2020's been a helluva year. I could list all the bad stuff we've been through in the last 12 months, but I'll refrain. My headline promises to cheer you up, after all, and that list wouldn't exactly set the tone. Plus, I'd rather focus on the future. We're all ready to move forward from 2020. Ready to smile and laugh more. Ready to live outside with friends, parties, hugs, and handshakes. When you tap into that excitement, and imagine all the things you'll experience with new appreciation in 2021, you can't help but smile.
Sadly, that excitement can be fleeting. The issues of 2020 haven't exactly been resolved, and that is sure to get you down now and then. So to get you through and keep the spirits high, here's a list of my 10 favorite and free pick-me-ups. These are short- and longer-term activities that'll entertain, inspire, and transport you to a better mood this winter. Enjoy!
1. Read a book
Sure the internet can answer our most pressing questions on the fly, like how old is Johnny Depp? Or how many cups are in a quart? But did you know the internet also houses a massive supply of free books? You can find full texts of the classics, thrillers, romance novels, self-help books, biographies and more, all for free. Try these three sources and you may never pay for a book again.
Project Gutenberg has about 60,000 titles in digital formats, available for free download. There's no membership or download fee. You can make a donation if you want, but no one's going to pressure you to do so. You won't get bombarded with emails after downloading either. Most of the books in the Project Gutenberg library are classics, works that are out of copyright in the U.S. If you don't know where to start reading, I'd recommend anything by Mark Twain or Oscar Wilde for thought-provoking humor. Or, try this book of the best funny American short stories.
I'm a big fan of the free books available through Amazon Prime, but you can also get free Kindle books without a Prime membership. And don't worry about not having a Kindle -- you can download the free Kindle app for iPhone or Android to turn your phone into a Kindle device.
You should know that the selection of free Kindle books on Amazon leans towards suspense and mystery novels. Those can be entertaining, but also a touch depressing. You can find more upbeat titles if you're willing to dig for them. I did find a book of 100+ knock-knock jokes, which is sure to come in handy when I need to cheer a friend up in a corny kind of way.
GoodReads also publishes lists of free books. These are mostly the titles that you'll also find available for free on Amazon, but they're ordered by popularity among GoodReads users. That might make it easier to find a title you'll love. Sign up for a free GoodReads account for access and you'll join a community of book lovers at the same time.
2. Declutter a closet
If reading's not your thing, try cleaning. Set aside a few hours to dive into a messy closet and reorganize it from top to bottom. This is one of those tasks you'll have to muster up the motivation to start, but it's so rewarding to finish. As you're going through your old clothes and shoes, create four piles:
- Stuff to keep: These are the pieces you wear regularly.
- Stuff to trash: Throw away any clothes or accessories that are damaged or stained.
- Stuff to donate: Old basics from Target, Walmart, or Old Navy go into this pile. They are still wearable but not necessarily worth much on the resale market.
- Stuff to sell: You can sell any name-brand or higher-quality pieces that are still in good condition. Maybe they don't fit you anymore or your tastes have changed. Sell them individually on Poshmark or ship them in a box to Thredup for consignment.
Next, create an organization method for everything that's left. Some people like to organize clothes by color, but I prefer a seasonal system. I have closet sections for warm weather clothes, cold weather clothes, and transitional pieces. I rotate the warm- and cold-weather pieces in and out of my attic as needed to keep the year-round clutter to a minimum.
When you're done putting everything its place, step back and admire your handiwork. See? You're smiling just thinking about it.
3. Indulge in puppy videos on YouTube
Most of us have those ultra-sensitive days now and then. You know, when tears well up if someone looks at you the wrong way? On those days, I dive right into puppy videos on YouTube.
Sure, it's cliché, but I stand by the advice. How can you be sad watching a bunch of puppies tumble and play? Plus, YouTube does an excellent job of keeping in the platform by lining up videos that'll entertain you for hours. Watch one cute puppy video, you'll have a bunch more queued up and ready to go. Here's a bucket full of boxer puppies to get you started.
4. Learn something new
If you need a meatier project to keep your spirits up, try free online classes from Harvard. That's right, the Harvard University has a catalog of free online courses. Learn to code, brush up on your knowledge of women's history, or study Shakespeare. Courses range in length from six to 10 weeks.
5. Get motivated
If you can pull your attention away from the puppies, YouTube also has an extensive collection of free motivational music, speeches, and meditations. These are great for a quick mood boost, but less great for making motivation a daily habit. The ads inserted into the middle of a video can really be a drag when you're trying to meditate.
A nice alternative is a free app like Motivate. It randomly sends you motivational quotes as push notifications. You can also browse and listen to inspirational music and talks within the app. Much of the content is free, though you can upgrade to access more. Motivate is available for iOS.
6. Create your masterpiece
Drawing and coloring are great stress relievers. They help you direct your focus towards creativity and away from whatever's stressing you out. You don't need any art supplies either. Try an app like Kleki for drawing from scratch. Or use ColoringPages as an online coloring book. You'll see ColoringPages is designed for kids, but that doesn't mean it's less fun for adults. You'll be surprised at how much fun it is to select a color and tap. You never go outside the lines, which is ideal if you have perfectionist tendencies.
7. Do some yoga
Yoga improves your strength, flexibility, balance, and confidence. It also encourages mental clarity and focus. But let's be real. Yoga is super awkward to learn in front of strangers. That's why I prefer to do it at home by myself. YouTube comes to the rescue again with a massive collection of free yoga workouts. Start with this list from Women's Health of the 15 best yoga videos on YouTube.
8. Stream holiday music
So what if the holidays are over? You can stream the cheeriest music on the planet anytime. Just Alexa or Pandora or Spotify to play you some holiday tunes and they'll gladly comply. Whip up some hot cocoa while you're at it. Heck, you could even add a splash of peppermint Schnapps to the mix. Unless it's 10 a.m. Then maybe try a drop of peppermint oil instead.
9. Watch SNL
Download NBC's Peacock app for iOS or Android and get lost in your favorite episodes of Saturday Night Live. Then move on to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation. Seriously, this app is the cure-all for negativity. As Chris Traeger might say, "You literally can't be in a bad mood while binging on Parks and Recreation."
10. Save the world
I'm not going to shrink out on you -- I'm not qualified for that -- but studies do show that giving makes you happier. Find a cause you feel strongly about and get involved. Donate if you can afford it, or volunteer. And volunteering doesn't have to mean you're on the front lines fostering puppies or working in the soup kitchen. You can also volunteer your professional skills to the organization. Design a website or write some content pro bono. You could also set up a social media fundraiser and promote it to your friends and family.
If all else fails, fake it
I don't believe in ignoring feelings, but I do believe in the power of smiles and laughter. If puppies and comedy reruns can't force a chuckle, slap a fake smile on your face and look in the mirror. Try and make it look legit. Channel your inner Tyra Banks to work up a smize. You'll achieve perfect the smile or laugh at how ridiculous you look, trying to smize at yourself in the bathroom. Now go and watch the puppies again and see if you feel better. If you do, call up a friend and spontaneously spread some good cheer. Tell a funny story or whip out the book of knock-knock jokes. Put some joy out in the world and maybe it'll come back to you when you need it most.