Degree In Sight

Come on, get happy

Still feeling overwhelmed and deflated even after meditating on the bright side of grad school? Tap into the latest happiness research to find ways to improve your mood, advises happiness researcher and Harvard School of Public Health research fellow Julia Boehm, PhD.

"Appreciating the good things in one's life, not just material things, and cultivating relationships with others are probably the tickets to improved well-being," she says.

Top happiness researchers also suggest that you:

Record your gratitude

In a 2005 study in American Psychologist®, Martin E.P. Seligman, PhD, and colleagues found that exercises like writing down what you are grateful for every day for one week boost happiness immediately and up to six months later. So, list three things you're grateful for every night — it will remind you of the positive parts of grad school and put the rough days in perspective.

Visualize the future

A 2011 study in Emotion® found that students were happier after they wrote for 15 minutes a week about their ideal selves and what they wished for themselves in the future. The exercise "helps you understand what your true goals really are, and you realize that those goals are feasible," says study author Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a happiness researcher and psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside. She recommends that grad students give the method a try, "with the caveat that you need to find the activity or approach or practice that fits you." So if writing isn't your favorite form of expression, try making a video diary or another happiness-improving tactic.

Be kind to others

Doing good for others improves your own well-being. A 2010 study in the Journal of Social Psychology found that practicing small acts of kindness toward other people significantly improved people's life satisfaction. And a 2012 study in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that spending money on other people boosts happiness more than spending on yourself. "Take a friend for coffee, give flowers to a loved one or donate to a charity that is near and dear to your heart," recommends study author Lara Aknin, PhD, of Simon Fraser University. You don't have to spend a fortune. "Our work has shown that spending as little as five dollars on someone else can lead to higher levels of happiness at the end of the day."

Get moving

Exercise has consistently been shown to improve mood. One 2012 Cochrane Review study found that exercise helps improve mood in people with depression, though more studies are needed to really understand the connection. Exercise may work by boosting levels of endorphins and bone-derived neurotrophic factor, as a 2012 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology suggests. "Exercise has an impact on several brain proteins ... which are important to maintain a healthy mind, cognition and mood," says UCLA neuroscientist Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, PhD. He recommends 30 minutes a day. It shouldn't take long before you feel a difference — in body and mind, he says.

Alice G. Walton, PhD, is a writer in New York City.