06/09/2013 10:40 am ET Updated Aug 09, 2013

5 Things to Make a Better Day

Life is going to throw us some challenges, no doubt about it. My mom used to call them character-building experiences. Apparently, I don't have enough character because this stuff keeps coming my way, but I have a kind of first-aid kit now, a spiritual salve I can lather on every day that makes it easier to cope with the difficult times and amps up the good feelings when everything going easy.

Best thing is, this salve is easy to apply and can be used right smack-dab in the middle of your day.

The Five Ingredients to Make a Better Day

1. Gratitude. This spiritual practice is a fan favorite. Why? Because it is so easy to do and it is transformative. Research by Robert Emmons and other psychologists also indicates that a regular gratitude practice helps us manage stress, make good on our goals and feel better.

To begin your gratitude practice, set a time (I like to do this first thing in the a.m., at lunchtime and before bed) to name five things you are grateful for. I do it aloud in the morning and then make a list on paper before I go to bed.

After saying or writing each item, take a deep breath, allow the feelings of gratitude to well up, then then say "thank you."

That's it.

Another way to fire up your gratitude during the day is to stop and notice those who help you -- the teller at the bank, the bus driver, school secretary, hairstylist, kids, partner, whoever. Pause, look in their eyes and offer a sincere "thank you." Not only will you feel good, but you will change their day, too.

2. Cultivate grounded optimism. Even if you are prone toward more pessimistic thinking, you can behave optimistically. Grounded optimists are willing to adapt and change their goals as needed to overcome challenges. They aren't delusional -- they know trouble is going to come -- but they are willing to work to offset the difficulty. This helps them to bounce back and persist even after setbacks. The belief that they can make a positive difference in the situation and their willingness to work hard to do so is motivating and often leads to creative solutions, innovation and even positive moods. So, next time you're feeling down, take one teeny-tiny optimistic action and see if it doesn't inspire some movement through the muck.

3. Move it. Exercise has long been shown to ease stress and leave you feeling better, but posture and physiological shifts can also change your biochemistry and improve your mood.

So, smile, even if you have to fake it. Several studies -- by researchers including Robert Zajonc in the '80s and '90s and another published in the journal Psychological Science last year -- indicate that a smile (even a fake, contrived one) can actually induce happiness and reduce stress. Give yourself a grin or simply repeat the long "e" sound, which will move your facial muscles into smile formation, and you'll feel better.

Or adopt a "power pose." Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy has shown that how we hold our body influences how we feel. Stand tall, lean in, or put your feet on your desk and hands behind your head and hold for a couple of minutes to boost confidence and shift you biochemistry in a way that will support you.

4. Become a creator, not a complainer. When we fuss and whine and complain, we get more of what we complain about because that is what we are focused on. This isn't just the law of attraction working here, it's common sense. If you are complaining, you are not working toward change, therefore you stay stuck in the bad feelings. But if, in those moments of frustration or worry, you can get curious about the situation or your emotions instead of dwelling on them, you begin to create a new experience.

Next time you're feeling low, notice what is at the root of the bad feeling. Become aware and curious of what is causing it, then consider what you would rather have. If you are complaining -- as I did -- about being tired all the time, consider what it is you want and put your energy into creating a new experience rather than complaining about the old one.

5. Find meaning in the experience. Psychologist Michael Steger and others say that people who find meaning in their experiences and lives tend to feel less anxiety and depression and more satisfaction in life.

If you believe that every moment is here to teach and guide you and you go looking for the meaning behind those moments, you'll feel a little bit better. To know that every challenge holds something important means that nothing is wasted or pointless. It's up to you to find the meaning in your life, but when you do you'll transcend the difficulty.

Each of these five things can help you shift your daily experience in small but profound ways, as they have mine. This spiritual salve will help you gain insight, peace, and clarity, and make it easier for you to deal with the next moment in a healthy way. Add them into your routine and no matter what comes your way, you'll have a spiritual first-aid kit that will help you cope and even thrive despite the difficulties.

For more by Polly Campbell, click here.

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