Making Bad Art Really IS Good for You!

I recently read an article that made me extremely happy. It discussed a study that found that making art can reduce stress levels, whether or not you have any experience.  (You can read the full article here.) A group of 39 people of varying ages, races, genders, and experience making art spent 45 minutes either doing collages, modelling with clay, or drawing with markers. Of the people in the study, 75% of them had lower cortisol levels after the session (cortisol is a biological indicator of stress).

And get this—the levels didn’t differ based on prior experience with art-making! Isn’t that great news? It’s just as I said in my old post, “Making Bad Art Is Good for You”—and now there’s scientific proof that’s true! It really takes the pressure off, doesn’t it?

So, here’s your prescription from Dr. Ashley, lol: Create something! Today, or this week, I invite you to set aside some time to play. Get creative in whatever way makes you happiest, whether that’s doodling, coloring, drawing, painting, collage, sewing, knitting, crocheting, cooking, gardening, decorating your home, photography, clay modeling, making music, arranging shells on the beach—whatever feels the most fun. Let yourself just enjoy the process without judging the result (easier said than done, I know, but try it!

Is there something you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t, because you “don’t know how”? There are tons of instructional videos out there. Or you could even—gasp—just play around without any instructions at all! (This makes my inner perfectionist freak out, so I know it’s a good idea!) Go for it! You have nothing to lose and a happier, healthier self to gain!

You can also take classes, which I enjoy because then you’re interacting with other creative souls as well as learning something new. If that appeals to you, you may want to check out the women’s art camp I’ve talked about before (here, here, and here). I’m actually teaching there this year (on creating a restorative daily ritual) and I’m already counting the days! I can’t wait to immerse myself in that magical experience again, connecting with fascinating women and creating our hearts out just for the fun of it! This year’s camp is Wednesday, November 6 through Sunday, November 10 in Hunt, Texas. You can learn more at www.luckystarartcamp.com.

Meanwhile, go play! It’s good for you!

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The Season of Joy

It is the first mild day of March.
Each minute sweeter than before …
There is a blessing in the air …
— William Wordsworth

Spring is springing here, and I’m especially happy about it this year. This winter wasn’t severely cold, but it did seem very gray and wet. I have really missed the sunshine. I find myself lingering outside in the morning as I drink my coffee, watching the squirrels scamper about and listening to what sounds like hundreds of birds chattering away. On Saturday I spent hours in the backyard, and even made a little picnic lunch of bread, apples, and cheese. It was delightful. And the scents—all sorts of glorious plants are blooming, like sweet olive and wisteria, and it smells delicious! The breeze seems like it’s been perfumed.

Spring is my favorite season for several reasons. First, it’s wonderful to be able to feel comfortable outdoors—neither too cold nor too hot. (Yesterday I was able to go for a morning walk without a jacket, and yet I didn’t sweat, either. Bliss!)

Second, to watch everything come alive after being dormant in the winter makes me feel more alive. I feel like a flower blooming—unfurling slowly under the warmth of the sun, stretching out, expansive, opening. I’m free and easy (or at least, free-er and easier!) and my mind feels lighter. I’m inspired and energized.

And third, it just seems to me to be the most joyful of seasons. Sunshine quite literally makes me happy (it does this to everyone—sunlight increases our levels of serotonin). And each new flower I spot, each delicious scent I smell, each warm breeze I feel gives me a quick burst of joy.

In the spring I feel like anything is possible. It’s the very essence of hope and faith: simply pay attention to the bare branches of the trees. They literally transform overnight. One day they appear barren, and the next they’re covered in tiny green leaves. It’s incredible, and it always makes me feel awed and grateful.

And the spring cleaning! I must admit, I love a good spring cleaning. A few weekends ago I woke up raring to go, and finally tackled our garage. I went through boxes of memorabilia that had been moved from house to house, and consolidated about twelve boxes down to two. (And that was just one wall!) I made so much space, and threw away so many things that should never have been kept, and donated so many things that could be useful to others. It felt fantastic!

Is spring happening where you live? Here are some ways to truly immerse yourself in the season and its joys, courtesy of Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.

 ·         If you don’t have them growing in your garden, bring home a bouquet of daffodils (or any other spring flower you love) to brighten your space.

·         Plant a living Easter basket. Find a pretty basket, line it with pebbles or a plastic liner, and add two inches of potting soil. Sprinkle fast-growing rye grass seed on top of the soil and then cover with another quarter inch of soil. Water well and cover with a brown paper sack for a few days until the seeds germinate. When the grass sprouts, place the basket in a warm sunny window and continue to water. In a couple of weeks you’ll have a basket of living grass!

