You’re not alone. The long and cold month of January can be a struggle for a lot of people, once the festive fun of Christmas and the New Year is over, and real life, real work, real problems and real bank balances return.
In addition the further north you are the less daylight you see over the winter months, with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) being a real, but often unacknowledged, problem for up to ten percent of the population.
The depressing effects of the winter are very real in northern climes, not just due to the reduction in sunlight, but also because we tend to get less physical activity and social interaction, due to the poorer weather and darkness. We also often pick this time of year to try and reinvent ourselves with New Year resolutions and promises of healthier lifestyles, which can just put us under further stress !
As I’ve written before, happiness is a hot topic at the moment, as any lunchtime spent browsing in a bookshop will confirm, which is probably as much to do with the current austerity as anything else, but it does open up a conversation about all sorts of interesting things – including community relationships, work-life balance, materialism and consumerism.
If you could do with a few mid-week and mid-winter suggestions to cheer yourself-up then look no further, but remember just reading about how to be happier isn’t actually going to help – if we want to change we’re actually going to have to DO something.
1 – Get a Bit More Exercise
Our modern sedentary lifestyles mean that we spend most of our days just sitting – changing locations from our car, to our desk , to our sofa. There’s plenty of research showing that exercise has a significant positive effect on mood and can help reduce depression. Even short amounts of regular exercise can help, boosting self esteem, shifting our mental focus and encouraging social interaction, with exercise outside also making the most of what little sunlight there is. In addition physical exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which give rise to feelings of well being, pain relief and relaxation.
2 – Brighten Up Your Environment
Our physical surroundings also play a significant role in affecting our mood. Making a change and brightening things-up, or even just a bit of decluttering or cleaning, can have a tremendous positive effect – as it not only reduces visual reminders of things left undone, or still to do, but also helps us begin to exercise more control over our environment, which is an important aspect of our wellbeing. Increasing the amount of light available might also be a good idea, especially if you are prone to SAD, perhaps try a spot of DIY light therapy.
3 – Get Out of the House
When its dark and the weather’s miserable it can be easy to get into the habit of never leaving the house. Make an effort to get out more – to public spaces like cafes, or just to have a short walk around. As well as helping provide a bit more exercise and social contact, regularly changing our environment is shown to have a positive effect on mood, as new visual surroundings stimulate our interest and tend to distract our focus away from ourselves.
4 – Get Organised
Having control over our lives is an important part of our wellbeing, and with increasingly complex and fragmented lifestyles, a sense of disorganisation, chaos, or having too much to do, can all contribute to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Taking small, definite steps to get things more up to date and under control can often bring a sense of satisfaction and progress, and reduce triggers for negative thoughts and concerns, such as thinking about unpaid bills, piles of washing or long lists of things to do. Getting more organised will also help free-up more time to spend doing things you enjoy.
5 – Change Your Thinking
It seems almost silly to suggest one of the ways we can be happier is to just ‘try to be happier’, but it’s actually true. Being more aware of our own mental life, and taking more control to discourage negative streams of thought, is considered an important element in reducing depression. Known as mindfulness, it’s no more than attempting to be more consciously aware of our patterns of thought, and seeking to interrupt, and not dwell on negative concerns or outcomes.
6 – Get More Sleep
As I’ve written before, lack of sleep is well known to have a significant negative effect on our mood. Research has shown that when people are limited to less than six hours of sleep per night they become more stressed, more irritable, more angry, more sad and more mentally exhausted. Our busy modern lifestyles and the ubiquitous presence of screens and entertainment mean sleep is one of the things we often sacrifice . . . If we want to be happier, we should get more sleep !
7 – Let Go of the Bad Stuff
It seems obvious to say it, but being constantly reminded about ‘the bad stuff’ tends to make us miserable. Unfortunately most of the news we see tends to be ‘the bad stuff’ and we can easily become unduly influenced by world events, the state of the economy, crime and political developments we’re unhappy about etc. Of course I’m not advocating we disconnect from the world, but it might not be a bad idea to balance these constant sources of negative news with a few more positive ones. There’s plenty of good stuff happening out there as well, and being a bit more aware of it might help us feel more positive about the world.
8 – Have More Fun
When we feel a bit down it’s easy to loose touch with many of the things that give us pleasure or that we enjoy, like hobbies and social events, and taking steps to reconnect with the things we enjoy can help us have more fun. Even making plans and arranging dates in the diary, for a holiday, trip, cinema visit or meal out, or even just a get together with friends, as something to look forward to, can have a positive effect. You might also want to invest a bit of time in watching, listening to, or reading some comedy – smiling and laughing produce a powerful effect on our mood and sense of wellbeing.
9 – Do Something for Someone Else
If we want to be happy, there’s a balance to be struck between doing things for ourselves and doing things for other people. If we feel we are always working for and trying to please others, then perhaps we need to concentrate on ourselves for a while, but for many of us shifting our focus away from ourselves and our own problems, and doing something to help others will probably be beneficial. Thinking about, and more importantly doing things for, other people provides connection, purpose and control, and also creates a sense of gratitude as we put our own problems into perspective.
10 – Spend More Time with Friends
Studies into improving happiness have looked at a large range of factors and methods, including many of those listed above, but consistently one factor is judged to be more important than any of the others. If we want to be happier, it seems, we should spend more time in the company of people we like.
Photo by JustTakenPics, via Flickr
RELATED ARTICLES – The Greatest Gift that I Possess, Jam Tomorrow, Higgs Boson of Happiness, 10 Ways You Can Have Enough Money and Stuff, The Fishbowl of Happiness, It IS the Winning and Loosing that Matters