If you’re anything like us, you love the holiday season. The baking, the bonding over family meals, and the present opening are all great ways to spread love, care, appreciation, and all of those warm and fuzzy feelings that form everlasting memories. But like anything, holiday cheer can’t last forever.
Post January first welcomes the inevitable hard crash back to reality, and we’re no longer mesmerized by glittering lights and glimmering wrapping. As exciting as it is to exchange gifts and enjoy lavish meals, it’s temporary — and this is not news. Once our wallets have emptied and the New Year’s Eve champagne has flushed from our systems, it’s time to return to our everyday routines, and somehow, that’s depressing.
There’s been some debate as to whether or not post-holiday depression is a scientific fact, or just a coincidence. In 2005, Dr. Cliff Arnall asserted that he was able to mathematically calculate “the most depressing day of the year” according to factors such as weather, debt, and time. He found that the third Monday in January, or “Blue Monday,” as he named it, was when people seemed to feel the most “down.” However, his theory was proven false. Dr. Arnall said it was “never his intention” to create such a negative connotation surrounding the day, but still, even without the “Blue Monday” theory in play, many believe that January is one of the lowest feeling months of the year.
This could be due in part to chillier weather, shorter days, and a few other factors, but we’re here to help you break the stigma and kick the new year off with some tools to create and maintain positive vibes year-round.
What is Positive Psychology?
According to Martin Seligman, Ph.D, founder of what he calls “positive psychology,” one of the biggest keys to enacting positive lasting change is to focus just as much energy and attention on our strengths as we do our weaknesses, as well as to nurture our lives to be more fulfilling. To help us do that, Seligman breaks down three ways, that when combined and continuously applied, we can establish and maintain a more sustained happiness.
1. Identify What Makes You Happy
The first key to prolonged happiness is to identify what makes us happy. Using the Subjective Happiness Scale, Dr. Seligman asserts that we can measure our level of happiness, and in doing so, isolate potential reasons as to why we may be unhappy. The goal is to discover which activities bring us the most joy, so that we can engage in as many of them as possible, and learn how to amplify the experience of each to make “feel good” vibes linger.
One of the many reasons we often feel happier around the holidays is because we’re surrounded by friends and family, and we engage in pleasant activities with them, like baking and decorating, that give us pleasure. In order to create a lingering effect, we needn’t think of these moments as temporary.
In 1998, Dr. Seligman made a switch in his studies from observing those who considered themselves as “extremely miserable,” to those who thought of themselves as “extremely happy.” What he discovered wasn’t that those considered “extremely happy” were “more religious” or “in better shape.” They also didn’t “have more money” and weren’t “better looking,” nor did they have “more good events and fewer bad events.” The only notable difference between the two groups was in the way they socialized. Those in the “extremely happy” category were “extremely social.”
That same “feel good” energy you experience during the holidays when you’re bonding with loved ones is one you can extend year-round. Engage in activities with friends, family members, and significant others throughout the year for a continuous boost of energy that can lead toward a more permanent elevated state.
2. Maintain “The Flow”
According to Dr. Seligman, in order to maintain prolonged happiness, it’s important to remain in what he calls “the flow.” Also known as the height of the moment, “the flow” is something we’ve all experienced, perhaps at a concert or a movie, when we become one with the moment. We don’t think about the laundry we left in the dryer or the bills we have to pay the following week. We focus on the now, which we can continue to do by playing on our strengths.
In order to enact and maintain “the flow” in all aspects of our lives, we must first identify our top strengths, then repurpose our lives in ways that allow us to incorporate them as much as possible. Let’s say you work at a customer service job you dislike, but you have impeccable communication skills: Rather than focus on eights hours of folding shirts and restocking shelves, utilize your social skills in guest interactions to remain in the moment and live an “engaged” life.
3. Pay Kindness Forward
The final key Dr. Seligman believes in is living a meaningful life. This is what separates positive experiences from fulfilling ones. In order to do so, we must first recognize our key strengths, as we did to maintain “the flow.” Next, we have to utilize those strengths “in the service of something larger” than us with the idea that philanthropic purposes last. Like using your strengths to get ahead in your career, you instead use them to pay kindness forward. To do this, you can do something simple like writing a letter to a loved one who’s added value to your life, explaining how he or she has done just that, or something longer-lasting like volunteering at an animal shelter each weekend. In doing so, you add purpose to what you engage in to create overall life satisfaction.