·         Search out a new “sacred space” in the world. A shady grove of trees, a beautiful public garden that’s new to you, a museum gallery, the stacks of an old library, even an outdoor café where you can sit basking in the sunshine can help you realize the boundless treasure and spiritual replenishment of a perfect solitary hour.

And a few of my favorites:

·         Go for a slow walk outside, looking for evidence of spring. Delight in the blue sky, warm sunshine, beautiful blooms, and the scents and sounds of nature coming to life. Keep an eye out for butterflies!

·         Once the danger of freezing is past, start gardening! I love to put in plants that are already blooming, so I can enjoy the color instantly.

·         Enjoy a picnic—even if it’s just in your backyard, eating al fresco elevates an ordinary meal and feels fun and festive.

·         Wash your windows and be amazed at how much light pours in!

·         Dive into some spring cleaning. It may not sound fun, but the satisfied feeling afterward (and the space you’ll create!) is worth it!

I’ll leave you with a poem that perfectly captures how I feel about spring.

Today

--Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,

so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

 

that it made you want to throw

open all the windows in the house

 

and unlatch the door to the canary's cage,

indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

 

a day when the cool brick paths

and the garden bursting with peonies

 

seemed so etched in sunlight

that you felt like taking

 

a hammer to the glass paperweight

on the living room end table,

 

releasing the inhabitants

from their snow-covered cottage

 

so they could walk out,

holding hands and squinting

 

into this larger dome of blue and white,

well, today is just that kind of day.

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Approaching Your Life as a Work of Art

Each one of us is an artist. An artist is merely someone with good listening skills who accesses the creative energy of the Universe to bring forth something on the material plane that wasn’t here before. … So it is with creating an authentic life. With every choice, every day, you are creating a unique work of art.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy

I’m continuing to read Simple Abundance—at 700+ pages, I’ll be at it for a while!—and I’m continuing to find all sorts of interesting insights. (See first post here.) Something that has really struck me is this concept of creating our daily lives as works of art.  Breathnach recommends to “start thinking of your life as a work-in-progress. Works-in-progress are never perfect. But changes can be made to the rough draft during rewrites. Another color can be added to the canvas. The film can be tightened during editing. Art evolves. So does life. Art is never stagnant. Neither is life. The beautiful, authentic life you are creating for yourself and those you love is your art. It’s the highest art.”

Wow. Thinking of my life as a work-in-progress is a simple concept, but it feels radically freeing to me. It essentially takes the pressure off.  And approaching each day as if it is art I am creating—rather than just a to-do list I have to get through—really elevates everything.

Breathnach also talks about how to make our lives more nourishing by scattering moments of joy throughout. She says, “What is missing from many of our days is a true sense that we are enjoying the lives we are living. It is difficult to experience moments of happiness if we are not aware of what it is we genuinely love. We must learn to savor small, authentic moments that bring us contentment.”

Of course, as a “joy detective,” I love this idea. Something you can do, which I have done before, is to make a Bliss List: a list of simple pleasures that bring you joy. Then do at least one thing from it every day. Here are some of the items on my list:

·         Reading

·         Sitting in the sun

·         Savoring a cup of tea

·         Watching classic movies

·         Fresh flowers

·         Listening to jazz

·         Hugging

·         Toast with butter

·         Chocolate

·         Sitting and doing nothing (especially on a rainy day)

Breathnach also suggests trying to do daily tasks mindfully to “restore serenity to your daily endeavors.” She says, “Serene women do not get sidetracked. Sidetracked women, who scatter their energies to the four winds, never achieve serenity. … Concentrate slowly on completing one task at a time, each hour of the day, until the day is over.”

She says that we will wonder how we’ll manage to get everything done this way, but “I assure you that you will accomplish all you set out to do and need to do with much more ease, efficiency, pleasure, and satisfaction.” In fact, studies are now proving that multitasking actually makes us less efficient. Plus, this approach just feels better to me.

What do you think about these concepts? Do you also find them comforting and supportive? I’d love to hear. You can let me know by replying to this email, or in the comments below.

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Weaving a "Tapestry of Contentment"

I finally got a book I’d been hearing about for a while, Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach, and it’s lovely! I’m finding it enormously comforting, like a cup of cocoa on a cold winter's day. It’s beautifully written and immensely inspiring.

