We have all been there. The presents are unwrapped, the dinner leftovers are boxed up nicely in the fridge, the carolers have stopped singing, and the kids have been relentlessly playing with the same Rogue Hoverboard for the last 24 hours. All of a sudden, the prospect of the next six days before New Year’s Eve feels like such a drag. It is a little too many days to ruminate over Grinch aunt’s latest back-handed compliment or cross over all the goals you might have, err, not accomplished this year. Add in a dash of seasonal affective disorder and we are headed for a long “romjul,” what the Norwegians call the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Emily Esfahani Smith, journalist and author of The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed With Happiness, notes that there are a few things you can do to combat the feeling of aimlessness during this time, starting with being mindful about what it is that is affecting the mood. “It’s the holidays and there’s so much anticipation around it, plus so much to do to get ready for it,” she says. “Then it all happens, it’s over, and it leaves people feeling a little emotionally hungover. You’re overwhelmed by all these friends, family and activities, and then all of a sudden, those things are not there.”
Fortunately, finding meaning in life is in the small things, as a growing body of research in psychology suggests. One study found that teenagers who did chores around the house felt a stronger sense of purpose in life, simply because they felt they were contributing to something bigger: their family. We are by no means suggesting you should spend romjul alternating between the dishes and the vacuum cleaner, but we are saying maybe it is the perfect time to reflect on how you can intentionally tune in to your surroundings and get reenergized for the New Year. After all, research suggests that 40 percent of people’s happiness comes from the choices they make. Below, Esfahani Smith’s recommendations:
“Reflect” is basically synonym for keeping a journal — and actually writing on it. But if that is too cumbersome, lean in to the uncomfortable feeling of no-plans, no-purpose and make mental notes of all you accomplished and learned. “[Think about] what you accomplished, how you grew, what were the setbacks and what you learned from them. I look forward to that time because it’s downtime. Even if you’re not officially off work, people aren’t on email, it’s quiet, and I get a lot of reading done. A couple of times I’ve spent that time on a silent retreat, literally just trying to be quiet, reflect, read. I keep a journal and write in it.”
2. Get Involved
Psychologist Mark Sullivan said happiness comes from belonging and serving something bigger than yourself. In other words, pause the Netflix binge session and the Instagram scroll and tune in to others around you, whether that is volunteering for an afternoon at a local organization that serves the community, or spending more time with family. Research also shows that a sense of community is one of the biggest ways to reclaim the feeling of jolly. “It’s the perfect way to engage with transcendence. There are all the religious services, all the music, and all the rituals that surround this time, that make that easy.”
3. Set Goals
Go back to the drawing board and start something new, whether that is simply renewal of your mind, or the proverbial summer bod. “Think about your New Year’s resolutions and what you want to accomplish. It’s all about prioritizing what’s important to you, and reflecting back on the last year, where we might’ve not prioritized what was important, or focused on other things and didn’t put enough effort into making our relationships better.”
4. Engage in Story-Telling
A research study found that even simply cheering up a friend is an activity that brings deeper meaning to people’s lives. As one of Esfahani Smith’s most important pillars of meaning, story telling also means attaching a narrative to your life, where you have been and where you want to go. “It also means engaging in stories in the most banal sense of the word: around the holiday dinner table, retelling the stories of nativity, and all things like that.” It might also be the perfect time to start a blog.
5. Revamp Your Beauty Routine
Resolve to start the new year with a fresh outlook on life and a fresh face. By this point in the year, your skin might be feeling a little dehydrated — whether due to the second serving of mulled wine at the in-laws, or lack of humidity in the winter air, you decide. Carve some time to go on a hunt for thicker moisturizers and introduce a retinol to your routine for a boost of smoothness and radiance. Plus consider putting the phone away as you reflect and recharge. The benefits will be two-fold: You’ll find more time to be present with loved ones, as well as avoid the negative effect of blue light pollution on your skin and your sleep cycle. Perhaps you’ll even find you don’t need to be on it as much this coming year, and you’ll find more time to make all these practices a part of your daily New Year’s resolutions.
All in all, when the year ends, a lot of things go with it — your to-do list, your shopping list, the sparkly holiday clothes —but just like Esfahani Smith says, “It can actually be a very productive period if you bring an awareness to it.”