Today and next week, our “12 Steps” series takes a hiatus to acknowledge Christmas and New Year’s. In a nod to the “12” in “12 Steps” (and to the “Twelve Days of Christmas”), the holiday posts will consist of Top 12 lists instead of the standard Top 10.
Today, you don’t have to worry about whether to greet others with “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” because everyone knows it is Christmas, a day that “comes but once a year.”
Hopefully, days when sobriety and “merriness” coincide are considerably more frequent in your life. “Merry” means “happy,” but with added connotations of lightheartedness, low inhibitions, and high spirits. You don’t need chemical help to get into such a mood: those who indulge in daily merriness—engaging only the natural chemicals in their brains—have longer and healthier lives. Here are a dozen ideas you can practice to bring a merry spirit into every day.
Laughter really is good medicine; it reduces your stress, strengthens your immune system, and releases endorphins for a natural “high” with no side effects—though if you keep it up daily, it definitely will become a (good) habit. Choose wholesome laughter activators: clean-joke collections, classic slapstick movies, even kids’ jokes-and-riddles books. Spend time with real kids if you can, and absorb their habit of laughing on reflex. There are even adult “laughter clubs” and “laughter yoga” groups that regularly practice laughing for laughing’s sake.
What was your favorite activity (emphasis on the active part) as a kid? You may be too big now for standard playground equipment, but you can still swing high, run barefoot through a lawn sprinkler, build a sand castle, or roll down a hill. (If you have any physical concerns, check with your doctor; chances are she’ll confirm that play is the best exercise.)
3. Get Out!
While indoor exercise is good for you, outdoor exercise carries additional psychological benefits: new things seen, full sensory connectedness with the larger world, touches of nature even in the city. You may think it’s “too rainy,” “too cold,” “too hot,” or “too dangerous in this neighborhood,” but more often than not those are just excuses. A little careful planning can nearly always circumvent any problems.
Two (or three or four) heads are merrier than one. Whether you’re jogging, eating lunch, or nature-watching in the park, sharing it with a friend (sober, of course) means more fun and more laughter.
Choose the stairs over the elevator, the bike over the bus, the pickup game over the television. Even a small increase in vigorous physical activity means lowered depression and a lightened mood.
6. Eat Up!
Here are some foods to incorporate into your daily diet which “feed” better emotional (and, of course, physical) health: asparagus; avocado; bananas; cherry tomatoes; dark chocolate (no more than one small piece a day); eggs; Greek yogurt; oranges; potatoes; salmon; skim milk; spinach; strawberries; tuna; turkey; walnuts; whole grains. Eat them baked or grilled (or, with the fruits and vegetables, raw), and limit the sauces and spreads. And stay hydrated with fresh water.
Being constantly on the go and fretting about the next task drives many people to drink—or to opiates to kill the physical pain inflicted by stress. Set aside half an hour to sit still, take in the world, and just be. During work hours, take all your allotted breaks, and make them conversation breaks or exercise breaks—or fresh-water breaks—instead of coffee breaks.
If you’re sleeping only five or six hours a night, chances are your mood and your daily functioning are suffering. Do not take sleeping pills, even over-the-counter ones, before fully discussing the situation with your doctor; not only do chemical sleep aids often become an addiction themselves, but most of them prove a poor substitute for natural sleep in any but very occasional use. Instead (besides going to bed on time), keep your bedroom dark and quiet, stay out of it during non-sleep activities, and avoid vigorous activity (physical or mental) in your last two waking hours of the day.
9. Be Yourself!
The spirit of merriness will be impossible to find if you’re trying to force yourself into someone else’s plan for your life. If your family insists you get an MBA while your heart yearns toward becoming a hairdresser, you may have to swallow your fears of “disappointing everyone” and accept the short-term flak of taking the best route for you. Of course, you shouldn’t set out blindly without objective advice, careful consideration, and a solid plan of action; but once these are in place, your days will be far merrier in the long run if you follow your heart.
Music has healing and energizing vibrations like few other sounds in this world. Turn on the radio, or call up your favorite tunes online, and soak it in. Consider joining a sing-along group or looking up a free concert series. Let yourself go, and let your spirit take flight on the wings of music!
Physical contact does wonders for the mood. The snuggling doesn’t have to be sexual; letting a child sit on your lap, petting a purring cat, hugging a friend or teammate in the joy of camaraderie, or even snuggling alone under an afghan will get your natural feel-good chemicals flowing in force.
The worst thing you can do to your spirit of merriness is feel guilty about using it too little or too much. Open the doors for it, let it have its way with you, and shut out all “shoulds” and “musts.”