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How To Have A Good Mood Day, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:48am

On any given day, there is almost nothing I have to do. I’m not working. The nest is empty. You’d think, as I did when I was busy with work or children or both, that this life is paradise. Uh, no. I’m not complaining, mind you. But it turns out happiness isn’t just about not getting bossed around. Not just about removing external demands on your time. Because you are always subject to the demands of your self. And the self can be a pretty persnickety master.

Some days I am giddy and happy, almost all day long. Some days I am nagged by little jabs of distress, or an underlying feeling of dread. A very first world problem, as they say, but when that’s where you live, that’s what you face. Time without demands has focused me on how to put myself into a good mood as much as possible. I’m not kidding. I’ve been experimenting. Seems that if I have the privilege of not working, it’s my responsibility to enjoy my freedom as much as possible. Which requires a good mood.

If the attempt below hints at hubris, please excuse me in advance. High WASPs believe in prophylactic apologies. I do not mean to imply that I am wise, or evolved, or even a spokesperson for the project of happiness. Just had some time to spare.

Here’s what I have found.

1. Get a good night’s sleep or you are man down from the git go. Drink little alcohol – or none, eat a very light dinner, shut down the computer at least an hour before bed, make sure you have a good book for those final moments awake under the covers, let in cool night air or engineer some, drink just enough and not too much water. There is nothing more predictive of a good mood day than a good night’s sleep.

2. Spend some time noticing and enjoying the weather. That’s easy in a California summer. It’s hard to feel gray under so much blue sky. But almost every kind of weather has something good about it. The noon light on a gray day, the sound of rain hitting windows, evenings when high humidity locations cool off a little bit. Dinner at 8pm, as the temperature finally falls to 80 degrees. Or, if none of that is possible, internal weather. A fire in the fireplace. Do not discount your really strong air conditioner.

3. Create a to-do list that matches your capabilities. A couple of short-term things, tasks with deadlines, or stuff easily done that creates more mental health that it takes away. For me that’s removing visual clutter, folding laundry, clearing up a counter. But also make daily progress on what you really care about. Your heart-felt priorities. For some people, that’s helping others. Contributing to the world. For some, it’s moving towards a personal goal. Again, I’m not talking about how to be a good person here, who can say what that means? I’m just presenting my research on how to have a good mood day.

4. Develop a routine that allows you to accomplish a lot on your to do list without having to think about when or how. Structure your habits so they support your tasks and goals. I find I exercise better if I schedule in classes to attend. I go to yoga at 1pm, while the walk I meant to take at 8:30am is mysteriously postponed until it’s too late. And why it’s too late is one of those metabolic mysteries that must simply be obeyed. I write when I have finished my first cup of tea. That way I don’t have to think about it. The effort of planning and deciding takes a toll on cheer. Why do you think people take cruises? Apply a cruise ship mentality to your day. A Lindblad cruise, more than Carnival, but a cruise nevertheless.

5. Move around. Music is good. I love Pandora radio. Note that I am not saying you have to “work out.” Just moving around as much as possible is enough to start up a good mood. Formal exercise is a long term effort for health and vanity, but it doesn’t make me any happier than dancing while I clean the house, or weeding in the back yard for an hour or two.

6. Get outside. Scientists think they can prove that nature makes us happy. Glorious redwood forests and wildflower meadows may lift our hearts but we can even find a little nature in some plants on a balcony. If you stop reading and consider, my guess is that you know exactly where your nearest nature is. We tend to know these things.

7. Find a vista, if you can. A beach, a hillside, the 15th floor, doesn’t matter. Studies show that people feel better with an uninterrupted view where someone or something has their back.* I can see the sky out my living room window, as I sit on my sofa. I look up a lot.

8. Use food like medicine. Not as an addiction, but as preventive, curative, medicine. Lean protein will help you to feel full. Definitely a good mood moment. Lots of vegetables and fruits are good for digestion. Another good mood moment. Chocolate, in moderation. And comfort food from your personal history – with the caveat that in this day and age, given what we know, it’s going to be very difficult to sustain a good mood if you have eaten in a way that doesn’t support your health and appearance. Sometimes our histories subvert our happiness, and that’s a larger project. Worth undertaking.

