Look on the bright side. Keep your chin up. See the glass as half-full. Feel better yet? If these bumper-sticker mantras fail to do the trick, follow the surprising advice from experts who know all about keeping spirits high.
Do the Chicken Dance
Adults sometimes forget what kids intuitively understand: that moving your body helps release negative emotions. I’m a big believer in doing that myself. Once, I had a confrontation with one of my band members before a performance. We resolved the argument, but there were residual hard feelings—I still felt upset. And so I changed the set list to begin with a loud song of ours called “We Are the Dinosaurs.” That way, I was able to roar and stomp around on stage and transform my bad mood into something else. Try some variation of this yourself the next time you’re down. If you don’t release your emotions, sadness and helplessness will continue to pile on top of each other.
Laurie Berkner is a best-selling children’s recording artist and a cocreator of Sing It, Laurie!, an animated musical series for preschoolers on Sprout. She lives in New York City.
Look Out the Window
When I’m having a trying moment, I walk over to my office window and gaze outside. Maybe I’ll spot a family of quail enjoying the suet cakes I’ve left them. Or a silly vehicle will drive by: One day I was ecstatic to see a bright pink kiddie-amusement-park ride breeze past on a huge flatbed trailer. We tend to view our burdens as more intimidating than they actually are. Taking a moment to stop and simply observe the world in all its beauty and strangeness is one of the best ways I know to get perspective.
Elizabeth Fournier is the owner and operator of Cornerstone Funeral Services, in Boring, Oregon.
Use Your Imagination
As a clown, I’m not allowed to have many bad days. Our 90-city tour lasts two years, and we perform an average of 10 shows a week. Of course, there are times when I would rather not slap on the old greasepaint. Sometimes I get sick; sometimes I’m tired. But since it’s my job to give others energy and joy, I have to make sure to get out of any funk I might be in—and quickly. To do so, I tap into my creative side. I brainstorm designs for new costumes, come up with new gags, and formulate sketches. I’ve found that tapping into my imagination— the sense that anything is possible—is sometimes all it takes to reenergize.
Taylor Alb in is the Boss Clown for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. He lives in Mineral Wells, Texas.
For nearly 47 percent of our waking hours, our minds stray. They stray when we’re brushing our teeth, commuting, taking a shower—anytime tasks don’t require us to be fully present. This “mind wandering” (that is, thinking about the past or the future rather than right now) may be our brain’s default state, but research shows that when our minds meander, we’re less happy. To get out of a funk, try an activity that requires your rapt attention: Engage a friend in a thought-provoking conversation. Take a new gym class and situate yourself in front of the instructor so that you feel obligated to focus. When we’re 100 percent present, our minds are happier for it.
Matthew Killingsworth is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California San Francisco. He is also the creator of TrackYourHappiness.org, a study that uses smartphones to identify happiness in real time.
Rent a Tearjerker
It seems counterintuitive, but watching a movie with a sad ending, like Atonement or Titanic, actually increases our happiness. When we see a tragedy unfold, we’re motivated to think about our own close relationships, which spurs happy thoughts. Witnessing an onscreen tragedy also offers a glimmer of hope and a sense of transcendence about human existence. It puts our daily troubles in perspective and makes us consider the deeper meaning of life. That said, pick your movie carefully. If you were just dumped, you may prefer to watch a film that celebrates friendship (say, Beaches) as opposed to one about eternal love.
Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, Ph.D., is a professor of communication at the Ohio State University, in Columbus. She researches the effects of entertainment on human emotion.