We all know those people. You know, the ones who seem to go through life unphased by, well, anything. They’re hopeful; they’re positive; and they seem to have un unwithering faith that they’ll be fine, you’ll be fine, we’ll all be fine.
If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself wondering at least once or twice: How do you get a brain like that!?
The thinking used to be that controlling our mood was simple. Experts would instruct us to just be “optimistic” or become a “glass half full” kind of person. In recent years though, we’ve learned that mood is controlled by an array of factors — some obvious and under our control, and other more subtle and difficult to harness — and that telling someone to “just be happy” isn’t going to cut it.
This knowledge opened up a whole world of research on the lifestyle factors that either help or hurt our mood. Here are four habits that are guaranteed to sabotage yours — and exactly what to do about it:
1. Ending every day with a glass of wine (or beer, or cocktail)
Pouring yourself a glass of wine after a long day of work is so ingrained in our culture, you may not think twice before you reach for the bottle. But alcohol affects your serotonin levels, which are heavily implicated in regulating mood and according to Cleveland Clinic, alcohol also depletes folic acid, a type of B vitamin that when depleted, may “cause feelings of depression and anxiety,” they wrote.
Other studies have shown that heavy drinkers are less likely to turn to positive coping strategies when dealing with anxiety and depression. Even if you’re not a heavy drinker, alcohol still has the potential to affect your mood. A Psychosomatics study showed that even very moderate alcohol intake — less than one ounce per day — can negatively impact the pharmacological treatment of depression.
2. Taking pictures of everything
With our smartphones glued to our hands — and social media controlling so much of our communication with others — it’s easy to spend the best moments of our life taking pictures of the best moments of our lives.
This tendency is not only ironic, according to a study published in Psychological Science, it can actually make it harder to remember the good times. The study’s authors had participants take a museum tour during which they were instructed to take photos of some objects and simply observe others. The results showed that the participants found it more difficult to remember the objects they had photographed than the ones they looked at without photographing.
When you’re snapping photos, you’re not truly living in the moment. As Diedra L. Clay, PsyD, chair and associate professor of counseling and health psychology Bastyr University, told Health: “The lens is a veil in front of your eyes and we don’t realize it’s there.”
3. Binge-watching your favorite show
Hours on the couch watching Breaking Bad might seem like a great way to spend a Sunday, but the reality is you’ll feel worse at the end of it. Research has established a strong link between watching two or more episodes a show in one sitting and increased levels of depression and loneliness.
So what else should you do on a lazy Sunday? Alternatively, reading can help you feel more connected to others, particularly when what you’re reading is literary fiction. A 2013 study, published in Science, made major headlines when it found that reading literary fiction improve measures of social perception and empathy, which are extremely important for nurturing healthy relationships.
4. Convincing yourself that exercise isn’t (that) important
We’ve all heard the line that working out produces endorphins, and endorphins make us happy. But is exercise really that great of an antidepressant?
According to science, yes.
And the good news is that you don’t need to become a bodybuilder or marathon runner to get the positive benefits. In fact, a study on 33,908 adults published in the American Journal of Psychiatry showed that even one hour of exercise a week can help prevent depression. To be exact, the participants who didn’t exercise were 44% more likely to become depressed than those who exercised at least 1 or 2 hours a week. If that’s not an invitation to get to the gym, on the tennis court or in the swimming pool, I don’t know what is.
Saying goodbye to one (or all!) of the habits can feel overwhelming, so start with one of them and monitor the effects. Even one small change has the potential to seriously impact your mood for the better.