Locum optometrist guide

The happiness alphabet

An A to Z of daily changes to boost your health and happiness

Eight windows with different people in each window

When people consider what would boost their happiness, there can be a tendency to envision bold changes – a large pay rise or new job.

While there is always a place for daydreaming about a lottery win, the power of tweaking small daily habits should not be overlooked. For some, going to the football with a friend or drinking coffee in the garden will put a spring in their step.

For others, listening to metal music before taking the dog for a walk is a promising start to the day.

There are many more happiness habits than there are letters in the alphabet. What makes one person cheerful will be another person’s chore.

Here OT curates a selection of activities, backed by evidence, in celebration of the mood-boosting potential of small changes.

Take or leave each letter of the alphabet – tomorrow is waiting, and it is always a blank page.


There may be some truth to the saying, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’ In fact, reaching for the fruit bowl could boost mental wellbeing – regardless of which fruit is selected. A survey of 428 adults published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2022 found that the more often people ate fruit, the lower they scored for depression and the higher they scored for mental wellbeing.

Bird song

Step away from your computer and indulge in some real-life twitter. That is the message from King’s College London researchers who found that being close to bird life was associated with a boost in mental wellbeing. A group of 1292 participants used the Urban Mind app three times a day to report whether they could see or hear birds, and answer questions on their mood. There was a positive association between seeing or hearing birds and a temporary uplift in mental wellbeing.


Whether it is a welcome break with a friend or a caffeine injection ahead of a busy day, coffee and tea are an integral part of many daily routines. A longitudinal study of 12,000 Singaporean adults in 2023 found that those who drank coffee four or more times each day in middle age had significantly reduced odds of physical frailty later in life, compared to those who did not drink coffee daily. A University of Leeds study published in 2022 found that, in women, each additional daily cup of tea or coffee was linked to a 4% reduction in the risk of hip fracture.

Digital detox

Pressing pause on social media use – even for a short time – could result in substantial health benefits. In 2022, University of Bath researchers organised a trial involving 154 people who used social media every day. An intervention group that stopped using social media for a week showed a significant improvement in wellbeing, compared to a control group that continued using social media as normal. Another study by Swansea University in 2023 found that reducing social media use by just 15 minutes a day could improve immune function and reduce levels of loneliness and depression.


Whether you are reading a continuing professional development article on the OT website or learning how to order a coffee in Italian, picking up new skills can have real benefits for your wellbeing. Research by the University of Oxford in partnership with the Workers' Educational Association found that taking part in an adult education class boosted life satisfaction – regardless of what topic was studied. As part of the 2016 study, seven groups studied singing, crafts and creative writing. Participants reported increased self-confidence, a sense of belonging, and enhanced willingness to take on new challenges. 

Four-day week

With the ability set their own schedule, locum optometrists may want to consider the benefits of a four-day week. A UK trial saw 61 organisations offering the same pay for a 20% reduction in working hours over a six-month period. The study, which was the largest of its kind internationally, observed a 65% reduction in sick days and a 71% reduction in self-reported staff burnout. At the end of the trial, 92% of participating companies opted to continue with a four-day week. 


Perhaps pot plants shrivel in your presence and the closest you come to being green fingered is eating M&M’s on a warm day. However, for some, ‘green exercise’ has a host of health and wellbeing benefits. A University of Essex study followed a group of 90 people experiencing mental health challenges who were involved in therapeutic community gardening between 2019 and 2022. Their self-reported life satisfaction and mental wellbeing increased by 9% over the period – even in the context of a global pandemic. “There is growing evidence to support the use of nature-based interventions for the treatment of mental ill-health,” study author, Dr Carly Wood, shared. 


Hygge is a Danish word that conjures up images of winter nights spent eating cake with friends, the flicker of candlelight in the background. It is described on a website published by Denmark’s ministry of foreign affairs as “taking time away from the daily rush to be together with people you care about - or even by yourself – to relax and enjoy life’s quieter pleasures.” After the delights of this concept spread across Scandinavian borders, it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017.

Icy cold shower

While not for everyone, stepping into a cold shower could be one way of warding off illness. Research published in PLoS One in 2016 described an experiment where 3000 people were divided into four groups. For 30 days, participants either took a daily cold shower for 30, 60 or 90 seconds, or showered using their normal temperature. In the intervention groups, there was a 29% reduction in self-reported sick leave from work. The duration of the cold shower did not affect the result. 


Picking up your trainers to go for a jog or join an exercise class at the gym could help to boost your longevity. While gentle exercise – such as household chores or going for a walk – has substantial health benefits, it may also be worth incorporating activities that make you break a sweat. A study by Australian researchers published in 2015 followed 204,542 people over six years. They found that those who took part in vigorous exercise had a 9% lower all-cause mortality rate than those who completed no vigorous exercise. 


Receiving an unexpected present will often put a spring in your step. But research supports the idea that giving – whether in the form of time or money – can be just as powerful a force for nurturing wellbeing. A 2021 study published in Frontiers of Psychology observed the relationship between volunteering, charitable donations and wellbeing among 1871 Chinese university students. They found that students who reported more hours volunteering and more frequent charity donations tended to have higher levels of psychological wellbeing. Volunteering was found to have a particularly strong positive effect on psychological wellbeing. 

Live events

While the internet can be a great tool for bridging physical distances at the click of a button, research shows that there are tangible benefits to in-person events that cannot be replicated online. An Anglia Ruskin University study in 2023 found that attending live sporting events was associated with increased life satisfaction and reduced loneliness. A 2024 study by University of Zurich researchers observed that people are more emotionally moved by live music than streamed music. With the use of functional MRI, researchers found higher levels of activity in the amygdala – an area of the brain responsible for emotion – when listening to live music than when listening to recorded music. 


