Five simple ways to boost your mood

Mother and child smiling on grass

Clare Barry

Posted February 19, 2021

Try these simple, scientifically proven tips to help lift your spirits. 

Feeling a little flat? The good news is that we can kickstart a positive frame of mind by trying some simple life lifts. From forest bathing to striking up conversations with strangers, here are five simple ways to boost your mood, naturally, according to science.  

Five ways to boost your mood, naturally

Chat to a stranger

In last year’s grim second-wave lockdown – with its curfew, ring of steel and compulsory masks – did you find yourself relishing every incidental encounter with another human? Cognitive neuroscientist and psychologist Dr Fiona Kerr of the NeuroTech Institute explains that we are hardwired to connect with other people, and just talking to someone in the coffee line can stir up a “lovely chemical cocktail” in our brains as we start to synchronise with them. She says that looking at someone, even if you don’t know them, prompts parts of the brain that govern our socio-emotional functioning to release feel-good hormones including oxytocin and dopamine. “If you stay long enough or if it’s funny then that can bump up our parasympathetic nervous systems, start our immune system firing. And that’s why even if you just have a couple of minutes of conversation with a stranger, especially if it’s funny or it’s pleasant, you walk away and you feel good.” 

Enlist Mother Nature

From perky pot plants through to full ‘forest bathing’ and even just the colour green, engaging with nature is a surefire way to make you feel better. Forty per cent of respondents to a 2020 ANU study said their mood and emotions improved in the presence of indoor plants, and even looking at digital images of the same plants triggered a similar response. So try bringing the inside in with some potted plants, or go cheap and cheerful with a vase or jar of pretty foliage trimmed from the backyard. Better still, pop out for a walk to a park, sit yourself under a tree and look up through the leaves, or pack some snacks and take a longer hike out of town if you have the time. 

Woman hiking in nature

Getting outside into nature is a surefire way to make you feel better. Photo: Unsplash


Get physical

Along with its multiple benefits for our physical health, exercise is also a proven mood-enhancer, with considerable scientific evidence that even moderate exercise can reduce stress hormones and stimulate the production of feel-good endorphins. Which is why regular exercise is recommended by mental-health organisations including Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute. And you don’t have to sign up to a triathlon to get the benefits. Give your heart rate and outlook a lift by taking the stairs at work, doing a round of star jumps in the living room, or blasting a tune and jumping round the kitchen with the kids.  

Dish it up

Fancy your mood enhancements in edible form? A sauerkraut, salmon and dark chocolate smoothie could be the answer! All three ingredients make the list of foods that can feed both body and mind, according to Dr Felice Jacka of Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre, who recommends avoiding processed, fried, sugary, salty and saturated-fat nasties so often associated with comfort eating. Also seek out monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds including almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds, cruciferous vegies like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, oily fish for their omega-3 fatty acids, legumes like chickpeas and lentils, and fermented foods including yoghurt and that sauerkraut. 

Be kind

They call it ‘helper’s high’ – the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with doing something nice for someone. According to Dr Terry Bowles, associate professor in educational psychology at the University of Melbourne, it can be put down to the release of feel-good chemicals that accompany an act of kindness or empathy – and which are guaranteed to make the deliverer feel good. Try it – you may find it becomes addictive. You could… cook a meal for a sick friend or new parent, leave a generous tip for a cafe worker, bring in your neighbour’s bins, call an elderly relative just for a chat, knit a scarf or several for a local charity, share excess backyard or market produce on your nature strip, tell a colleague you like their earrings/suit/report, write a positive comment on a blog or social-media post, sign up as a volunteer, or offer your train seat to someone who looks like they need it (and tell them it’s because you’re getting off at the next stop anyway).