I've been feeling frazzled, and so was Breathnach when she began writing the book.  She says in the preface, "I shared the revelations that came while trying to reconcile my deepest spiritual and creative longings with often overwhelming commitments to family and work."

I'm underlining all over the place as I read, and I wanted to share some of the insights that have particularly resonated with me so far.

She talks about six threads that, woven together, create a “tapestry of contentment.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? The full quote reads: “There are six threads of abundant living which, when woven together, produce a tapestry of contentment that wraps us in inner peace, well-being, happiness, and a sense of security.” Who wouldn’t want that? I’m in!

The threads are gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty, and joy.  The book is organized by date, with one entry per day; she focuses on each thread for two months, so I’m currently reading about gratitude. Breathnach recommends counting your blessings, and says, “See if you can’t get to one hundred. So much good happens to us but in the rush of daily life we fail even to notice or acknowledge it.”

This really struck me. It’s so true, and it’s something I’ve talked about here before. But I continue to find it difficult to be grateful consistently. One of the tools she suggests is a daily gratitude journal, to help us maintain that focus. I’ve started one, and am trying to be more aware of all the little things there are to appreciate—even on off days. My life is so rich and full of goodness. It's a shame to pay more attention to the minor irritations or parts that are not going well and miss the greater good.

Something else that really struck me was this: “much of my struggle to be content … has arisen when I stubbornly resisted what was actually happening in my life at the present moment.” Oh, that is so me. I resist reality all the time—how about you? I’m always thinking about how to improve things, remove things, or attract new things, so I often go about in a haze of vague dissatisfaction.

Breathnach talks about the importance of accepting what is. She explains that when you surrender to reality, a softening occurs. “Suddenly I am able to open up to receive all the goodness and abundance available to me because acceptance brings with it so much relief and release. It’s as if the steam of struggle has been allowed to escape from life’s pressure cooker.” That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? And it makes complete sense to me.

Further, she adds, "blessing whatever vexes us is the spiritual surrender that can change even troublesome situations for the better. … If you're sick and tired of learning life's lessons through pain and struggle, blessing your difficulties will show you there's a better way."

I was thrilled to see that another tool she recommends is a morning ritual! She says, "give yourself the gift of one hour a day to journey within. You need enough breathing space to allow your heart to ponder what is precious. Or perhaps you can let your imagination soar to the twilight where dreams first dwell. … This much I know: if you go deep enough, often enough, something good is bound to come back to you." And this: “Stressed souls need the reassuring rhythm of self-nurturing rituals.” Yes!

I’m going to enjoy savoring this book each day for the rest of the year. I’m sure there will be plenty more insights and ideas to share with y’all! Meanwhile, I’ve got some creative projects brewing, including a big one that launches in April, so for the next few months I’ll be posting here every other week instead of weekly. Talk to you in mid-February!

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“A Bride Married to Amazement”

Recently the extraordinary poet Mary Oliver passed away. Her poetry spoke to me so deeply, as it did to millions. Her words were a beacon of light, shining the way forward to a richer existence. My friend Carla Robertson is a life coach and the name of her business, Living Wild and Precious, was inspired by the famous line from Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”  

That question just grabs you by the throat, doesn’t it? That’s what I love about her work—the images are breathtakingly beautiful, which is wonderful in itself … but then comes an observation or question that stops you in your tracks and makes you think, long and hard. Like this, from “Moments,” which gave me courage when I needed it:

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?


There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.

 

And this, from “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.


When I first encountered these lines, I cried. I felt such enormous relief. I should re-read them every morning to remind myself of this vital truth. And the way she expresses the idea is so much more powerful than saying, hey, don’t be hard on yourself. She puts it so brilliantly; she was a virtuoso of phrasing.

Here is another of my favorites, which I discovered last year:

“Magellan”

Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

For years we have labored over common roads,
Dreaming of ships that sail into the night.
Let us be heroes, or, if that's not in us,
Let us find men to follow, honor-bright.

For what is life but reaching for an answer?
And what is death but a refusal to grow?
Magellan had a dream he had to follow.
The sea was big, his ships were awkward, slow.

And when the fever would not set him free,
To his thin crew, “Sail on, sail on!” he cried.
And so they did, carried the frail dream homeward.
And thus Magellan lives, although he died.

