I recently discovered that The Masked Singer, a bizarre musical competition in which celebrities wear elaborate costumes to sing in secret with the fervor of American Idol auditioners, makes me feel better. I didn’t know this show existed before the new coronavirus pandemic, and I don’t know if I’ll still watch it once this all ends. But The Masked Singer brings so much joy into my life that now—even though time is meaningless and nothing makes sense—my week is structured around live-texting my friends about it every Wednesday night (or, as I like to call it, Masked Singer night).
While watching joyful TV might not be everyone’s mood-boosting strategy, the struggle to find moments of levity during this time is a worthy pursuit. Here, I’ve compiled a list of 17 super-small (even silly) actions you can take if you want to move the needle on your mood in a positive direction. None of these things will change the challenges we’re all facing right now, but moments of happiness are worth a shot.
What won’t be on this list? Ambitious projects. Listen, learning Japanese or creating a large-scale art installation are valid ways to use your time. But for some of us, getting out of bed is a major accomplishment, and doing anything on top of that is frankly a bonus. So with that in mind, we’re focusing on 17 very small things you can try to increase joy if your mood is dipping and your energy is low. I hope some of these brighten your day a little bit.
1. Open your curtains.
This might seem silly, but if you aren’t able to take daily walks or you feel stressed by going outside, opening your curtains or blinds each morning can be a nice way to interact with the natural world. Even on cloudy days, natural light can help brighten up your space. Bonus points if it’s warm enough to open your windows.
2. Read a children’s book (to a child if you can).
Kimberly C., 35, tells SELF that reading to her young sons is restorative. “It helps me focus on keeping their dreams alive, as I find I get more anxious when I think about what their future looks like during this crazy time.” Even if you can’t read a children’s book to an actual kid, immersing yourself in a much simpler, more wholesome world might be just what you need.
3. Have a discussion with a child.
“I talk to my 5-year-old niece because she’s really funny,” Sabrina B., 35, tells SELF. “It brings me back to a place of innocence and humility because, while she’s a full human, our chats are so different from the conversations I have with adults.” Ask a funny question and see where the conversation takes you. “I’m always left with way more than I thought I’d get from the convo,” Sabrina says.
4. Keep a gratitude list.
Gratitude practices are a tried-and-true mood-boosting method for many because the more you’re able to pinpoint things you’re grateful for, the more likely you are to train yourself to spot upsides in your life even when pretty much everything is objectively awful. If full-on journaling is overwhelming right now, try keeping a running list of things you’re grateful for as you think of them. I keep mine on my iPhone and nothing is off-limits—my toes are on the list.
5. Change your sheets.
Yes, this sounds more like a labor-intensive hygiene practice than a joyful one, but sliding into a bed with clean linens is a wonderful feeling. Breathe in that fresh-laundry scent. You deserve it.
6. Dance, sing, or both.
Singing along to songs has a deeply soothing effect on me, but maybe doing a little dancing and movement is more your thing. It might feel a bit cheesy at first, but there is research to suggest that both dancing and singing can boost your mood and reduce stress, even if just for a bit. If you’ve been banking on the euphoria you feel after sing- and dance-alongs to Homecoming every week, you probably don’t need us to tell you that. But if you haven’t tried it out and you’re remotely into music, it might be worth a shot.
7. Read one page from a book you love.
This can range from Harry Potter to the Bible. Nikki C., 44, tells SELF that she reads a small passage on her Bible app each morning because, as a police officer required to work during the pandemic, “I find that it grounds me.”
Really, whatever genre you like might do the trick. My favorite quarantine reads are romance novels by Jasmine Guillory and Alexis Daria. In short, read whatever sparks joy. Or, if reading feels too daunting right now, consider an audiobook.
8. Try to make someone (or yourself) laugh.
After being screenshotted by one of my best friends without my consent, I called her wearing an admittedly bizarre homemade mask, and we laughed for several minutes. You don’t have to wear a mask, but finding ways to laugh can clearly reduce stress and elevate your mood. In my unscientific opinion, laughing with someone you love is even more beneficial.
9. Eat a real breakfast in the morning.
If you’re not on your usual schedule or you’re working from home, basic functions like eating and sleeping might fall by the wayside. Finding the time to have breakfast in the morning (maybe while listening to a podcast) can help you ease into your day with an official “start” of sorts. This is especially helpful if you spend almost every waking hour in your house.
If you’re not a big breakfast person, that’s cool too. Even something like savoring your a.m. beverage of choice might be a nice way to kick off your day.
10. Take a shower.
This might be a game-changer if you’re living with other people and find it hard to get time to yourself. “Showering is my moment to think about everything [and] to cry a little bit. It’s the only place in the house where people respect privacy,” Sabrina says. “I can close the door with no interruptions.”
11. Have a “hard out” if you’re working from home.
If you’re able to work from home during the pandemic, you might have a tendency to work way beyond your normal schedule because where else do you have to go? But sticking to an evening routine and allowing yourself time to simply be at home (if you can) might help increase joy. Then you can use that time to do something else to boost your contentment, like have the aforementioned dance party.
12. Create a playlist.
Maybe you don’t like to sing or dance, but bumping a playlist of your favorite songs might transport you back to summers as a kid, school dances, your wedding night, or a multitude of other moments that are, well, happier than right now. “My favorite thing to do right now is taking a candlelit shower with a playlist that matches my mood,” Danielle F., 33, tells SELF. “It could be anything from Janelle Monáe to Disney songs.”
13. Write down a good day/bad day plan.
Creating a plan for coping with bad days is great, but it helps to write down a few things you can do if you’re having a good day as well (like handling a chore you’ve been putting off, taking a moment to notice and celebrate your good mood, or checking in on a few loved ones while you have the added energy). Having a plan for both good days and bad days normalizes how common both experiences can be, and keeping your written plan nearby is a helpful reminder—consider leaving it near your bed so that you can integrate it into your morning routine.
14. Do something nice for someone else.
This doesn’t have to be elaborate. You can compliment a relative, make dinner for your roommate, or if you have the means, donate to an organization doing good right now. On top of definitely making someone else’s day more pleasant, doing something nice for other people might make you feel a little better too.
15. Watch a cute animal live its unbothered life.
As a godmother to two beautiful cats, I’m often treated to videos and photos from their owners, and it does boost my mood for a second. “I play with my dog way more now,” Kimberly says, adding that she sometimes fears she’s annoying her pup with all of the extra attention. Snuggling and playing with your pet (or watching videos of snuggly animals) is good for you, and if your pet really needs space, they’ll probably find a way to let you know.
16. Acquire a low-maintenance skill.
There’s a lot of talk about learning to sew or writing books, but new skills can involve costly equipment and a stressful learning curve. Instead of doing all of that, experimenting with a simple pleasure might spark joy and result in a new hobby. “Honestly, cutting through garlic has been so soothing for me,” Janice B., 27, tells SELF of her newfound love of slicing garlic. “My boyfriend is so confused about it.”
17. Meditate (or just breathe).
Rachel K., 35, tells SELF that meditating has been one of the most useful actions she’s taken during this time. “[It helps me] figure out what I’m actually feeling as I navigate working from home amidst fear of financial ruin and death,” she says. There are meditation apps to help you develop your practice, but if the thought of mindfulness makes you bristle, just close your eyes and breathe for a few minutes. And if breathing devolves into crying, that’s okay.