8 Science-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mood at Work

Find simple strategies to boost your workday mood, satisfaction, and productivity.

The average person spends roughly 90,000 hours of their life at work. Unfortunately, over 50 percent of Americans are stressed out, with over 80 percent of the workforce experiencing work-related stress, burnout, and dissatisfaction with their day-to-day lives. Even for those who like their jobs, not every day is peachy. Whether it's due to high stress in your personal life, a particularly hectic period at work, or you're just feeling down, some days feel like a true slog, even if you consider your work to be your true calling.

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The good news is, there are some easy, science-backed steps you can take to increase your happiness at work. Some are easy to implement immediately, others require a little planning ahead, but all are manageable no matter your professional situation. Instead of reaching for the office cookie jar for a temporary boost next time you're feeling a little blue at your desk, try one of these proven and sustainable methods for increasing your overall work mood.

01 of 08

Take a short walk.

Taking a break for a stroll in the middle of the workday is a triple threat: It can help increase creativity and boost thinking power, give your body a much-needed, mobile break from sitting, and raise your overall level of happiness. An Iowa State study from 2016 found that just the physical act of walking can have a significant positive impact on mood, even if you don't expect it to. Next time you're losing yourself in a mound of paperwork or feeling hopeless about the daily monotony of office life, take a walk around the block or climb up and down the stairwell if you're stuck inside. Even after a short five minutes, you might just return to your tasks feeling refreshed and invigorated.

RELATED: Just 3 Minutes of Exercise Can Boost Health—Here Are 7 Mini Moves to Try Throughout the Day

02 of 08

Watch a short, funny video (or whatever makes you laugh).

You know that laughing just plain feels great (hello, endorphins!), but did you know that it can also energize you and help make you more productive? Don't feel bad about taking a few minutes to watch a silly SNL skit, scroll a few hilarious TikToks or Instagram Reels, or pull up that meme your friend sent you a week ago that still gets you giggling. A brief break for genuine joy and laughter is an easy (and extremely pleasant) way to break up a long task, lower stress, and boost your mood without even leaving your desk.

03 of 08

Spend 10 minutes organizing your workspace.

There's a notable link between mental well-being and tidiness in the home—and there's a similar correlation between the state of your mood and the state of your work environment. A cluttered and disorganized environment can lead to stress, procrastination, overwhelm, and other negative effects; but a clean, comfortable, and orderly workspace has been found to increase focus ability, mood, and overall productivity. Giving your setup a quick, organizational zhoosh can also help you feel more in control of your environment, which is one of the barriers to happiness in traditional workspaces. Channel your inner Marie Kondo and declutter your desk, cubicle, craft room, WFH setup or wherever else you get things done. If you're feeling extra ambitious, tackle your computer desktop and email inbox (but start small—set yourself up for success, and don't try to fix it all at once!).

04 of 08

Play uplifting music.

Whether you listen to music while you work to tune out office noise or create a certain vibe during the day, this habit can do more than merely make your cubicle a more bearable place to be. A 2019 study from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital found a direct link between listening to music and the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that's tied to pleasure of all sorts. Listening to tunes may not be ideal for times when you're learning a new skill or processing complex information—but for those repetitive daily actions or relatively easy cognitive tasks, go ahead and hit play on the music that helps you get stuff done.

05 of 08

Chat with a co-worker.

When my office recently went through a remodel, I was forced to move from a spacious, single office into a shared one with my co-worker. Initially annoyed at my loss of privacy, I immediately noticed that my general level of happiness started increasing after the shift. Why? I like my co-worker and consider her a friend. By sharing an office, we were able to interact easily throughout the day, peppering our productive stretches with breaks to catch up, share stories, or just have a quick laugh together about the ridiculous email that just came through from HR. Forming positive relationships at work and engaging with those people throughout the day is a fantastic way to make work feel less…work-like. Obviously you can't spend all day hanging out by the water fountain, but finding time to be social throughout the day is easy and accessible. Who knows—after a quick laugh, catch-up session, or (healthy) frustration vent, you may even get inspired to jump back into that project you've been putting off with renewed enthusiasm.

06 of 08

Take lunch and snack breaks that energize you.

Eating well and staying hydrated are crucial for keeping your mood on an even keel throughout the work day. Does that mean reaching for birthday cake and sugary sodas in the breakroom every hour on the hour? Sadly, not (although it doesn't hurt to treat yourself to something indulgent now and then). Instead, make sure you take real lunch breaks to clear your head and nourish your body with a balanced meal. If you find your focus and mood lagging again by the afternoon, reach for a healthy, midday snack. As much as you can, stick to filling, whole foods or nutritious snacks, such as low-sugar snack bars, to keep you satisfied while helping you meet daily nutritional needs, so you can say goodbye to your usual afternoon mood dip.

RELATED: The 9 Smartest, Healthiest Snacking Tips to Follow Every Day, According to Nutritionists

07 of 08

Find meaning in your work.

Just over one-third of people report feeling truly engaged at work, and workplace engagement and dedication can be a big predictor of day-to-day happiness. While finding meaning in your role can feel overly idealistic or a little more daunting than a five-minute distraction, it could be the longer-term key to feeling fulfilled and content at work. Tying your daily duties to the bigger picture will help you find deeper satisfaction and could lead to a greater sense of purpose in life. Try connecting your work to the people you're serving as the first step in finding meaning in your to-do list. Or start even smaller: Take a step back and ask yourself, "what is one thing I can do today that will be meaningful, helpful, or useful to me and/or others?" Today, the answer may be something as simple as getting an assignment over to someone to whom you're accountable and whose work depends on yours.

08 of 08

Start looking for a new job.

If your unhappiness at your desk is persistent, you may want to consider other options. Even just the step of beginning to look around and taking action instead of lamenting your current situation could increase your happiness and help you regain a sense of purpose and agency. Perusing other roles might also help you identify what it is you like about your current job, as well as what you can't stand. You might find a little gratitude and realize that you could be happy where you are with some tweaks, or it may truly excite you and inspire you to move on. Either way, it doesn't hurt to explore and see what other opportunities are out there.

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  1. Miller JC, Krizan Z. Walking facilitates positive affect (even when expecting the opposite). Emotion. 2016;16(5):775-85. doi:10.1037/a0040270

  2. Roster, C. A., & Ferrari, J. R. (2020). Does Work Stress Lead to Office Clutter, and How? Mediating Influences of Emotional Exhaustion and IndecisionEnvironment and Behavior52(9), 923–944. doi: 10.1177/0013916518823041.

  3. Ferreri L, Mas-Herrero E, Zatorre RJ, et al. Dopamine modulates the reward experiences elicited by musicProc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2019;116(9):3793-3798. doi:10.1073/pnas.1811878116

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