1. Stop doing whatever you’re doing, for two minutes. Researcher Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, tried an experiment with workers at Google: For two minutes every day, workers stopped working—no touching the computer, for example. They just sat quietly, watching their breath go in and out. He found that this reduced stress levels and improved happiness.
2. Move for 15 minutes. “It’s the equivalent of taking an antidepressant for the first six months, but with a 30 percent lower relapse rate over the next two years,” Achor said. I know, it’s hard to find 15 minutes—I can’t even find seven for the 7-Minute Workout. But even a little bit of exercise can boost one’s mood, and I’d rather have a little less time mucking around on the Internet and a better mood at the end of the day.
3. Spend two minutes writing something wonderful about someone else. Achor reports that this was the most powerful mood booster in his research: Participants spent two minutes writing a positive email or text to someone else, telling the recipient what they admired about them, or thanking them for something they’ve done. He says, “People who do this not only get great e-mails and texts back and are perceived as positive leaders because of the praise and recognition, but their social connection score is at the top end of the scale.”
4. Go the F to sleep, Mom. I know, there’s True Detective and Seinfeld on streaming and just a little more research to do on schools for your kid. But it turns out that sleep-deprived brains are negative brains: People who slept eight hours were able to remember 80 percent of both positive and negative words a day later. But people who got only five hours of sleep could remember 70 percent of the negative ones and only 20 to 30 percent of the positive ones. In other words, your sleepy brain is a glass-half-empty brain. So forget Netflix or just one more email and hit the sack—you’ll be more cheerful the next day.
5. Make small social “investments.” How socially connected you are is a huge predictor of happiness, but for busy mothers, finding time to nurture your relationships, whether it’s your partner or your friends, can be rough. I’ve read that having a lot of “weak ties,” as well as good friendships, can contribute to good mental health. Achor says he makes a point to do something small every day, like fire off a positive email or meet with an acquaintance for coffee, that invests in his social connectivity. I’m trying a new experiment, which is to keep my phone in my bag when I shop, and to greet everyone with something friendly. For the people I see regularly, like the grocery-store clerks or the mail carrier, I try to have a short, friendly conversation, if they’re amenable. I’ve found that merely putting away my phone and leading with “How are you today?” has smoothed out what can be an otherwise just-get-through-it experience of errand running.
6. Bullet-point your good experiences. For two minutes a day, Achor recommends remembering, in detail, something good that happened in the last day or so. Visualize it in bullet points. He reports that the brain can’t tell the difference between having the good experience and remembering it in visual detail—so you’ve just gotten the most “bang for your buck” for your happy moment. Try it for 21 days and see if your brain doesn’t start boosting your happiness memories on its own.
7. Think of three things you’re grateful for, but be specific. Achor tried this with a large financial services company, and found that if workers were general about their gratitude—”I’m grateful for my family,” for example—it didn’t really boost the mood. People have to “scan the world for new things” to be grateful for, and it has to be specific: “So if you say, ‘I’m grateful for my son,’ it doesn’t work. But if you say, ‘I’m grateful for my son because he hugged me today, which means I’m loved regardless,’ that specificity actually gets the brain stuck in a new pattern of optimism. It works with 4-year-old children and 84-year-old grumpy old men.”
And hopefully it will work for 41-year-old stressed-out moms. So here I go, off to exercise for 15 minutes and just compose a quick email….