My sister goes to Florida to escape the dark, dreary days of winter in Cleveland, Ohio. The Florida sun makes her feel better physically and mentally. Not everyone can move to Florida during January and February. So what can we do to shake off the dull sadness that might cloak us at least occasionally during these months? Surprisingly, I’ve learned that the great St. Thomas Aquinas provided some practical answers, including taking a bath and sleeping! Granted, we will not experience perfect happiness until we move to heaven, where “God will wipe every tear” from our eyes. (Revelation 21:4) Still, we can take steps to stay reasonably happy on earth.
Everyone experiences the emotion of sadness. We wouldn’t appreciate happiness if we didn’t know sadness. This negative feeling can be the result of worry, disappointment or loss, but sometimes we can’t even pinpoint why we are sad. The following tips are helpful whenever we are sad. Take to heart this Chinese proverb: “You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from passing over your head, but you can prevent their making a nest in your hair.”
1. Go outside. Sunlight increases serotonin in our bodies, a feel-good hormone. Go out even if the sun isn’t shining to avoid cabin fever.
2. Exercise, which increases endorphins, which are natural opiates in our bodies. It also is thought to produce serotonin. We are more comfortable giving into inertia, but we’re sadder. So dance!
3. Cry. St. Thomas explains that tears have a way of diminishing sorrow. So the puffy eyes and red nose that weeping causes are worth it.
4. Do something you like to do, something that gives you pleasure. Eat that chocolate candy bar you’ve been saving. Go see the latest Star Wars movie.
5. Get busy. Tackle a new house project like washing windows, go shopping, or write that letter you’ve been putting off. This will distract you.
6. Volunteer. Helping someone in need will take your mind off yourself and make you feel better, not to mention making the person you help feel better.
7. Talk to a friend. There is truth in the saying that a sorrow shared is halved. The love of friends gives us pleasure.
8. Exercise creativity. Paint or write something. Compose a song. Create a dance.
9. Eat fruit, veggies, and fish that provide healthy nutrients. Avoid processed foods.
10. Contemplate truth. Reflect especially on religious truths, such as the love of God for you. This past Sunday we just heard “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
11. Look at beautiful sights. Review lovely nature scenes in your photo album or find them on the Internet. Better still, go to where you can view a soothing nature scene in person.
12. Take a bath. A warm bath can perk you up, just like a refreshing rainstorm renews flowers and grass.
13. Sleep. A good rest will restore your body, which is intimately connected to your spirit.
14. Play with a pet. There’s a reason why dogs are now visitors in hospitals and nursing homes.
15. Smile. We have a body-brain connection. Science shows that a smile, even a fake one, increases activity in the left frontal cortex of the brain where happiness is registered. Smiling releases more endorphin in the brain.
16. Listen to music that moves you. I just discovered the energizing song “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie.
Of course, if you suffer from clinical depression, the best advice is to see your doctor.
By the way, according to Aristotle, who wasn’t even Christian, the most direct route to happiness was practicing virtue.
What do you do to lift your spirits when you are sad?