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Published on January 25, 2021

21 Simple Pleasures to Enlighten a Gloomy Day

21 Simple Pleasures to Enlighten a Gloomy Day

Do you ever wish you could jump on a plane to Tahiti to escape the stress of everyday life or brighten a gloomy day? For most of us, it’s unrealistic to drop everything and leave. But what if you didn’t have to?

The best solutions aren’t hidden away in some far-off destination where we can only access them for a week or two. In fact, they are often right under our noses! We are just too caught up in busyness, distraction, and exhaustion to notice.

Here are 21 simple pleasures you can easily treat yourself to—without the plane ticket!

These hacks—most of which we can do from the comfort of our own homes—boost our mood and brighten our day by elevating our feel-good hormones (serotonin, endorphins, dopamine), helping us relax, and shifting our focus from gloomy situations or thoughts to more positivity and satisfaction with our lives.

1. Stand on the Bright Side

The simple state of being outdoors triggers a neural bath of happy hormones. Even as little as ten minutes of exposure to daylight outdoors (without sunglasses for optimal results) boosts our levels of both serotonin and endorphins.[1]

2. Treat Yourself to a Salty Soak

Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths are often used for treating aches and pains, but they’re also an amazing stress-buster.

Magnesium is an essential mineral known to relax muscles and relieve tension, stress, and anxiety. Some research shows it to increase serotonin production in the brain, helping to stabilize mood.[2]

If you don’t have access to a tub for full-body indulgence, fill a foot bath or large bowl with hot water and Epsom salt to soak up the mood-boosting benefits through your feet. Feeling extra decadent? Add a few drops of essential oils — calming lavender or perky peppermint are good mood scents to try!

3. Illuminate with Intention

Lighted candles can symbolize our emotional selves and reflect the radiance of our hearts, even when we feel distressed. This pairs well with a positive affirmation of what is going well for us, as a reminder of our blessings. We can also focus on an intention of who we are becoming or what we are committed to fulfilling in our lives.

Light your candle and state your affirmation or intention either out loud or in your mind (whichever feels most comfortable). Repeating this simple ritual on a regular basis reinforces connection with ourselves and moves us into a more positive mindset.

4. Calm Your Mind Without Forcing

Quiet inward focus has a powerful effect on our mood. Sometimes, however, trying to sit still and silence our mind creates what I call “relaxation anxiety”: exacerbated feelings of stress caused directly by the effort of trying to relax. In this case, attempting to relax through traditional meditation (and feeling like you’re failing) can be counterproductive.

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If this sounds familiar, try an alternate method like walking or cleaning—any activity that you can carry out without consciously thinking about the steps to perform it. An empowered calm washes over us when we decide to allow our minds and thoughts to wander instead of being rigidly fixated on controlling them.

5. Tune in to a Positive Note

Music is such a powerful companion to, and driver of, our emotions, it is even used to treat anxiety and depression in dementia patients, as musical memory and emotions are among the last capacities to be lost.[3]

Fortunately, we don’t need to have any formal musical education or inclination to enjoy and respond to the benefits at a deep level.[4] The simple act of listening to upbeat music, combined with setting the intention to shift into a more positive mood, is proven to elevate happiness levels.[5]

6. Indulge in Soothing Sippers

There is a natural tranquility that comes from comforting ourselves with a warm mug of deliciousness. Sit back and relax with your favorite blend knowing just the act of mindful sipping will nurture you.

For extra gloomy days, try lemongrass with its bright flavor and uplifting aroma, or turmeric with its rich spicy undertones and feel-good-hormone boosting effects.[6]

7. Expand Your Awareness to Crave “Good Mood” Foods

“You are what you eat” is not just an overused motivator for losing weight. The truth is, every system and process in our bodies is affected by the nourishment and fuel we provide them.

Think about how you feel—physically, mentally, and even emotionally—when you eat a certain food. If what you’re eating leads to feeling fatigued, bloated, guilty, foggy, etc., reassess your consumption of those foods.

