It can be hard to change your perspective on things. And doing so can be a serious undertaking -- one that tends to take commitment and discipline. (And that's not to suggest that everyone needs to be happy all the time: Sometimes we're sad. Sometimes we're angry. Sometimes we're stressed -- particularly around the holidays.)
But there are simple, quick ways to help change your mood and feel better fast, even if you only have a few seconds. So get out the stopwatch: Here are a few tried-and-true ways to improve your outlook in less time than it takes to watch a TV show or get dinner on the table.
In 3 seconds: Breathe.
Our breath is always with us, but it's all too easy to forget that. Paying attention to your inhalations and exhalations, however, can snap things back into focus, instantly settling the mind. Take a deep breath in. Breathe out.
"In three seconds, anyone can get back into the body," Suze Yalof Schwartz, founder of Unplug Meditation, the Los Angeles studio offering drop-in guided meditation classes, once told The Huffington Post. "Three," she emphasized.
30 seconds: Hug someone.
Hugging is one of those simple acts with surprisingly wide-ranging benefits -- everything from lowering blood pressure to heart rate -- and it's a mood-booster as well. "When we embrace someone, oxytocin (also known as "the cuddle hormone") is released," HuffPost's Lindsay Holmes reported -- and that can help boost bonding, connection and feelings of trust. Studies have also found that hugging someone can help instantly lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
1 minute: Change the way you walk.
As Scientific American has reported, people who are in a good mood tend to walk with a spring in their step, but it's also possible that forcing oneself to walk with a bit more pep may help boost mood.
"The small study, published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, began by showing participants a list of words both negative and positive," HuffPost's Alena Hill reported. "Then, as the participants walked on treadmills, scientists asked half of them to walk in a more upbeat way. Those who adjusted to the upbeat gait remembered more positive words, while those who didn't recalled more negative words."
By simply holding your head high and walking with a bit of enthusiasm, in other words, it's possible to instantly lift your mood.
5 mins: Play with a pet.
In one small study, researchers with Birbeck, University of London, measured the brain waves of 80 participants engaged in various pleasant activities and found that playing with puppies elicited one of the highest responses.
As Scientific American once put it: "Spend time petting your dog, scratching Pluto’s body and ears, and you’re both apt to see increases in your plasma oxytocin levels, indicating a positive experience for you both."
10 mins: Try loving kindness meditation.
In many ways, loving kindness meditation is similar to general mindfulness meditation, except practitioners focus on directing warm, positive feelings toward individuals (generally, both people they know and those they don't). According to one 2011 study, the practice leads to "shifts in people’s daily experiences of a wide range of positive emotions, including love, joy, gratitude, contentment, hope, pride, interest, amusement, and awe."
Indeed, meditation in general has been linked to a slew of benefits, among them increased focus, decreased anxiety and greater compassion.
15 mins: Spend some time worrying.
It might sound counterintuitive, but spending a few focused minutes worrying can actually help lower anxiety and improve outlook. "Many people are anxious throughout the day and night, and everything in their environment gets associated with anxiety," Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and author of "The Worry Cure" once told The Huffington Post. "What if you could put those worries up on a shelf, and take them down at, say, 12 p.m. for 20 minutes?"
The idea is that rather than spending time on every worry that pops into your head, you set it aside until your designated time for more constructive worrying, allowing you to move on in the moment without totally ignoring your concerns (rarely a good idea).
20 mins: Nap.
Napping is another healthy activity with a whole heap of benefits, including improved learning and memory, greater creativity and overall better mood. But research suggests that napping for too long isn't necessarily a good thing. A 10 to 20 minute "power nap," LifeHacker reports, "is ideal for a boost in alertness and energy." That's because it's brief enough to prevent the body from entering the deeper stages of sleep, staving off the feelings of grogginess and lethargy that can accompany a longer snooze.
30 mins: Write down what you're grateful for.
Whether it's a gratitude letter directed to a specific person (that you don't even have to send) or jotting down a few thoughts in a gratitude journal, studies have shown there are clear mental health benefits associated with giving thanks in a focused way. Steven Toepfer, a researcher with Kent State University who has studied gratitude letters, emphasizes that the important thing is to really reflect, in a meaningful way, on whatever it is you're grateful for.
"No time to write?" asks a Harvard Health Publication on the topic. "It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual."
One hour: Hang out -- unplugged -- with a friend.
People who are considered high-use when it comes to their gadgets tend to experience more anxiety and stress in their downtime than people who put their phones away -- which is why unplugging can have such a clear influence on mood. And connecting with friends, without distraction, can up your sense of connection and protect you against unhappy feelings, research has found (a 2011 study found that being in the presence of their best friend buffered participants against negative experiences). It doesn't need to take up a ton of time; spending just an hour or so socializing with people you like can immediately make you feel better.