Knowing what to do and when can make all the difference to your happiness, says Karen Evennett
Did you know that it’s easy to improve your mood in just one day? Here’s what you should do between waking and going to bed.
7am: Let In The Light
Open your curtains as soon as you wake up. Daylight stimulates our body’s production of serotonin, the so-called ‘happy hormone’. ‘Studies show that getting light early in the morning helps set your body clock so you will be ready for sleep 16-18 hours later,’ explains physiotherapist and author of The Good Sleep Guide, Sammy Margo.
‘That matters because the better the quality of your sleep, the better your mood will be generally.’
8am: Eat Yogurt For Breakfast
Choose plain, sugar-free natural yogurt. A 2015 study published in the journal Brain, Behaviour And Immunity found that probiotic-rich foods like this might help you think fewer negative thoughts.
8.30am: Go For A Walk
If you can afford the time, get outdoors and walk – and do this as early as you can, says Sammy. ‘Being outdoors optimises your light exposure, while walking triggers the release of your body’s naturally-occurring feel-good hormones.’
9.30am: Log On And Laugh
The ideal time to start work is two and a half to three hours after you wake – that’s when you’re at your most alert, experts say.
But you’ll start work happier if you sneak in a few minutes of fun looking at some of the 50 Funniest YouTube videos, for example. Using MRI scans, researchers at Stanford University in California have shown how the natural mood-booster dopamine is released when we have a good laugh.
11am: Catch Up Over Coffee
Coffee is great mid-morning to keep you alert and upbeat, says Sammy. ‘But later than midday, caffeine may interfere with your next night’s sleep, and that will have detrimental effect on the way you feel tomorrow.’
Hanging out with a friend for coffee has the added bonus of releasing another feel-good hormone, oxytocin, which is associated with bonding and helps to create an emotional buffer from stressful situations, according to research at the University of California in Los Angeles.
12.30pm: 10-Minute Tidy-Up
If the thought of tackling a mountain of ironing brings you down, find a tidy-up task that will lift you – like quickly creating order in an unruly cupboard. Living in disarray has been proven to raise levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
But putting things in their place and tossing those you no longer need can create inner calm, making you less irritable and more productive, say researchers at Princeton University Neuroscience Institute.
1pm: Have A Happy Meal
No, not the children’s fast-food favourite!
Feast on a low-carbohydrate lunch of trendy avocado and eggs. ‘They’re both high in nutrients that boost concentrations of the brain chemical serotonin – the same compound whose levels are raised by taking antidepressants,’ says nutritional therapist Judy Watson.
2.30pm: Flick Through Your Photos
Researchers at the Open University found that leafing through a family album exceeded even alcohol’s (ultimately short-lived) effect as a mood booster, lifting spirits by 11% compared to just 1% from a glass of booze.
3pm: Get Up Against A Wall
Mid-afternoon is the ideal time to realign your body, when stress may be starting to take its toll and causing your shoulders to slump, says Sammy. ‘Stand for 30 seconds with your back flat against a wall, heels pressed to the skirting board – and feel your head and mood lift.’
3.30pm: Say Thank You
Text, email, or letter… Whichever way you do it, a 2012 study in the Journal Of Happiness Studies found that writing one thank- you note a week boosts life satisfaction and happiness levels, as well as reducing any depressive symptoms you may have.
4pm: Try Speed-Thinking
Give yourself just 30 seconds to run through a list of all the things you love about your mother, or a friend. Thinking really quickly is proven to boost your mood, according to another study at New Jersey’s Princeton University. Even if you can only come up with negative thoughts (not about your mother, probably!), the speed element will still boost your mood, the researchers say.
4.30pm: Cheer Up With Chocolate
Beat any late-afternoon blues with a dark chocolate snack. A study in the Journal Of Psychopharmacology found that the polyphenols in 30g of high cocoa-content dark chocolate made people calmer and more content than those given a placebo.
5pm: Do A Good Deed
Volunteering is known to make us happier and healthier – but your good deed could be as simple as sponsoring someone for a charity run. The more good deeds you do, the more you will benefit. Researchers at the London School of Economics say that, compared with someone who never volunteers, your odds of feeling ‘very happy’ rise by 7% if you volunteer monthly; 16% if weekly.
6pm: Chop Some Fruit
Turn food preparation into a mindfulness activity, taking time to see, feel, and smell the fruit you are chopping up. ‘Cutting up apples, grapefruit, oranges and lemons has the added advantage that all four fruits have aromas that are scientifically proven to lift your mood and energise you,’ says Judy.
7pm: Have A Fish Supper
Stay upbeat through the evening with omega-3 rich salmon. This healthy fat will reduce your risk of depression and even make you easier to get along with, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.
They measured blood levels of omega-3 in 106 healthy participants and found those with the highest levels scored up to 58% better in psychological tests than those with low levels.
8pm: Start Your Wind-Down
Set aside time to relax your body by contracting and relaxing each muscle group in your body in turn, recommends Sammy.
‘Start with your toes, moving up through your legs, arms, hands, abdomen, chest, shoulders and head. Over the next couple of hours, continue your wind-down by turning off your TV and computer, having a relaxing bath, and turning lights down to increase levels of sleep-inducing melatonin.’
10pm: Go To Bed On A Kiwi
A bit different from the usual milky bedtime drink advice. ‘Kiwis are high in serotonin-boosting nutrients and vitamin C – a natural stress buster – making them ideal for helping you drift off to a happy place,’ says Judy. ‘If you can find a golden kiwi, it has 120mg of vitamin C per fruit – double the usual amount.’