9. Talk to one person you love, only to connect, only to enjoy their being and remember why you love them. Talking to people about whether they have finished the estimate, or where they put their sunglasses, or how they need to get to the table now or dinner will be cold and disgusting, isn’t a moment of connection. When we let the presence of someone we love fill our hearts, to my way of thinking, that is the goodest of all good moods.

10. Some days you may wake up and know that you are going to suffer. There is nothing wrong with one day spent lying on your sofa with magazines, DVDs, Hulu, a good trashy novel. A mental health day, if you will. Indulging in recreation has few repercussions.

11. On the days when all this fails, go easy on yourself. You eat too much chocolate, tomorrow is another day. Don’t fall into a spiral of eating more just because you ate some. Same with alcohol. You left all those papers on the desk, unsorted? No matter. We are humans. We wrap buildings, we aim for peace, we cry at commercials. We get confused. There is value, on occasion, in acceptance.

12. Finally, don’t borrow trouble, as our grandmothers might have said, then. Stay in the moment, as the Buddhists might say, now. And do. Any time you have a minute that belongs to you, notice. And if it feels you have no time that belongs to you, make some. Because even I, with no boss, no job, no children at home, no deadlines, can feel as though I have no time that is my own. So it must be something we set up, that feeling. And must be something we can break down.

If I try to pinpoint the things from this list that I have found to have the most impact, I’d say sleep, movement, and accomplishing any absolute deadline tasks. Then, don’t borrow trouble, because at bottom most of us are natively glad to be alive. We can set our bodies up to feel cheerful, and quiet our minds to give that feeling some space.

This is all rather touchy feely. Let’s pretend we’re not talking emotions. Our human frailty. The short sweetness of life. Let’s pretend it’s just research. Dry, rational, objective. Thank you. Much appreciated. Otherwise I’d have to put my tongue back into my cheek. Thank you very much. Have a wonderful weekend.

* I read about this vista study a long time ago, before the Internet. I’ve never forgotten it, but can’t find it now. Apparently random natural patterns are also good for us, like leaves in the wind, light on the water.
**I know that for some, body chemistry means that native happiness is elusive. Depression is a different kettle of fish, one which I don’t know much about.

35 Responses

  1. Excellent post, LPC, right on the mark. Much food for thought, here. Thanks for this — Reggie

  2. Wow, what a great list! I have actually printed it so that it is easily accessible when I'm having a not so good day. #1,3, 4 and 5 are especially worth noting. And #10 – I have to work on that one – I'm always feeling like I'm wastig a day if not doing something… so, I have to stop being so hard on myself.

    Many people are going to find this very useful! Thank you.

  3. Fantastic post! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with the world…

  4. Like this list very much, it's both practical and compassionate. I've found that self-compassion is oftimes the most elusive quality of all, yet it is truly the basis of equanimity in life. This bit is posted on my office wall as a very handy nudge on mullish days: "Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Get out and get busy." (Dale Carnegie)

  5. Am eating German chocolate cake ice cream (surprisingly good!) after staying up far too late the night before while drinking wine with friends. So I am happily engaging in nos. 10 and 11, but not mindlessly so, which I think is important!

  6. this is such a lovely how to for life! when is your book coming out, because I'm the first in line at the Twin Cities stop to get it signed and a pic with you :)



  7. Well said, LPC and very timely advice for me and many others I am sure.

    I try to take this all on board each day and when it's all going to hell in a hand basked, focus on the easier things like appreciating the natural world around me and knowing that someone out there is truly having a worse day than I.

    SSG xxx

  8. Love this. Printing it out and plastering it on my bulletin board. There are so many excellent suggestions and I am going to work on many of them.

    Thank you.
    PS. I work but so many of your points apply, big-time.

  9. I liked this very much, especially since I made my husband take me out for an ice cream cone to "ruin my supper" just an hour ago. Wonderful advice. As an empty nester myself, I appreciate it. molly

  10. Reggie – Thank you sir.

    High Heeled – I am honored you printed it out. I wish you a gradually increasing percentage of good days – what we all want, right?

    Simply – Thank you very much. I always hesitate to claim wisdom, but I really should just thank you instead.

    Susan – Yes, I agree. Getting busy is sometimes the best or even only answer to nameless dread. That or lying completely still.

    Miss Cavendish – Yes, I think mindfulness is another very useful construct for happiness.

  11. QBS – No, I'm first in line for YOUR book:).

    SSGirl – When you are young and busy, in some ways your sheer ability to hurry can cause more stress. Maybe one of those times where getting old has its use.

