I’m compelled to deflect from my reflective momentum of January and talk about – what the papers are calling today – the most depressing day of the year – a combination of the weather (yes, perhaps not for you sis in oz); post christmas debt and broken resolutions. You probably don’t know that they’ve brought the day forwards by a week, as for the last 18 years the most depressing day of the year fell on my wedding anniversary, the 23rd January – so I’m grateful for that at least!
The papers are also full of advice for getting through the day, ranging from ‘lovebombing’ someone, getting flirty, going barefoot to listening to the birds. So if your feet are cold and no-one’s responding to your flirty texts, science has shown that there are more powerful and lasting ways to lift your mood in the third week of January and beyond…
1) Do something useful for someone else. In a range of experiments, often named ‘Pleasure vs Altruism‘, researchers have asked individuals to do something fun for themselves (over the course of a day or a week) and then turn their attention to someone else, whether an individual, institution or community. The latter has increased short term pleasure and long term satisfaction;
2) Get physical. In the very week that gyms capitalise on their wealth, science shows that exercise is one of the only ways to switch a mood from unhappiness to ‘ok-ness’. Exercise alone isn’t going to ensure happiness (and interestingly, research shows that ‘feeling’ healthy is more important than actual health for long term happiness), but it is proven to be an effective distraction from distressing emotions, buying you time to think more flexibly and accurately;
3) Time and again, this last exercise has been proven to be the most powerful, simple and long lasting way to increase your levels of happiness – the Gratitude Journal – oft cited but rarely completed! So all you need for this week’s exercise is one notebook and pencil and the persistence to jot down in your notebook each evening 3 things you are grateful for and why (that’s important). That’s it.
One of the things I’ve noticed about positive psychology interventions over the last 4 years is that their simplicity belies the effect. They are easy to read and ignore! So, an understanding of why this simple exercise works might help. Two psychological phenomenon follow us around all our lives, (i) the negativity bias (check out the research pages for more on this) where we pay more attention to what is bad or wrong in our lives than what is good, and (ii) habituation. Simply, we get used to what we have in life, very quickly – even if it is something we previously strived after for years.
I’ve kept a gratitude journal (for some reason, perhaps being a Brit, I call it my Appreciation Diary!) on and off for 3 years. Looking back on it gives me more joy than I can say. On even the most difficult of days, it reminds me how much I have to be optimistic about and the best of days are recorded for posterity.
So on this blue monday, do something to lastingly cheer yourself up. Bye x