When You Need Instant Happy: Six Quick Happiness Boosts

Flowers cascading over a neighbor's fence. The sight surprised me and made me smile. Houston, Texas, March 6, 2013.

Flowers cascading over a neighbor's fence. The sight surprised me and made me smile. Houston, Texas, March 6, 2013.

Small moments of happiness quite often come when least expected, as when a cascading vine of flowers catches your attention on your regular walk or when a baby staring at you in the grocery store bursts into giggles when you notice it looking.

Yet sometimes you need to create a little instant happy.

A funk hits, or maybe exhaustion or stress or pressure, and you don’t want to wait until you encounter a puppy out for its first walk, big feet getting in the way. Yes, you could go for a bike ride or find a kitten to snuggle, but you want something that can bring a little jolt of happiness straightaway, without a need to source materials.

So I’ve listed six instant happiness boosts that anyone can employ almost anywhere and at almost any time:

Feel the Weather

Go outside. Close your eyes. Feel the breeze or the wind or the stillness. Let the rain wet your face—or stand under an awning and sense how the storm stirs and weights the air at the same time. Smell the cityscape or the grass. Feel the sun warm your skin or imagine your form blending into the darkness. Listen to cars drive by or crickets chirp or people laugh at a nearby outdoor cafe.

Hold your pose for at least two minutes.


Thank Someone

Someone I hadn’t spoken to in ages reached out via Facebook message and thanked me sincerely, deeply, and specifically for a kindness I’d shown a couple years ago, explaining exactly what it meant to her and why. Though I never thought a moment about doing what I did, her message paid me back plus some. And it validated my belief in the importance of doing the right thing and being kind.

Kindness begets kindness.

Think of someone who did something for you—even years ago, even if he did it naturally, even if you haven’t spoken in a while—and send him a quick note of gratitude via whatever medium you can. Tell him specifically what he did that made a difference to you, why it made a difference, and how it made a difference. It doesn’t have to take you more than five minutes, yet he’ll never forget it.

Making others happy makes us happy. Gratitude makes us happy. Double win.

Intentionally Breathe

When stressed or sad, we typically forget to breathe deeply.

Stop everything.

Push your chair away from your desk or even stretch out on the floor. Put one palm on your stomach and the other on your chest. Take no fewer than twenty very full, very deep, and very slow breaths, paying attention to how the air fills your body.

After the last breath, you’ll feel refreshed, centered, and relaxed. Happy, even. Breathing returns perspective—it always does.

Do or Never Do One Thing

Look at your to-do list—that endless behemoth that never gets smaller, no matter what you accomplish—and pick one nonessential thing that you will not do, not now, not tomorrow, not next week, and not anytime in the foreseeable future. Delete it.

If you just can’t erase a single thing—in which case I question your definition of “essential”—pick one item on your to-do list that will take you fifteen minutes or fewer. Even if the action doesn’t have the highest priority in the moment, do it. Cross it off your list.

Or, better yet, do both.

Giving up the frivolous and quickly making progress feel good, don't they?


Turn away from the group of people or glowing screen or manual task or even printed reading material and survey your space.

What haven’t you noticed before?

What has blended into the background so well that it no longer registers? What shapes and colors surround you? What would you consider your favorite element in your immediate vicinity? Why would you pick this item over everything else?

Even the most mundane settings wait to amaze us, if we pay attention.


Smiling for no reason feels nice, doesn’t it? Don’t pretend happiness if you feel miserable—faking emotions appears to backfire, research indicates—but if your mood is more blah than bummed, turn up your lips and even show a few pearly whites.

And heck, maybe someone will notice your smile and grin back—and since when hasn’t a genuine, no-strings-attached smile from someone failed to make you feel good? (Bonus: You made him feel good in the process.)

What instant happiness boosters can you add to my list?