    Lily – Thank you so much.

    Marsha – I am so honored. Your bulletin board is a place of great wisdom and achievement. I find myself hoping that this time off I have is somehow useful to someone.

    MollyC – Hope it was GOOD ice cream! I had Swiss Chocolate Almond just the other day.

    Mary Anne – Thank you so much.

  12. A great post, although I'd disagree slightly with number 4 as I am usually in a great mood when I am planning mode. I've been reading and thinking a lot about living purposefully, and I think, one thing that is key to a sustained good mood (not giddiness or even happiness) is finishing things. Of course, that's totally touchy-feely–no research other than on myself!

  13. Have a dog in your life. No matter how terrible a day has been, a little interaction withmy four footed friend always will make things better.

  14. So, so true. All of them, each and every one.

    In the 'becomes more important with every passing year' category, we nominate "There is nothing more predictive of a good mood day than a good night's sleep."

    In the "this one is deeper than it appears" category: "…it's going to be very difficult to sustain a good mood if you have eaten in a way that doesn't support your health and appearance."

    The whole thing is simply brilliant, and we would like to be second in line after The Bee when it is autograph time.

    Big smiles and serious appreciation Miss LPC,

  15. Excellent advice, especially the idea of finding a vista to view and appreciate. We are all so visually oriented that to take in an expansive view and to see that the world is much bigger than our own office or home or car etc. is a serotonin boost…at least it is for me.

  16. What a wonderful post Lisa! I am doing these things. Number 7, is one I have not thought about ( my urbanism ). I have given myself the permission to do 10 and 11, and try to do them with not a bad self conscious. Thank you! Just what we all needed!

  17. Excellent…brilliant in fact…all good points.
    I agree that we make our own happiness.

  18. This is a brilliant list! I am printing it out to put in my journal. Happiness is a subjective experience as I age into my 50's, I am becoming more self-ish and noting what I need to keep myself in good stead. Lots of alone time, downtime, balanced with being outdoors and with the family, seems to be crucial right now.

  19. Great list and illuminating reasons why those items made it. May I suggest: Use the good china and wear things you love even if no one will see them.

    It is probably best not to look at your investments more than once a quarter.

  20. Lovely post! The world can always use more people in good moods!

    #7 – look at a vista – echoes the fung shui principle for a secure home: the home should have something large & solid behind it (like a mountain or larger building), and an open, expansive vista in front. I suppose in ancient times, this formation may have been the most strategic one for guarding the castle and ensuring the good moods of those within.

    There's also quite a bit of current research on 'sense of place' that suggests a human preference for open vistas developed when early humans lived on the savannah and needed to see predators coming.

  21. Much as enough sleep is a determining factor on how cranky my children will be, a good night's sleep makes a world of difference in how well I deal with messy toys all over the place, spills, etc. :)

    Great post, LPC!

  22. Super helpful, actually, as someone who has a pre-disposition to the blues. I'm very happy when I keep moving, but when I don't have anything to do I get a little lost.

    I think I might just print it out too.

  23. Dear LPC, I really like this post, a fantastic balance of common sense and the profound, and wonderfully expressed. And I totally agree with the one about sleep – I just need the self discipline to do it. Bx

  24. Great, great, great post! Seriously, it's wonderful. The perfect thing for me to find in my Reader this evening :)

  25. Wonderful, wonderful post. I too am pressing 'print' and keeping your eloquent and wise words nearby. A-M xx

  26. Oh, this is wonderful stuff! And so timely for me. I'm not working for the first time since I graduated (and I worked my way all through college, too!) So I have been learning some of this stuff in the last few weeks. Sleep, learning to maximise my natural routine, fuelling myself properly, getting exercise (and doing it through peaceful, outdoors means wherever possible). Thanks for reinforcing and articulating so wonderfully what I am slowly learning.

    (I write from bed, with a tea tray, having had chocolate for breakfast. I am having a mental health day. With bells on.)

  27. I'm getting all caught up on my blog reading. I LOVE this post. So many wonderful points made all in one post! Fantastic!

  28. What a great post filled with absolutely excellent advice. Very good!

  29. This is a wonderful list. I appreciate you having put it into a post so as to focus your readers on how the little decisions in our day can have a tremendous effect. Lovely post.

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