Wow. It’s amazing, her ability to move, to encourage, to inspire. I’d love to know how many lives have been changed by her work. And that won’t stop with her passing. She may be gone, but her words will touch people for generations to come. She lived the vivid, all-in life that she wanted to—the life she wrote about below—and what more could any of us want? It’s certainly what I want. I’m enormously grateful that she shared her gifts with us.

From “When Death Comes”:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

 

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

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Take It Easy and Make It Easy (on Yourself)

Happy New Year! Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I have in the past, and I’ve rarely been able to keep them. I always tend to try to make a huge change or set a lofty goal, and it usually just leads to tears, cursing, and self-recrimination. This year, I’m going to apply a suggestion from several of the women I interviewed for my book on morning rituals. I’m going to START SMALL.

To quote from chapter 22:  “Keep it simple and achievable. To help with consistency, attach it to an existing habit. … Take it easy and make it easy. Start with tiny changes (i.e., I will take ten slow breaths in bed each morning this week), then add on as those become routine.”

In 2019, two of the main areas I want to focus on are physical fitness and creativity. So I've committed to doing one plank and writing one page a day, every day. (And from past experience, even this may not be a small enough start for me!) But it's achievable with just a bit of discipline--and infinitely easier than my previous goals have been, especially where exercise is concerned.

So if you are making any resolutions for this year, I encourage you to go gentle on yourself. Take teeny tiny baby steps. Make it virtually impossible to fail rather than virtually impossible to succeed. You can always ramp it up later. But don't underestimate the power of small. A single drop of water repeated constantly can wear away stone.

I wish you the best of luck and a healthy, abundant, joy-filled 2019!

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Remembering Joy and Goodness

My friend Keri Wilt, great-great-granddaughter of Frances Hodgson Burnett and author of the blog FHB and Me, recently sent out this post and I wanted to share it with you. She has some wonderful ideas about how we can remind ourselves every day of all the joy and goodness in our lives.

She quotes writer Marianne Williamson, who said, “Joy is what happens when we allows ourselves to recognize how good things really are.” This is truly the key to feeling joy every day. Even during tough times, we can always find something positive to appreciate. I think you’ll love Keri’s idea for gathering up goodness!

Read her full post here.

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The Joy of Little Things

So like everyone else in the country, I bought a Mega Millions lottery ticket—and like everyone else except one person, I didn’t win. It was really exciting to imagine what I would have done with all that money, and I was disappointed not to win.

I had to remind myself that while more money would be fun, I don’t need it in order to be happy. (In fact, most lottery winners end up less happy than they were before they won!) As the poem below illustrates so beautifully, what is truly important and valuable in life are the “little things,” which are actually not so little: love, companionship, and the comforts of home.

We can have all the money or fame in the world, but if we’re alone, it doesn’t matter. And as long as we’re safe, we don’t need a large or fancy house to be happy. The tiniest things can bring us joy—a hot cup of tea or coffee in a favorite mug, a lovingly tended plant, a cherished heirloom from a grandparent. We tend to take them for granted. So in praise of those “little things,” here is this wonderful poem.

The Joy of Little Things  

--Robert William Service

It's good the great green earth to roam,
Where sights of awe the soul inspire;
But oh, it's best, the coming home,
The crackle of one's own hearth-fire!
You've hob-nobbed with the solemn Past;
You've seen the pageantry of kings;
Yet oh, how sweet to gain at last
The peace and rest of Little Things!

Perhaps you're counted with the Great;
You strain and strive with mighty men;
Your hand is on the helm of State;
Colossus-like you stride . . . and then
There comes a pause, a shining hour,
A dog that leaps, a hand that clings:
O Titan, turn from pomp and power;
Give all your heart to Little Things.

Go couch you childwise in the grass,
Believing it's some jungle strange,
Where mighty monsters peer and pass,
Where beetles roam and spiders range.
'Mid gloom and gleam of leaf and blade,
What dragons rasp their painted wings!
O magic world of shine and shade!
O beauty land of Little Things!

I sometimes wonder, after all,
Amid this tangled web of fate,
If what is great may not be small,
And what is small may not be great.
So wondering I go my way,
Yet in my heart contentment sings . . .
O may I ever see, I pray,
God's grace and love in Little Things.

So give to me, I only beg,
A little roof to call my own,
A little cider in the keg,
A little meat upon the bone;
A little garden by the sea,
A little boat that dips and swings . . .
Take wealth, take fame, but leave to me,
O Lord of Life, just Little Things.

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Resolution #4: Be Light

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (here, here, and here), I’ve been thinking about resolutions since I turned 50 last month. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, I’m compiling a list of intentions that will guide me each day and help me stay on track with the kind of person I want to be and the type of life I want to live.

