Reasons to be Cheerful
The days are dank and grey, the debts are piling up and the body is suffering from end-of-year excess so it’s not surprising that your spirits might be low. It’s the January Blues. The party season is over but spring is still some way off.
The 3rd Monday in January is supposedly the most depressing day of the year. It may be based on a marketing survey rather than actual science, but Blue Monday is still a good time to focus on how to give yourself a mood boost to get through the cold months. Here are some of my top tips drawn from positive psychology and beyond.
Prioritise relationships rather than retail. If you’re tempted to splurge in the sales, the sad truth is that you’re only likely to experience a momentary high. People who put relationships first are happier than those who focus on money. You can sum up the science of happiness in 3 words – other people matter. Relationships are crucial for our well-being. Spend your money on shared experiences for a happiness boost.
Happiness is wanting what you have rather than having what you want. You can make a difference to your well-being by tuning in to appreciate the good things that you do have, rather than hankering after something that’s missing. This practice, known as gratitude, is more than saying thank you, it’s about growing your awareness of the positives in your life. So a simple way of doing that is to ask yourself some questions – what is good in my life? Who am I grateful to? What has gone well? The obstacles that get in the way include the negativity bias – the brain notices what’s wrong before it tunes into what’s right. It’s part of the survival mechanism that keeps us safe by alerting us to danger. But it means we need to work that bit harder to appreciate what’s good about our life. The other barrier is the hedonic treadmill. This is the phenomenon of taking for granted the source of our pleasure. We even take people for granted. So take a moment to reflect on what’s important to you and who are the people you appreciate – the radiators who bring warmth into your life rather than the drains that exhaust you.
Social media can make you unhappy
Browsing Facebook newsfeeds or those Insta-babes with their picture-perfect lives can lower the mood. As humans we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others and find our own lives wanting. Social media can make you feel bad enough to want to spend, spend, spend your way towards those aspirational lifestyles. I feel the pressure whenever I see those wellness gurus with their yoga poses, spiralized veg and millions of followers. Try a digital detox or keep exposure to a minimum.
You can’t fight it so why not embrace the season and get into the spirit of winter. Light some candles, pull on your woolly socks and get cosy in front of a log fire. The French call it ‘cocooning’ while the Danes, frequent winners of the world’s happiest nation title, have turned ‘hygge’ into an art form that makes the most of the cold months. Winter is a natural time to stop, reflect, get clear about what you really want out of the new year and allow those ideas to emerge. Once the days get lighter the energy will return. Take your cue from dogs – they really know how to embrace the couch and enjoy this time of year.
Miriam Akhtar is the author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression, self-help strategies for happiness, inner strength and well-being