Now is when winter gets hard. The decorations are down and it will be a solid couple of months of weather (in the mid-Atlantic area, anyway) that is mostly too cold and too wet to want to get outside much, peppered with enough warmish days to tease us into thinking that maybe spring will come early. I've put together some ideas and tips for lifting your spirits and making the most of the weeks and months ahead. Maybe you've got some to add?
1. Celebrate not having to mow the lawn. Okay, certainly lawn-mowing is a first-world issue. And I have to admit that I actually enjoy getting out our electric mower (small combustion engines and I don't see eye-to-eye) and taking care of the yard in the late spring and early summer. But by July-August, this is NOT a job I particularly look forward to. So, today I will celebrate the fact that the lawn will stay its short, brown self for quite awhile yet. [This is merely an illustration of looking for the gift of winter, btw.]
2. Plan and live a perfect (winter) day. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness and numerous other books, did research and discovered that the act of planning a completely enjoyable day and then doing it had a long-term effect on a person's happiness level. Just doing the exercise of planning was an eye-opener for me. What would I do with a whole day? I actually got one this past week -- a day on the nearby Poconos ski slopes with my kids. Very fun! But a perfect day doesn't have to be an expensive outing. I can plan a couple with some variations -- good weather or bad, with the family or solo, active or more low-key -- and keep them in mind for a weekend day when I'm not sure what to do with myself and the winter blues are setting in. Maybe each family member or person in your circle can plan a day and you can support each other in making it happen.
3. Help someone else. By either doing a formal. organized volunteer thing or doing something informally, the act of helping others helps us too. My boys shoveled the snow from the neighbor's sidewalk unbidden recently. We've packed food at SHARE (an emergency food distributor and food buying club) and the boys both got to learn how to operate a hand jack and move big pallets of onions, apples, and other vegetables and fruits around the cavernous warehouse. An essential component to happiness is finding a greater meaning outside ourselves. For winter, it's helpful if that contribution to something bigger is not esoteric, but concrete and direct. Also, let me put a plug in for volunteering at the unusual times. Places like SHARE need help year-round, not just at the holidays or Martin Luther King Day. And the experience at the non-popular times will likely mean you get to connect better with the organization or people you are helping.
4. Get and give plenty of hugs and connect with your pets. Both of these activities have been shown to improve mental health. I torture my boys with what I call the 7-second hug. They act like they hate it, but they don't really, My family growing up never hugged, and even when I wanted to when I was older, it would have just been too weird to start. So, I hug my partner and my kids regularly. I know it makes me feel better and science indicates it makes them feel better too. And I think it's the same mechanism that helps us feel better when we play with and cuddle with our pets. I expect they don't particularly like the dreary weather either and they are counting on us to take care of them both physically and emotionally.
5. Watch your favorite old movie or TV show. Sitting in front of a screen for hours generally doesn't increase our happiness level, but I think reliving an old favorite guilt-free is a pleasure to experience once in awhile. (Let me know if you want to borrow any Xena DVDs).
6. Take a class. Another key component to a happy life is engagement -- the experience of becoming so absorbed in something that you don't notice the time passing. While you can do this on your own, I think the structure of a class setting keeps you moving forward when the winter blahs try to suck you into immobility. Maybe a gluten-free cooking class? Maybe a craft? Maybe American History from Reconstruction on? [Just checking to see if you are reading, Jenn!]
7. Get moving. Exercise helps. The only workout you regret is the one you don't do.
8. Do a cleanse. I don't mean a lemon juice-maple syrup-cayenne pepper thing. Not healthy! If you have been thinking about such a thing, check out the PEERtrainer 14-day fresh Start Cleanse. No starvation. Real food. It'll change your outlook and you'll feel totally virtuous.
9. Plan your Next Big Thing. Take some time to dream. Is it your next vacation? A career move? A plan to work on that book you've been thinking about? Take some time during the dark days to imagine what the brighter times will look like. If you need to, find a friend or coach to help you think it through and to create an accountability strategy.
10. Take more baths. Buy yourself flowers. Light some candles. Read a low-brow novel. Do all four. If you are like me, you don't take much time to treat yourself to these little things. It can be really hard -- work, family, Life all seem to come first. It really is okay to carve out a little bit of time for yourself.
Let me know how you fight the winter blues! I'm always looking for new ideas.