Here is my latest one: Be light.

This has two meanings for me. First, I want to be a voice of positivity, and have a beneficial impact on others. My Kundalini yoga teacher talked about this recently, about “Being the lighthouse,” and I thought, “Yes! That’s how I want to be.”

I am a naturally optimistic person, always looking for the bright side of things. As I’ve focused more on increasing the joy in my life, I’ve learned a lot, and I want to share it with as many people as possible. This world can be so tough. We need more “lightworkers.” I want to look for opportunities to help spread happiness whenever I can.

The second meaning is to be light-hearted: to be more playful and silly, and stop taking myself so seriously. In the words of one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett songs, I want to grow “older but not up.” (Actually, I’d rather just stay this same age for a while, rather than grow older, but given the real alternative I will reluctantly keep aging!)

I became so serious after my son was born. I lost a lot of my lightheartedness. The incredible responsibility of being a parent—of caring for this tiny helpless thing—it overwhelmed me. But I now realize that things can be important, and still be treated as such, without having to be so serious. You can play and still teach—in fact, play is how children learn. I feel like I became so serious because of fear. I’m afraid that if I don’t pay attention, if I don’t work really hard, if I don’t “take this seriously young lady,” something bad might happen.

I have all these rules about what a stable home life looks like and how to keep my son healthy and happy and safe. And those are nothing but, as my friend and excellent life coach Carla Robertson says, SIMU—Shit I Made Up. Sure, some routine is necessary, and some caution is advisable, but I have gone overboard out of fear—and it’s time to lighten up.

This also applies to other parts of my life, not just parenting. I am too serious about work. As I’ve talked about here before, I feel like I must get all my work done before I can relax or play. But here’s the problem with that thinking: The. Work. Is. Never. Done. Ever. So…I’ve been making a real effort to get past that Puritan ethic, and instead find some harmony between work and play. The list doesn’t have to be finished before I take some time to relax.

Luckily, we’re about to take a couple of short trips for our Fall Break, so I will get a chance to reset my work-o-meter to vacation mode. This time, when I come back, I’ll be more mindful about incorporating that balanced approach into everyday life!

Since we’ll be on vacation next week, there won’t be a post; I hope you have a wonderful week and are able to find time to relax as well!

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17 More Mood Boosters

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.
— Iris Murdoch

Some days, it’s a struggle just to make it through in one piece. We’re down, or frustrated, or angry, and happiness feels out of reach. On days like this, tiny little actions can help us feel better—and might be all we can manage. Here are some of my favorites:

Go outside. Every time I walk into my backyard, I instantly feel calmer. I don’t know if it’s the silence (why are our houses so noisy?) or some sort of ancient instinct, but it works every time. Walk on the grass in your bare feet. Watch the clouds, listen to the birds, smell the flowers.

This is especially beneficial if the sun is shining: getting sun raises your serotonin levels (one reason why some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression/funk that sets in during winter months when days are shorter). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood; low serotonin levels are thought to contribute to depression. The increase in serotonin happens when sunlight enters your eyes, so don’t wear sunglasses; sit or stand facing the sun (obviously, don’t stare right at it, though!). If you’re concerned about skin cancer or aging, limit your time in the sun to about 15 minutes, and do it in the morning or later afternoon when the sun is not so strong.

A great way to start your day is to go outside first thing in the morning, stand with your bare feet on the ground, and face the sun. Breathe deeply and center yourself. Early morning sunlight exposure can help you sleep better, which will definitely improve your mood. It does this by resetting your biological clock. For this benefit, go outside between 6 and 8:30 a.m., as later sunlight doesn’t have the same effect.

Put on something soft, like a cashmere wrap or super-fluffy socks, and snuggle into it.

Rock in a rocking chair. It’s so soothing!

Make a cup of something hot—tea, lemon water, hot chocolate—and hold it in both hands. Imagine love coming into your hands through the cup, then sip that love into yourself.

Eat some chocolate, especially dark chocolate. No explanation needed! (But it really works, because chocolate contains serotonin and stimulates endorphins (see below!)

Exercise—even 10 jumping jacks or running in place, if you can’t take a class or go for a walk or run. Get your blood pumping and endorphins will flow. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that block pain and produce a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Bonus points for dancing around like a fool to some of your favorite music.  (This is one of the hardest tips for me to follow—I am not a natural exerciser, and it often feels like TOO MUCH EFFORT to even get up and stretch, much less jump around or walk. But it never fails—when I move, I feel better.)

