Staying Happy in Unhappy Times


It’s more important than ever to prioritize emotional well-being
Associate Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making Cassie Mogilner Holmes

Associate Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making Cassie Mogilner Holmes is UCLA Anderson’s Donnalisa ’86 and Bill Barnum Endowed Term Chair in Management. She studies happiness. “In my empirical pursuit of happiness, I am hoping, just hoping, to help people of all ages find a bit more happiness in their lives,” Mogilner Holmes says. It also doesn’t hurt that research shows that companies with happy employees often see benefit to their bottom lines.

In these trying times, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself and prioritize your emotional well-being. With mounting uncertainty and concern for the community, it is natural to feel anxious and perhaps scared. Amid these negative emotions, however, sustaining positive emotion is essential. It increases motivation, creativity, adaptive problem solving, immune functioning and kindness — all things you’ll need in spades as you’re holed up at home with family members, roommates or alone.

Pulling from the empirically based insights covered in my course Applying the Science of Happiness to Life Design, I offer some ways to stay a bit happier during these less-than-happy times:

  • Get moving. Research suggests that approximately 30 minutes each day of exercise can boost your mood and decrease your stress levels. So, whether it’s doing an online yoga class, going outside for a walk or turning up the music and having a dance party with your roommate, your family or by yourself, make sure you get your body moving every single day.
  • Don’t forget to breathe. With anxiety levels high and minds racing, it’s important to pause and take a series of deep and long breaths. Whether it’s for a few minutes in the morning or at bedtime, or during the day when you notice yourself starting to spiral, give yourself the space to close your eyes and breathe deeply. You might benefit from being guided in your meditation. For this (in addition to apps like Headspace and Calm), UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free guided meditations in English and Spanish.
  • Spend time offline. Know the trusted news and social media sources you can go to in order to stay informed (e.g., UCLA’s COVID-19 website, Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 website), but limit your exposure. The constant barrage of scary news and recirculation of fear can become debilitating.
  • Structure your days. With so much out of our control, assert control where you can. Treat work days like work days, and weekends like weekends. During the work week, have an established morning routine that includes getting out of bed, showering and dressing. Set up a place in your house where you can work without too much distraction, and sit down at a set time to start each work day. This is similarly important for kids with their school days. Just as critically, shut off at the end of the day and week to relax and engage in activities you enjoy: watch a movie, have a cocktail, go for a neighborhood stroll, play games — all with your family and friends, even if remotely. Which leads to the next point…
  • Stay connected. Perhaps most important, even though we can’t be in the same physical place, we must stay connected with our loved ones and colleagues. Isolation can quickly turn into loneliness, which is a direct route to depression. Using video when possible so you can see each other’s faces and spaces, share in your experience through conversation and even shared activity. Bring your own beverage, sit down together for a meal, watch a movie.
  • Notice the good. Though the number of inconvenient, scary and truly upsetting aspects of this situation are endless, there is still plenty of good in our lives. Not only is it inspiring to see how people are rallying for each other and figuring out ways to get through this, there are many sweet and soul-filling moments that can be noticed now that everything has been forced to slow down. Shift your attention to note the things that you do have to be grateful for. This attention toward positivity will prove to be a key tool to get you through this.
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