I used to tell myself the things I worried about wouldn’t actually happen because that would simply be too ironic. A positive way to look at that theory is that I was almost always right. Until I wasn’t. It has been just over a year since my greatest fear came true – losing my identical twin sister. When she tragically died post childbirth, a large part of my positivity was lost along with her.
The newness and shock of what happened has passed. The first year of grief hung like massive fog cover and we all existed in pure survival mode. I’m grateful to mostly be beyond the point of just trying to get out of bed and move though each day like molasses, although those days do still creep in. I am now chipping away at depression moment by moment so that positivity can persist until it one day thrives. Life is moving forward in our new normal. The depressed optimist in me recognizes that even though I am not the same and never will be, life is good. Life is still really good despite the hurt. Joy to be had. Kids to raise. Wonder to appreciate. People to like. People to love. Things to learn. Success to strive for. Beauty to find. Experiences to enjoy.
There are of course the big and important things to help with grief and depression, and those are critical, including seeing a therapist, getting enough sleep, exercising, trusting loved ones for deep conversations and strong hugs, calling on your faith if inclined and sometimes even taking much-needed medication.
But then there are also the little things you can do when feeling blue to spark a smile, boost energy and reclaim joy. These are the things I rely on to get me through most days. Life can be hard and tricky and we all go through periods where happiness may feel elusive. For me, it’s this battle between mind and spirit when I can logically rationalize the good, but my heart just can’t always get there. In times like this it is hugely beneficial to have an arsenal of tools to help you not get stuck in the funk.
I’m sharing some what I have put into practice with one major caveat: it is perfectly alright to not always feel OK. Being positive is not about denying emotions, ignoring signs of depression or not being true to yourself. Positivity is about doing what you can to feel the best you can, despite any circumstance. We all have to live with the good and the bad and how that balances out comes down to perspective.
Here are 10 tangible happy hacks that that can help you grab onto moments of joy and lift your spirit. Relatively quick fixes to keep on keeping on.
1. Clean & Purge. While contemplating the true meaning of life and why bad things can happen, it is a wonderful time to take inventory of your belongings. Choose a closet or drawers and clean out with a discerning eye to only keep what is functional or brings you joy. If it doesn’t, it’s a waste of space in your life. Trash it or donate it. The bonus benefit is that you’ll also have a tidier space that can bring peace and a feeling of accomplishment.
2. Write a Letter & Mail It. In our world where birthday greetings most likely get sent over text or FB message, hand writing a letter to a friend or loved-one is a treasured gift for them and therapeutic for you. A chance to say a simple hello or a pen a meaningful note about what that person means to you. The act of writing is beneficial and I guarantee that moment you slip the card in the post office mail slot, you’ll smile. A tip for sticking to this is stocking up on a variety of cards and stamps so you have them at your disposal when you feel inspired.
3. Plan for Fun. In an ideal world we could all just whisk off to a tropical island when the mood strikes. That may not be possible but putting something on your calendar to look forward to absolutely is. You know what fun looks like to you – so make it happen. A girl’s weekend away, a full-day hike, going to a concert. Try to schedule something for tomorrow, a few weeks from now and a few months away. It gives you something immediate you can count down towards and when that event is over you still have something on the books.
4. Check Out Memoirs. Other people’s stories are so often inspiring and can give you a larger world view when you are feeling trapped inside your own head. Download an audio book or buy yourself a hardcover you can snuggle up with. It can be any kind of story that peaks your interest. I promise if you find the right one(s), you’ll love the escape of the story and likely find parallels and connections that speak to you even if that person’s experience is vastly different than your own. As a bonus, memoirs often provide interesting conversation starters for later. (Yes, also plan a dinner party or a date night!)
5. Learn a New Trick. Developing a new skill isn’t a quick fix, but the process of pursuing a hobby provides an immediate boost. Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn and have put off? Take just half an hour to do some research on that topic and you’re on your way. It might end up becoming a passion or simply something fun you once tried. Attempting a new recipe or planting your first garden can be invigorating. Beyond that, you can take a class (online or in-person) or ask a friend to teach you something they are skilled at. One of the greatest lessons of loss is to not put off for later what you can do today. Especially something that brings the potential for happy or learning.
6. Find Your View. I believe that taking a few minutes daily (or as often as possible) to gaze at something you truly find beautiful is instantly refreshing. For me, the ocean is always my first choice. But since I can’t always be a beach bum I have found other peaceful places to enjoy. There is a certain spot in my backyard where I can sit and look out to a panoramic view that reminds me how large the world is, and that realization is humbling. That view becomes even better if I can also glance below to where my kids are happily playing. I recommend finding a least one view that you can physically get to easily and regularly so there is no excuse to not frequently take a moment to soak it in.
7. Turn Up the Tunes. The fastest way from dull-drums to drive for me is choosing from one of my favorite songs, turning it up, and dancing it out. By the end of the three-minute song, my energy has increased and I can then then choose to keep the dance party going or move on to the next thing on my to-do list. This idea applies also to jamming in the car to favorite tunes or listening in your headphones if you are someplace you must contain the party. The right beats and lyrics are an incredible mood booster.
8. Turn Off Social Media. I’d call myself a moderate social media user and I like to think I use it for the right reasons, primarily keeping in touch with friends and appreciating the connection it provides. Social media can also be alienating and discouraging when you are not feeling the picture-perfect way your Instagram feed looks. If you find yourself judging your friend’s brunch choice or feeling jealous that you are not also on vacation, turn it off and take a break. Maybe it’s for a few hours… a day... weeks… forever. Tune out for as long as it takes to feel confident that checking your feed won’t make you wish there was a dislike button.
9. Do a Good Deed. It’s no surprise that doing good, feels good. There are a million little ways every day to help someone out – from letting another driver take the coveted parking spot to complimenting a stranger on her cool boots. Making someone else's day instantly makes yours better too. Beyond that, finding a place where you can regularly volunteer when you have the time or doing advocacy work for a cause that matters to you is positivity at its finest. The reverse here is true too. It feels good to let others help you when it is offered and needed. Sometimes you just have to ask for that much needed help. It might just be their good deed for the day and it will in turn remind you that you are supported.
10. Belly Laugh. I saved this one for last because it was the one I felt guiltiest doing for a long time and still struggle with it. It’s also one of the things I love most. The truth is almost nothing feels better than a big old laugh-out-loud. Find whatever tickles your funny bone and let yourself have a laugh. It might be a phone call swapping stories with your hilarious friend or watching cute animals on YouTube. Reminiscing on funnier, happier times can be greatly beneficial as well.
The optimist in me wants to promise that if you attempt these happy hacks a grin is guaranteed! Instead, how about this – I know it can’t hurt to give it a try. I’ll hope for the best and you do the same.