5 things you can do for a slightly happier December

brown deer plush toy
Image by Tim Gouw

With the dark and cold season on its way, many of us look for Xmas as something to look forward to. I compiled a list of five science-backed things you can do for a bit more happiness in December. You don’t have to do all of them. Pick your favourite and commit to it.

1. Try to get enough sleep

According to a survey from the German insurance company TK, about one in four Germans doesn’t get the recommended minimum of six hours of sleep per day. Not getting enough sleep means risking heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, accidents, and even diabetes. Getting enough sleep brings many benefits, including better mood, better social skills, better decisions, and even higher IQ.

  • Figure out how much sleep you actually need and plan your schedule around that. Most adults needs 7 to 8 hours per night.
  • Quality also matters. Minimize noise and lights, and create an environment where you enjoy resting.
  • Next, learn about your chronotype.
  • Try to stay away from blue light 30 min before going to bed.
  • Plan time to get ready for bed and to wind down.

2. Express gratitude

Studies show that gratitude is linked to happiness and mental health. When we practice gratitude we take a moment to appreciate what is good in life. In the future lies fear and hope, and in the past, there is nostalgia and regret. Gratitude is for the present moment – a sense of joy we can cultivate by learning to appreciate things.

  • Gratitude can be expressed with a letter that you write to a loved one reflecting on what they did for you or how they impacted you.
  • List all the ways this person made you grateful and be specfic. Tell anecdotes and give examples.
  • Mail the letter, or even better, hand it to them in person.
  • If you don’t want to go the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, you can pick up the phone or tell people in person. Letters are good because you can write without interruptions and really put into words what you are grateful for.
  • Or make a commitment to be grateful in everyday interactions, such as at the baker’s or with your colleagues.

3. Do random acts of kindness for an unsuspecting friend or to a stranger

Random acts of kindness are nice things you do for others without them expecting it from you. It activates positive emotions for you, which will spread to the other person and back.

  • Today, try to do five acts of kindness. It’s not important how long they take and the exercise becomes more effective if you do a variety of things (rather than five times the same act of kindness).
  • It can be anything, from holding a door open, complimenting someone, paying for a cup of coffee for the stranger behind you in line at the coffee shop.
  • It doesn’t need to be for the same person, in fact, it will improve your happiness more if you spread your kindness to multiple people.
  • After each act of kindness, reflect on how it made you feel.

4. Be careful with your expectations about Xmas

Christmas is a time where family comes together to celebrate, but often old conflicts come up. People meet expecting to have a good time, but sometimes find themselves disappointed. Old roles activate that can sabotage a merry Xmas. And finally, families in our generation are often spread across cities, sometimes across countries. Everyone comes with a unique set of hopes and problems, and integrating them can prove difficult.

  • So for this year’s Xmas, adjustment your expectations and bring openness to whatever happens.
  • Try to help when help is needed and learn to take a step back if needed.
  • Practice patience and understanding with your family members.
  • Practice self-compassion when you are having a tough time.

5. Schedule more time to hang out with your friends

There is a mountain of evidence showing that our social bonds and friendships are the best predictors of life satisfaction and even our health.

  • So try to plan the time to hang out with your friends well in advance as unplanned time often fills up with work
  • Call up an old friend and see how they’re doing. Chances are they are happy to hear from you.
  • When hanging out with friends from work, don’t let “work talk” take the majority of the time.
  • I can’t emphasize this enough: At the start of your gathering, banish all phones to a phone shelter (read prison), where they must not break out. Phones are the enemy of real social connection and nothing is worse than a group of friends having dinner with each person individually glued to their phones, checking whatever apps. Nothing says „I don’t care about you more than this random thing on the internet“ than texting or browsing while out with friends. If you’re easily tempted, just leave the phones at home and bring only one for emergencies, like getting a taxi and whatnot.

The start of winter isn’t always a reason for celebration. It’s dark and cold outside, and the Christmas holidays are still a few weeks away. Make sure to take good care of yourself. These 5 suggestions can make your December slightly brighter.

As a bonus, listen to Tori Amos’ mezmerizing live performance of Winter.

And finally, don’t forget that sadness and darkness have a place, too, as we need them to know happiness and light.

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