Snacking on mangos during your tea break may reduce your risk of vascular issues and improve your antioxidant levels. Research presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual conference in 2023 described a trial where 27 participants ate a daily snack of mango for three-months. Following the intervention, they showed improvements in markers of oxidative stress and antioxidant levels.   


Counting butterflies or keeping a tally of bumble bees in a local park is not only good for science – it could be good for your health. Research published in People and Nature investigated the effect of ‘citizen science’ projects on the wellbeing of participants. A group of 500 volunteers completed different nature-based tasks in a 10-minute window, from counting butterflies to conducting a survey of pollinating insects. The participants reported higher levels of wellbeing following the trial, as well as contributing valuable scientific data. In 2022, volunteer recording and citizen science projects contributed over 2.2 million records that help to monitor biodiversity in the UK. 

Organisational changes

While it is becoming more common for companies to introduce individual wellbeing interventions – such as free gym subscriptions or mindfulness training – research from the University of Oxford suggests that organisational changes may be more effective. The 2024 Industrial Relations Journal study highlighted the value of changes to scheduling, management practices and staff resources in improving wellbeing. 


Having a dog to take for a walk or a cat to purr on your lap may help people cope with the daily stresses of life. A 2022 study published by Kingston University London surveyed 700 people through two online surveys. Pet owners reported that their pets provided emotional comfort during the early stages of the pandemic. People who interacted with their pets more often had higher levels of mental wellbeing. 

Quality time

Catching up with friends and family not only feels good – it may be one of the habits that supports longevity. A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2023 of 28,563 Chinese adults found that more frequent social activity was associated with longer overall survival. The participants had an average age of 89 and were tracked for an average of five years. Socialising daily was associated with the greatest boost in longevity. However, even monthly or occasional socialisation was linked to survival benefits when compared to those who reported no social activity. 

Ripple effect

The happiness of healthcare workers affects how satisfied their patients are. A study of Finnish healthcare workers published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in 2021 found that more intense demands on healthcare workers was associated with lower levels of patient satisfaction. The research involved a survey of 1024 healthcare staff, including doctors, nurses and dentists, and 951 patients. 


Throwing the covers off early to catch a sunrise or timing a walk for sunset can result in a price-tag free mood boost. University of Exeter scientists have examined the effect of fleeting natural events – such as sunrise, sunset, rainbows and thunderstorms – on those who view them. “The wow factor associated with these encounters might unlock small but significant bumps in feelings of beauty and awe, which could in turn have positive impacts for mental wellbeing,” Dr Alex Smalley explained. 

Tree nuts

Snacking on tree nuts, such as almonds, Brazil nuts, cashew nuts and walnuts, could help to reduce your cholesterol levels. Research published in Nutrients in 2023 saw 84 participants snack on nuts or a carbohydrate-rich snack twice daily. Both snacks had the same calorie count. After four months, both men and women who snacked on nuts had lower cholesterol than those who ate carbohydrate-rich snacks. Additionally, women had a reduced waist circumference and levels of visceral fat, while men had decreased blood insulin levels. 


As a locum, optometrists can be their own harshest bosses – fearful that once they start saying ‘no’ to bookings, they will face an empty diary. But setting aside time to relax and recharge is essential. Research published in Psychology and Health in 2020 found that each additional holiday taken throughout the year was associated with a 25% decrease in the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. 


Boosting the number of meat-free meals you have each week could help you fit into that slightly snug pair of jeans. A study in 2023 by Northumbria University assigned 20 men to two groups – one group consumed 240 grams of meat each day, while the other group ate the daily equivalent amount of Quorn (a mycoprotein-based meat substitute). The intervention group lowered their waist circumference by an average of 1cm over a two-week period, while their cholesterol levels fell by 12%. 


It can be hard to fit in exercise while working as a locum optometrist. But parking slightly further away from a practice, or going for a lunchtime walk, can serve to elevate your step count and improve your health. While many people think of 10,000 steps as the ‘magic number,’ walking as little as 3867 steps a day was enough to reduce an individual’s risk of all-cause mortality according to a 2023 study published in European Journal of Preventative Cardiology. Each additional thousand steps was associated with a 15% reduction in risk.


Dabbling in any form of music – whether playing a xylophone, strumming the guitar or joining a local choir – could help to protect your brain as you age. A University of Exeter and Kings College London study followed more than 25,000 people over the age of 40 for a decade. They found that playing an instrument, particularly the piano, is linked to improved memory and the ability to solve complex tasks. Singing also provided a brain boost, although this may be connected to the social benefits that taking part in group singing provide. 


If your blood pressure is on the high side, adding yoga to your exercise routine could help to lower your cardiovascular risk. A study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology in 2022 followed 60 people with high blood pressure over a three-month period. Participants were divided into two groups that either performed stretches or did yoga for 15-minutes, five times a week, in addition to 30-minutes of aerobic exercise. At the end of the study, both participants who stretched and those who performed yoga had a decrease in blood pressure and resting heart rate. The average reduction in systolic blood pressure among those who performed yoga was more than double that of those who stretched. 


Getting enough sleep is crucial to support wellbeing. A meta-analysis of 65 clinical trials published in Sleep Medicine Reviews in 2021 found that improving sleep quality leads to reductions in depression, anxiety, stress and rumination. Sleep can also affect physical health, with research presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in 2018 finding that between six and eight hours is the sweet spot for heart health.