely, the study found, couch potatoes were 30% more likely to be depressed, anxious or stressed. Bottom line, any movement is good, no matter when you do it—but early birds have the advantage of reaping the benefits of their sweat session all day long.
Recharge your commute. We’re just gonna go ahead and say it: Commutes suck. If your back-and-forth to work has you wanting to pull your hair out, you’re not alone. Numerous studies have explored the myriad ways that commuting wreaks havoc on our health, triggering everything from high blood pressure to insomnia to back pain to depression. What’s a worker bee to do? If hoofing it by foot or bike isn’t an option, consider carpooling with a coworker—not only is it more eco-friendly, but having some social interaction might make the drive more bearable. Or, tune into a podcast or audiobook. Losing yourself in a fictional character will help take your mind off of the frustrating rush hour traffic.
Get outside. Spending too much time parked in front of a computer takes a drastic toll on mental and physical wellbeing, studies show—excessive chair time can cause a host of health problems, including worsened mental health, a higher risk of heart disease, a greater incidence of type 2 diabetes, and weight gain. Every day, make a point to soak up some rays and slip out of the office for a brief walk or phone call. Communing with nature contributes to a sunnier disposition by boosting mood, improving vitamin D levels and warding off fatigue.
Get more shut-eye. Here’s another reason to hit the hay earlier tonight: Sleep deprivation goes hand in hand with numerous health problems, including depression, anxiety and even high blood pressure. What’s more, skimping on Zs can mess with your metabolism, setting you up for weight gain; it can also hinder work performance by interfering with cognition and concentration. The Institute of Medicine estimates that 50 million to 70 million adults in the U.S. have chronic sleep disorders, and a 2009 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than 35 percent of people reported averaging fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. In other words, we are a nation of walking zombies. Skip your typical late-night Netflix binge and try to go to bed a half hour or hour earlier than usual. Getting adequate rest will help you feel more clear-headed, recharged and energetic the next day, leading to a happier (and healthier) you.
Be grateful. Count your blessings—literally. Gratitude and happiness are powerfully intertwined, research suggests. A 2003 study published in Journal of Personality and and Social Psychology found that counting one’s blessings fueled a happier mindset and lead to greater overall wellbeing. Every night, take a second to jot down your happy moments from the day, even if it’s as simple as what you had for dinner or the fact that your hubby washed the dishes without asking. As the saying goes, “Fake it til you make it.” If you pretend you’re happy, you might ultimately begin to believe it.
Surround yourself with happy people. You know your coworker, the one who’s always impossibly, almost manically positive? Ask her out for lunch—you might end up soaking up some of her happiness. A 2008 longitudinal study conducted by the Framingham Heart Study, which examined a large group of individuals for 20 years, found that happiness spreads dynamically throughout society from person to person and that people’s happiness depends on the happiness of others with whom they are connected. In other words, happiness is contagious! If your social circle consists of Debbie Downers, you might consider broadening your group to include more optimistic, easy-going friends.
Be present. As adults, we spend such an inordinate amount of time ruminating on the past and future that we rarely ever focus on the present. For once, try to exist solely in the moment. Just, well, be! Block off all noxious thoughts about your looming to-do list or the argument you had with your S.O. the night before. Take in the sights and sounds around you; focus on the rhythmic inhale and exhale of your breathe. If you’re new to meditation practices, check out our list of 43 quick, easy “mini-meditations” to instantly de-stress. It sounds hokey, but learning how to control your thoughts can lead to a calmer mind.