Although the U.S. is officially past the 2008 recession, the economy is still rocky and many people are still facing money issues and doubt about the future. It seems like happiness is a more fleeting concept than ever. Budgets are locked down and money that was once spent on vacations and relaxation is now being diverted to paying down debt. The good news is that it doesn't take a lot of money to increase your happiness. Here are five ways that you can lift your mood and be happy without spending a lot of money.

Set up a Walking Routine with a Friend
There are many benefits of walking with a friend. Getting regular exercise not only burns calories and tones muscles, but it also increases seratonin levels in the brain which boosts mood. Walking in either direct or indirect sunlight also increases seratonin levels and decreases melatonin, a hormone that can cause depression and sleep disruptions. Sun exposure also helps the body to produce Vitamin D. Spending time with a friend helps keep you connected and increases the odds that you will keep up the routine by hold yourself accountable to each other.

Focus on Your Job
Your grandmother may have told you that if you're going to do something, do it well. You don't have to be working at your dream job to be happy. There is satisfaction in being good at your job and seeing the results of your hard work. Instead of counting the hours until the weekend, look for ways to be more effective and to improve your job performance. The side benefit is that it could lead to a boost in your salary or a promotion.

Volunteer in Your Community
There will always be a need for charities in every community, and yours is no exception. Apportioning some of your time to help out not only helps your friends and neighbors, but it can also make you see how you can make a difference. Assess what you're good at and offer up those skills to local organizations, whether it's teaching at-risk boys to play hockey or cooking for the local soup kitchen. Research conducted in the U.K. shows a direct link between volunteerism and happiness. The study also linked levels of volunteer activity in a community with a reduction in crime and an increase in overall health.

Perform a Random Act of Kindness
Similar to volunteerism, but on a much more personal level, doing something unexpected and kind for someone else can improve your mood. The goal of the random act movement is to have everyone "pay it forward" by doing nice things for others, who will then do so for someone else. It gives you an immediate and personal reaction from the person you're helping and just makes you feel good.

Throw a Dinner Party
One of the first victims of the recession was discretionary entertainment money, which was slashed from many budgets. Informal surveys suggest that Americans are eating out less and staying home more often. While this definitely saves money, it can mean that you don't get a chance to spend time with your friends as often, which can leave you feeling isolated and lonely. You can renew those ties by having a house party and inviting your friends. If you make it a pot luck where everyone brings a dish, it's not as much work for you. It doesn't have to be elaborate, it can just be an opportunity to get together and catch up.

The Bottom Line
Happiness doesn't have to cost a fortune. Regardless of your circumstances, you can boost your mood and that of those around you. Instead of complaining that you can't take a Caribbean vacation this year, take some time and plan some easy, inexpensive events.

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