We all have moments when we feel blue. But what causes us to feel sad? How can we overcome it and feel happy? Here are 5 surprising ways to boost your mood…
1. Know your dopamine
Excitement about life is caused by the brain chemical, dopamine. When your dopamine dips, you notice a slump. It helps to know the slump is normal and natural, because dopamine is not meant to surge all the time. It spurts when you approach a reward that meets your needs, and then it dips, so you’re ready for the next opportunity. Dopamine motivates a lion to run when it has a good shot at a gazelle, but to save its energy the rest of the time. This explains the curious droop you feel after you get what you seek, until you set your sights on a new quest. December is full of dopamine-stimulating activities, but in January, the external world stops triggering it for you, and you have to trigger it yourself. Fortunately, that’s the job your brain is designed for!
2. Know your cortisol
Stress, fear and anxiety are caused by the brain chemical, cortisol. It’s nice to know that cortisol protects you. A lion releases cortisol when a gazelle gets away, and that protects the lion from wasting energy on a hopeless chase. Cortisol works by making you feel so bad that you do what it takes to make it stop. Cortisol helped our ancestors explore a world full of potential threats and survive. You have inherited a brain good at seeing potential threats. If your boss raises an eyebrow by a millimeter, your cortisol may surge. You can end up feeling like a lion who hasn’t eaten in a week, or a gazelle who’s about to be eaten alive. It’s great to know that your body eliminates cortisol in twenty minutes if you avoid triggering more. What can you do for twenty minutes that will not trigger any stress? This is hard to do because your brain is designed to scan for threats when your cortisol is flowing, so prepare non-frustrating, healthy activities for those moments. Ups and downs are natural but you can have more ups!
3. Set an immediate goal and reach it
Dopamine soars when you approach a goal, so find one you can accomplish in the next hour and do it! Clean out the drawer that gets on your nerves. Delete 100 items from your Inbox. Write the letter that’s been on your mind. Your brain will reward you, and more important, you will pave a neural pathway that expects a good feeling when you think about the task in the future.
4. Plan steps toward a long-run goal
We can’t reach big goals all the time, but each step toward a goal triggers dopamine. Your brain doesn’t waste dopamine on pie-in-the-sky dreams; it only gives you the good stuff when it sees the finish line come closer. So take a step every day and you will not only feel good; you will wire yourself to expect to feel good.
5. Spotlight a medium-term goal
You can’t make visible progress every day, and some days bring obstacles that set you back. That’s why we need some more approachable goals to focus on when our bigger goals are stalled. You shift from frustration to excitement when you shift your attention to that realistic goal. You can’t control the world but you control where you invest your energy.