A big part of the human experience is dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life. Some days things seem to work out just right; the sun shines brighter and we walk a little taller. On other days the opposite is true; we get stopped by every red light and anything that could go wrong, does.
Thankfully, emerging scientific research can help us implement strategies to turn around a bad day. Here are three insights that can help you flip the happiness switch when you need it most.
#1: Stop trying to be perfect
It is often said that ‘perfect is the enemy of the good.’ Although there are benefits to having solid goals and setting high standards for ourselves, the pressure of needing everything to go perfectly can easily leave us feeling burnt-out, unworthy, regretful, and unfulfilled.
New research appearing in the Journal of Research in Personality identifies three forms of perfectionism to be on the lookout for:
- Self-oriented perfectionism — the tendency to demand perfection of ourselves
- Other-oriented perfectionism — the tendency to demand perfection from other people
- Socially prescribed perfectionism — the tendency to believe that other people demand you to be perfect
There are better ways to keep yourself and the people around you motivated besides trying to attain a standard of perfection. Letting go of perfectionistic ideals will lighten your mental load and will allow you to appreciate the simple pleasure of ‘doing things’ instead of feeling the pressure that comes with the need to ‘do things well.’
#2: Be your most social self
A little bit of alone time and peace and quiet is always something to be cherished — but with the emphasis on a little bit. A large body of research has shown that socializing with peers is a surefire way to boost your mood. Increasing one’s amount of social interaction can even benefit people who are more introverted or have high levels of social anxiety.
For example, a new study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found that people with social anxiety derive as much pleasure from spending time with others as their socially-inclined counterparts and that treatments for social anxiety disorder should focus on methods to encourage social engagement among people who try to avoid it.
“Quality contact with other people serves as a reliable mood enhancement strategy,” say the researchers, led by Fallon Goodman of the University of South Florida.
Other research suggests that extraverts have the upper hand when it comes to self-care precisely because of their tendency to spend time socializing.
“Someone with a high level of extraversion is likely to have a wide social network, is more prone to initiate contact with other people, spend leisure time socializing, and accept invitations to social events,” say the authors of the study. “All of this can lead to situations that satisfy our need for relatedness.”
#3: Forgive somebody (maybe even yourself)
It’s human nature to want to hold people accountable for the things they’ve done. After all, it’s one of the ways we, as a society, encourage cooperation, accountability, and productive behavior.
However, the weight of holding onto all of the transgressions people have committed towards you in the past — or even guilt towards ourselves — can have major psychological consequences. And, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, one of those consequences is feeling dehumanized.
To arrive at this conclusion, researchers led by Karina Schumann of the University of Pittsburgh divided research participants into two groups. One group was asked to imagine being offended by a colleague and then forgiving the colleague while the other group was asked to imagine being offended by a colleague and taking revenge against them.
They found that participants who imagined taking revenge against the colleague remained in a dehumanized state (e.g., rating themselves as feeling less refined, emotional, and intelligent and more superficial, cold, and animalistic) relative to those who forgave the colleague.
“This pattern of results suggests that forgiveness can rehumanize victims after their sense of humanness has been damaged by an offense,” says Schumann.
Some of the other scientifically-noted benefits of forgiveness include:
- Decreased anxiety and stress
- Being less hostile in everyday interactions
- Improved mental health
- Improved self-esteem
Conclusion: The ability to turn a bad day into a good one is not a superpower; it’s well within our reach. New science suggests letting go of perfectionistic standards, making a plan to be social, and practicing forgiveness are three things we can do to fight off a negative mood.