If you’re feeling down at the moment you’re probably not alone. Today is Blue Monday, supposedly the most melancholy day of the year.
The day, which falls on the 3rd Monday in January, was named in 2005, when a now-defunct travel company enlisted a psychologist named Dr. Cliff Arnall to identify the “most depressing day of the year” as a marketing gimmick to induce more travel during the winter months. Arnall developed a pseudo-scientific formula factoring in average weather conditions, debt levels and low motivational levels.
While Arnall’s formula has no basis in science and has been debunked by mental health professionals, Blue Monday has taken on a life of its own (#BlueMonday is trending on Twitter), and people are being encouraged to use the day to reflect on the things that really matter in their lives, and as a way to broach the taboo topic of mental illness in general.
But perhaps people do have reasons to feel a little blue and overwhelmed this time of year: post-Christmas finances, bad weather, broken New Year’s resolutions and the long wait for summer. It’s almost as if happiness rises and falls with the temperature.
Studies have shown that poor mental health can negatively affect our physical health. For example, excess stress has been shown to contribute to chronic physical illness, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, obesity and diabetes, according to the March 2011 Harvard Mental Health Letter, Harvard Medical School.
If you’re feeling the January “blues” and lack of motivation, there are ways you can tackle these feelings, explains Colleen Carruthers, a registered psychotherapist with The T-R Group Inc. in Peterborough, Ontario. “It’s important to remember that it’s not what happens to you that’s important, it’s what you make of what happens to you,” she says.
Carruthers uses findings from the field of positive psychology to understand the science of happiness and well-being, and suggests there are things we can all do to manage the daily grind with greater ease. “Small actions can have such a positive impact on your mood,” she says.
If you want to give the blues the boot, here are 5 small, concrete actions that can infuse your days with more happiness:
1. Know your core values
Core values are the things that are most important to you, like family, creativity, fairness, independence, truth, success and wisdom. (There are hundreds more.) Unearthing your core values can improve the quality of your life, help you build long-lasting, healthy relationships and raise your happiness levels. “If people are focused on and working with their core values, they typically stay happier,” says Carruthers. “You need to ask yourself, ‘Does my life reflect the values that are important to me?’ Knowing this will help you decide what is most important, how to prioritize and to live with purpose.”
She suggests you develop a list of your top 5 core values and make decisions based on that list. How do you discover your core values? One way to find out is by visiting the University of Pennsylvania’s website, Authentic Happiness, where you can register a profile and take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths questionnaire.
2. Choose to make happiness your goal
You have to know and understand that you deserve to be happy and that you are the sole person responsible for making yourself happy. “Choose to be in environments and around people that increase your probability of joy in your life,” says Carruthers.
3. Savour the moment
Savouring is the practice of being mindful and noticing the good stuff around you and making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible, explains Carruthers. So, whether it's taking your dog for a stroll, pausing to admire the sunset or telling a friend some good news, the idea is to linger, take it in and enjoy the moment.
“Many people are quick to dismiss the good things that have happened to them in their day-to-day lives, like getting that email from your manager saying you did great work on a project. It’s like a 5-second hit: You read it and move on to something else,” says Carruthers. “If you don’t savour those moments, it’s like they never happened.”
Other ways to build your savouring skills: Share good news with others; take credit for your hard work; become totally absorbed in the task or in the moment; consciously look for good things while out and about; and cultivate optimistic thinking.
4. Take a risk and speak the truth
Very few people speak assertively. This can be difficult but incredibly liberating. “Many people speak passive-aggressively,” says Carruthers. “They make their wants known in jokes, or they are never clear about what they really want.” So how do you master this crucial skill? The key is knowing what you want, believing you have a right to it and finding the courage to express yourself respectfully.
5. Show gratitude more often
Gratitude is crucial in achieving happiness – it helps people focus on what they have instead of what they lack. “If someone gives you positive feedback, thank them and accept it,” says Carruthers. “It’s very difficult to feel low when you’re feeling grateful.” Saying thanks and showing appreciation when someone praises you for a job well done, recognizes you for your extra effort, or even simply thanks you for holding a door can leave you feeling uplifted for the rest of the day. In the workplace, this can have a profound impact on your performance. Taking the time to thank your colleagues can have far-reaching benefits not only to their health, but also to the bottom line of the company.
- In Part 2 of this 2-part series, we’ll cover 5 more steps you can take to make your life happier.
If you find yourself feeling constantly sad, anxious or irritable despite your best efforts and these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. You can also draw on provincial resources such as the Ontario health ministry’s free Mental Health Helpline or your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch for additional support. If your workplace benefits plan includes a confidential employee assistance program, that’s another option to consider.