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.

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.

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.

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.

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


[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

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