Listen to music—whatever you love. Nat King Cole calms me every time I’m feeling jagged. When I’m down, ‘80s music cheers me up—anything I can sing along with. Singing actually helps you feel better, also. Even if you think you have a terrible voice, give it a try. Singing releases endorphins, which make you feel good. It also makes you breathe more deeply, signaling your nervous system to relax and getting increased oxygen into your blood, which boosts energy. It’s even better if you sing with a group, either formally or informally; studies have shown that the social interactions and feelings of support you get from choral singing lead to increased happiness.

Look at your favorite colors. Color is energy and can actually affect our mood. My favorite colors are aqua, turquoise, cobalt, and hot pink. Looking at the blues calms me down, and looking at hot pink revs up my energy.

Take that a step further and make some art. It doesn’t matter if you have “no talent.” Draw, doodle, or paint, simply to access the joy of creating. I find coloring with crayons to be especially calming—I like to draw random shapes and color them in, so I’m not putting pressure on myself to “do it right.” The feel of the crayon or pencil or paint brush on the paper is very soothing to me.

Rub scented lotion or a few drops of essential oils into your hands and breathe in. Lavender is relaxing; peppermint boosts energy and relieves stress. I also like rose, orange, and neroli.

Read something inspiring. Maybe keep a book of poems close by, or make a notebook of quotes that you love, and open it at random. I love Mary Oliver’s poems, any book by the Buddhist monk and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, or Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea. Another uplifting book I’ve recently discovered is Wake Up to the Joy of You by Agapi Stassinopolous.

Clean in such a way that it gets your blood pumping, like on-your-knees scrubbing the floor or tub. Not only does this give you the endorphin boost of exercise, but also the sense of accomplishment when you’re done! I find this especially useful when I’m upset. I can pour all of that energy into my work and really get results!

Pet your dog or cat. Studies show that stroking, cuddling, or even gazing into the eyes of our pet leads to a rise in our oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that is also released during hugs, sex, and breastfeeding. It reduces stress and anxiety levels while increasing feelings of relaxation, trust, and bonding. Snuggling your pet (or human!) also releases serotonin (see going outside, above).

For even more oxytocin/serotonin boost, hug someone! Good, long hugs make you feel loved--and make the person you’re hugging feel loved too! I once read a book about keeping your marriage strong which recommended multiple long hugs each day as a way to reconnect and then deepen your connection, without having to say a word. Science, people! It works.

Get a massage. Not only will this help relax your muscles so you can release tension, it will also stimulate endorphins.

Laugh! Especially on days when you feel more like crying, laughter can really help. Laughter reduces anxiety and boosts your immune system. Studies have shown it can even increase your tolerance for pain. Laughing stimulates the release of endorphins, those feel-good hormones that are also released during exercise.

Laughter is so powerful, people now do laughter therapy and laughter yoga! (http://www.laughteronlineuniversity.com/laughter-yoga/) To get yourself started, watch a funny video online, or a TV show or movie if you have more time. Some of my favorite comedies are Abbott and Costello movies, “The Inlaws,” “Airplane,” “Young Frankenstein,” “His Girl Friday,” “Best in Show,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Some Like It Hot,” “The Producers,” “Raising Arizona,” “The Muppet Movie,” “The Princess Bride,” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” TV shows that always get me laughing: “I Love Lucy,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Seinfeld,” and old Monty Python episodes. What are your favorites? Make a list one day when you’re in a good mood and keep it handy for emergency laughter infusion as needed!

Or, cry! Go ahead and cry it out. Crying physically releases those feelings of tension, anger, and sadness. A good sob can clean you out and make room for positive emotions. Watching tearjerker movies can help you access those feelings if you’ve stuffed them way, way down like we tend to do. I prefer ones with a somewhat happy ending so I finish up with happy tears, like “An Affair to Remember,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Field of Dreams,” or “Sleepless in Seattle.” Classic tearjerkers are “Terms of Endearment,” “Beaches,” “Love Story,” “E.T.,” “Ghost,” “Charly,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Titanic,” and “The Notebook.” “Life Is Beautiful” is amazing in that it’s equally funny and heartwrenching; it’s especially poignant (read: full-on sobfest) for parents. What tearjerker always gets you going?

I hope that one or more of these ideas will be useful to you the next time you need a lift. What other mood-boosting activities have you tried and either loved or hated?