On the flip side, some foods with nutrients and minerals known to positively affect our mood include sweet potatoes, blueberries, flaxseed, wild-caught salmon, yogurt, and brown rice. Here’re more options for you: 9 Superfoods To Fight Inflammation And Boost Your Mood

8. Send a Lasting Token of Affection

Receiving a thoughtful note from a friend or family member is at the top of the list for most people when it comes to what brings us joy. Sending a thoughtful note, on the other hand, brings us a double dose: it reminds us of the wonderful people in our lives, and it’s fun to imagine the reaction of the recipient.

Keep it simple if you like. A quick “thank you” or “something I admire/appreciate about you” goes a long way.

9. Launch an Upward Spiral

While it’s never a good idea to ignore or deny our problems, taking our minds off them to notice what’s also going well is a potent mood elevator.

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We all have blessings and gifts which we tend to take for granted. Turning our attention to these not only helps us feel better in the moment, it creates an upward spiral of receiving and noticing more things to feel grateful for. Jot a few down in your journal or in a note to post on your fridge. Mention them in your prayers at night. However you choose to acknowledge your blessings, you’re bound to experience an immediate lifting of your spirits.

Here’s a reminder of what you should be thankful for: 60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

10. Marvel at the Abundance and Beauty of Our World

It’s one thing to step outside for a quick walk or breath of fresh air. It’s quite another to slow down and fully immerse your senses in the experience of being out there.

In Japan, this practice is called shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” The method is actually highly studied and proven to benefit mental health, relieving anxiety and stress levels.[7]

Next time you step out, do it with intention. Notice the color of a flower or the pattern in a pinecone. Feel the crisp air nip at your face. Inhale the aroma of grassy earth. Listen to the music of wind rustling the leaves.

11. Break up Boredom to Boost Your Brain

Novelty—an experience or state of newness—not only relieves monotony, but also amplifies dopamine production and stimulates memory retention.[8] This is great for prolonging a good mood by creating a domino effect of positive emotions and memories. Reflecting on these promotes expansion of positive thoughts and feelings.

12. Focus on Giving

Physical gestures of affection reduce stress and promote wellbeing.[9] This works just as well for givers as receivers.

If you don’t have a friend, partner, child, or someone else close to you who can hug you back, don’t despair! Give a caring embrace to your pet, yourself, a stuffed animal, a pillow, or even a tree! The benefits outweigh any sense of weirdness you might feel over this.[10]

13. Sniff Your Way to a Boosted Mood

Our emotions, long-term memory, and sense of smell are closely interrelated. This means that smelling scents associated with happy memories, like Grandma’s blackberry pie or Dad’s spiced cologne, can bring our emotions into a positive state almost instantly.

You can easily hack your own aromatherapy connection for a quick anytime pick-me-up. Use incense, candles, oils– anything that has a scent you enjoy– while engaging in an activity that makes you feel good. Inhale, smile, and lock in the memories for proactive positive effects.

14. Infuse Movement

Any activity that gets our blood pumping and increases oxygen intake boosts endorphins, which are powerful mood-lifting brain chemicals. The key to this one is the “enjoy” part, though, because if you’re forcing yourself into it, then it’s not much of an escape. So whether it’s dancing, running, or playing with your dog, make sure it makes you happy.

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It doesn’t have to be high-intensity or even long duration. As little as 20 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise will do the trick. Bonus benefits if you do it outside (see #1) or to music (see #5)![11]

15. Lose Yourself in a Process

Research shows that happiness and creativity go hand-in-hand.[12] One reason is that creative projects allow us to distract from our problems in a constructive way. Another is that many creative pursuits activate the reward centers in our brains.

Grab a coloring book, sketch pad, or canvas and unleash your inner Picasso. Knitting, writing poetry, woodworking, and other projects also work just as well.

16. Help Yourself by Helping Others

Altruistic endeavors help us by giving us a sense of purpose, a necessary requirement for true, deep happiness.[13]

Even if it’s not possible to be physically present, there are many volunteer opportunities to serve from home. Check with your local food bank, homeless shelter, or animal shelter, or plug your zip code into a site like volunteermatch.org to find a varied list of events and causes into which you can invest your time and effort.

