This pandemic winter is dragging on … and on. I need a safe happiness boost. Right now.

Mental Health

A: We feel you! Here are four research-based tips to plant the seeds of change even as many of us are still buried under the (literal and figurative) snow.

😊 Say no more often.

You might call it the “yes, sure… oh, dang” problem. Academics call it hyperbolic discounting. It’s the challenge we all have where we agree to things that are in the future because we discount it – we think it’s less valuable than the present. Our to-do list for today is in front of us and we know we don’t have time to add an extra, unimportant thing, but April? Yes, sure, my April is wide open right now. And then April comes and… oh dang, I’m overwhelmed. Give your future self the gift of just saying no to extra commitments, if you can.

😊 Spend money on experiences rather than things.

Research shows that experiences provide more happiness than things because we anticipate experiences – and tend to see them through rose-colored glasses after the fact. Consider experiences that can be done safely, and that have a positive benefit on small businesses in your community. Trying a new restaurant for take-out. Attending a drive-up concert or movie. As financial expert Jean Chatzky writes, “Things get broken and go out of style. Experiences get better every time you talk about them.”

😊Spend prosocially.

Prosocial behavior is activity that benefits other people, or society as a whole. And prosocial spending has been correlated with greater physical and emotional well-being, even when controlling for income. Create a prosocial experience: Maybe it’s fancy hot cocoa (with marshmallows) with your family by the fire on a cold day. Maybe it’s buying some snowshoes and heading to a nearby park with friends. Maybe it’s donating to a food bank, coordinating and volunteering to pick up food from others as well.

😊Stop wishing for it, WOOP for it.

WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. Research suggests that positive thinking can actually derail us from our goals because we gloss over the obstacles. The last year has been full of obstacles, and a lot of happy plans have been derailed. As we look toward the future, by thinking about what stands in our way – and making a plan to overcome it to get to the outcome we want – we can boost our happiness.

None of this is rocket science, but it’s the kind of research-based advice that can, over time, make a difference in your overall wellbeing. No, not all of them will work for everyone. And yes, these are individual cures for what is a larger structural challenge. Still, we needed a little happy this week, and we figured you did, too.

Dr. Whelan and Those Nerdy Girls


Say No More Often: Learn more about hyperbolic discounting

Buy Experiences: Check out Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, among others.

Prosocial Spending: Check out Michael Norton’s TED talk on How to Buy Happiness

WOOP Research and explainer videos

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