19 Ways to Feel Better: Science-Based 'Feel-Good' Strategies
Want to feel less sad, more glad, and just feel better overall? There are lots of science based ways to boost positive emotions, decrease negative emotions, and make yourself feel better. Here are some of the best strategies.
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Life can be tough. Sometimes bad things happen that make us feel bad. Sometimes we do things that make us feel bad. And sometimes we feel bad for no obvious reason. All we know if that we want to feel better...but we're just not sure how. Luckily, psychological research can show us lots of different strategies we can use to feel better.
Best Ways to Feel Better
One of the best ways to start feeling better fast is to practice gratitude. You can write a gratitude journal, gratitude notes, or a gratitude list. These can result in a quick boost of positivity.
Positive thinking involves transforming negative thoughts into positive thoughts, noticing positive aspects of a situation, and challenging pessimistic thoughts (Bekhet & Zauszniewski, 2013). The more we can focus on the good stuff, the better we'll feel.
Accept Negative Emotions
If we just don't feel like being positive, that's okay. We can still feel better by accepting our negative emotions. Our negative emotions actually serve important functions. Feeling sad can help us get social support from others, feeling anxiety can help us prepare for possible threats, and feeling angry can help us fight to right the wrongs in our lives. So accepting these emotions for what they are and not "feeling bad about feeling bad" is an important part of feeling better.
4 Books to Help You Feel Better
Video: How to feel better
Explore How You Want to Feel Better
It may seem silly, but let me ask you this: When you say you want to feel better, how do you want to feel? What emotions, specifically, do you want to feel? Take a moment to reflect on the emotions below and think about which emotions you're aiming for:
Depending on the emotions you want to feel, you would take different actions to feel them. For example, if you want to feel happier, you might engage in strategies to boost happiness. But if you want to feel relaxed, you might try using some relaxation techniques.
Strengthen the Positive Networks in Your Brain
When I was in college, I volunteered for a memory study. We were asked to remember fake characters, each of which had a name, features, and interests. We were then tested on how much we remembered about each character.
I couldn't remember a single on of the characters favorite sports but I remembered all the their astrological signs. Sounds weird right? Well not really. I know virtually nothing about sports, but my mom is an astrologer so I grew up hearing about astrological signs. So my brain had lots of strong connections for information about the astrological signs and that made them easier to remember and bring to mind. It's because when our brains have more information (or stronger neural networks) related to a topic, the easier it is to recall things related to that topic (Newberry & Bailey, 2019).
The same is true for all topics. So the more positive information, words, and memories we have related to positive things, the easier is should be to bring positive information to mind. This suggests that strengthening our brains in ways that increase our positive knowledge should help us feel better. One way to do this is to memorize positive words. Check out our positivity workbook for a science-based positive word collection (Bradley & Lang, 1999).
How to Feel Better About Yourself
Feeling better is not just about feeling more positive emotions. It's also about feeling better about yourself. How do you feel better about yourself? Here are some strategies that can help.
Self-compassion helps us feel better about ourselves. We're not so judgmental of our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and we treat ourselves better. Here are a bunch of tips on how to cultivate self-compassion.
In an earlier version of my well-being quiz, I analyzed the data and found that low self-worth was the single biggest contributor to unhappiness. Indeed, it makes sense that if we feel badly about ourselves, it's going to be harder to make ourselves feel better. So it may be helpful to explore what makes you authentic and take actions to boost self-worth.
When we are confident, we are more likely to take the necessary actions we need to take to improve our lives. As a result it can be easier to feel better more of the time. Learn more about self-confidence here.
Video: How to be a friend to yourself
How to Feel Better After a Breakup
Breakups can be tough. There can be a sense of loss, rejection, and aimlessness. Here are some strategies that might help
1. Write a 'feel better soon' letter to yourself
Research shows that looking at our current situation from another point in time can decrease our current negative emotions and make us feel better (Bruehlman-Senecal & Ayduk, 2015). So if you've experince a break up, it may be helpful to write a letter to yourself from some time in the future. Tell yourself to "feel better soon" and talk about all the great stuff your future self is doing once this challenging time has passed.
2. Stand up to your inner critic
If a breakup has led you to feel badly about yourself, take this opportunity to stand up to your inner critic. We all make mistakes and not all relationships survive, but that doesn't mean we aren't a good person, deserving of love. Don't forget to remind yourself of this.
How to Feel Better After Losing a Job
Numerous studies show that training our attention away from the negative and onto positive improves our well-being (MacLeod, et al., 2002; Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2008). So to feel better after losing a job, this may be an effective strategy.
For example, we can use positive reappraisal. Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy where we shift our focus onto the positive things (or away from the negative things). In other words, we look for silver linings in our difficult situations. For example, if we lose a job, we can tell ourselves: "Maybe another better job will come along", or "This is an opportunity to explore something we're really passionate about". Here is a positive reappraisal activity to help you further cultivate this skill.
Meditations to Feel Better
I am a huge fan of using free mediations online to feel better and boost my mood. I listen to them while I work (I'm listening to one right now as I write this post!) and I listen to them to help me sleep. Here are a few mediations that hopefully help you feel better too.
Videos: Meditations to help you feel better
Video: 'Feel good' meditation
Feeling Good vs. Feeling Bad
Negativity is often contrasted with positivity. Similarly emotional wellness or well-being is often contrasted with emotional ill-being. In the same way, feeling good may be contrasted with feeling bad. But all of these are really on a continuum. This continuum spreads from feeling as bad as we possibly could to as good as we possibly could. To feel better, we only need to move up the continuum a small bit. And even that small bit of improvement may mean the world to us, especially if we've been feeling bad for a while.
Awhile back, I ended up getting really stressed and really sick. I was unable to eat, work, or even see my friends much for many months. I didn't feel better each day, or even each week, but each month I moved up that continuum a little bit. And that's how it goes when it comes to mental and physical health. We might take actions that make us feel amazing really quickly. But more often, we have to take small actions that add up over time, taking us from feeling terrible, to feeling less terrible, and eventually to feeling really great. Try to keep this in mind, and as you go, look back on where to you were to see how far you've come.
Video: Feeling good about feeling bad
Images to Help You Feel Better
All the science is great for helping us learn strategies to feel better. But hey, sometimes we just want to look at cute things, am I right? (There's actually science that suggests positive images are helpful too.) Sometimes it's just easier to let our brains rest and the the feel good-ness wash over us. So here ya go:
Quotes to help you feel better
Here are a few quotes that might help you feel better.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Feel Better
Are you still feeling stuck in the mud? Keep pushing yourself. Here are few questions to ask yourself that can help you feel better:
More Reading on How to Feel Better
Here are a few more articles that can help you keep building the skills and doing the practices that help you feel better.
In Sum: Feel Better by Working at It
If you want to feel better, you can. Just give it time. Take some actions to improve your conditions, and always be gentle with yourself.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.