17. Untangle the Mental Jumble

Writing down our thoughts, emotions, and challenges has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.[14] This also makes it an effective stress management tool.[15]

The simple act of expressive writing allows our brains to disentangle from overwhelm, confusion, and frustration. Writing sparks intellectual growth, gratitude, and happiness.

Your journal doesn’t have to be about anything monumental or life-altering. Thoughts, plans, or simply what happened that day are all valid options. There are no rules. Let go of any “shoulds” or inhibitions and just allow whatever comes through to flow from your pen to the paper.

Need journal inspiration? Here’re 15 Journal Ideas to Kickstart.

18. Look at the Sky

Opening our eyes and hearts to the awe of something greater than ourselves is instantly enlightening. Often we can feel limited by geography or circumstances, believing that we must behold a great wonder of the world or conquer some massive challenge to experience this “awe.” But all we have to do is look up.

Whether we’re watching the clouds float by, or pondering the wonders of the vast universe as we gaze up at the stars, we all have access to this simple source of inspiration.

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19. Nap Like a Cat

Despite the fact that it’s widely considered lazy in our culture, naps are proven to have several benefits, including elevated mood.[16]

Give yourself permission to indulge in a short catnap (no more than 20 minutes, or this strategy could backfire).

Not only does this feel ultra pampering, but sleep is a restorative function that gives our brains the opportunity to sort through challenges at the subconscious level, allowing us to wake feeling more emotionally and mentally invigorated.

20. Freshen Up

Small shifts to our physical environment can have a massive impact on our inner world. Sweep away dust and cobwebs, and allow your gloomy mood to go with them.

Add a vibrant splash of color with pillows, throws, or artwork to instantly uplift your spirits. Make simple shifts to placement of furniture or decor. You can even apply a little Feng Shui in your rearranging for some enhanced energy flow in your home or workspace.

21. Unplug

Being “always on” and constantly connected to our technological devices is leading to stress, depression, and anxiety on a massive scale. It can be a hard habit to break, but worthwhile in the long run.

By ditching your devices for even just 20 minutes a day, or 1 full day per week, you will have that time and energy available to invest in more enriching and empowering activities, like the ones listed above.

Try these 5 Simple Ways to Unplug and Be More Mindful In Your Life.

Make Yourself a Priority

As you can see, there are a multitude of ways to wrap a silver lining around a gloomy day. The key is to make your physical, mental, and emotional well-being a top priority by creating space in your everyday schedule for intentional nurturing, self-connecting activities. Five minutes. An hour. A day. Whatever you can give yourself, but do it deliberately and with love.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t still get away for the sheer fun of it. It just means that you’re not going on vacation seeking joy and relaxation due to lack of it at home. Show up consistently, meeting yourself where you are, and you’ll be happier overall—no plane ticket required.

Featured photo credit: Alisa Anton via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] NCBI: Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health
[2] PubMed: Magnesium for treatment-resistant depression: a review and hypothesis – PubMed (nih.gov) ]
[3] Digital Commons: Is Music Therapy Effective in Improving the Quality of Life in Dementia Patients?
[4] Practical Neurology: Music and Dementia: An Overview
[5] Tandfonline:Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies: The Journal of Positive Psychology: Vol 8, No 1
[6] NIH: An Overview of Curcumin in Neurological Disorders
[7] SpringerLink: Effects of Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing) and Nature Therapy on Mental Health: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
[8] Scopus preview – Scopus – Document details
[9] SAGE Journals: Affectionate Touch to Promote Relational, Psychological, and Physical Well-Being in Adulthood: A Theoretical Model and Review of the Research
[10] iCelandreView: Forest Service Recommends Hugging Trees While You Can’t Hug Others
[11] Medical News Today: Endorphin release differs by exercise intensity, study finds
[12] APA: The latest research on creativity and the arts
[13] Berkeley Edu: How Volunteering Can Help Your Mental Health
[14] Hans S. Schroder: The effect of expressive writing on the error‐related negativity among individuals with chronic worry
[15] Journal of Affective Disorders: An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder
[16] Journal of Sleep Research – Wiley Online Library: Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping – MILNER – 2009

More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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