Come On, Get Happy!

By Kara Wahlgren

Want to feel positively fabulous in 2013? It’s a smart goal – researchers have found that happy people actually live longer than their pessimistic friends. Here are 10 simple ways to beat the winter blues and add some good cheer to your life.

1. Get outside. Colder temps might tempt you to stay indoors, but there’s good reason to bundle up and venture out – research indicates that exposure to sunlight can improve your mood and help your body produce Vitamin D, which is thought to relieve some symptoms of depression. Even on a dreary day, getting some fresh air can be a great mood booster.

2. Meet up with a friend. Social media is great for staying in touch, but there’s no substitute for actual face time. A recent British study found that people with a wide circle of friends were happier than their introverted peers. Even better, a Harvard study found that happiness really is contagious, so hanging with a blissed-out bud can bring your mood up a few notches, too.

3. Strike a pose. There are plenty of reasons to access your inner pretzel, but one major benefit is yoga’s proven ability to reduce stress and anxiety. “Dancer pose is my favorite mood lifter,” says Tara Stiles, owner of Strala Yoga in Manhattan (TaraStiles.com). “It opens the back and chest, and involves balance – and sometimes toppling over – which cultivates a sense of fun.”

4. Turn up the radio. Whether it’s Mozart or Maroon 5, music can instantly boost your mood. When you listen to a favorite song, your brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates your brain’s pleasure center – the same way it responds to food or sex.

5. Get moving. The “high” that follows a great workout has a long-term effect on your happiness. One study found that a 20-minute workout can improve your mood for up to 12 hours. In fact, psychologists have suggested that the endorphin rush from exercise can actually provide better motivation than the possibility of eventual weight loss. Hate the treadmill? Try walking with a friend or taking a fun exercise class.

6. Take a catnap. If you want to know how vital sleep is to happiness, just watch a toddler who’s skipped his nap. “It’s a fallacy to think that adults don’t need a nap,” says Nicolas Ronco, the CEO and founder of YeloSpa, a unique Manhattan spa where clients can pop in for a few minutes of shut-eye (reflexology and aromatherapy are optional!). “It’s normal to feel that lull around 2 p.m., so a nap is an incredible mood booster.”

7. Give a gift. If you’re feeling the post-holiday letdown, get back into the spirit of giving. A recent study found that participants who spent $5 on others felt more joy than those who spent the money on themselves. It doesn’t have to be lavish – treat a friend to lunch, or pay for the person behind you at Starbucks.

8. Clear some clutter. “Walking into a cluttered home can fuel anxiety,” says Barbara Reich, the organizational expert behind Resourceful Consultants in New York, NY. “Your home should be a calming place after a long day.” If you lack the clean gene, get the mood-boosting benefits of a clutter-free space by taking a few minutes to tackle these three clutter magnets: your pile of paperwork, your kitchen junk drawer, and your entryway.

9. Grab a snack. Hunger can make you crabby, so nosh on a healthy snack if you start falling into a funk. “It’s never a good idea to skip meals—it can cause blood sugar levels to drop and irritability to hit an all-time high,” says Ellen Collis, a health coach in Manhattan (WannabeHealthNut.com). “If your eating patterns are out of whack, your mood will be, too!”

10. Volunteer your time. Research shows that volunteerism can significantly increase happiness and life satisfaction among participants. Not sure where to start? Check out www.volunteermatch.org to find a local charity that fits your interests, and start reaping the emotional rewards of giving back.

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