The Fallible Mind

Emotion, perception, and other tricks of the brain

Banishing Winter Doldrumns

Sing to Yourself, and Lift Your Spirits

Thanksgiving. Christmas. New Year's Eve. And now Valentine's Day and President's weekend have passed and you didn't find yourself showered with party invites or, worse, had no one to share these celebrations with. Boo hoo, you feel left out and sorry for yourself. Unless things start looking up, you'd rather not even think about your social life let alone a romantic one. Take heart, many people feel let down and blue this time of year.

Cultural expectations run incredibly high to be with someone during the crush of Winter's holidays, if not with friends or "someone special" then at least with family. Even the most optimistic singleton sometimes can't brace against the powerful force that tradition exerts on one's psyche. It insists that you have a cornucopia of communal experience, yet here you are with nobody to keep you company.

Instead of brooding, get out there. Enjoy yourself anyway and don't worry about not having anyone in tow; there is nothing more attractive than the sight of someone enjoying himself. Everybody has some place to go, even if only with the crowd on the street. A secret to regulating you mood is that if you feign cheer, your mood will turn cheerful. A fundamental theory of emotion asks a songbird, "Do you sing because you are happy, or are you happy because you sing?"

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The answer is the latter, and it takes little effort to cheer yourself up. Step outside and say "Hi" to passersby. Savor the smell of fireplaces burning at night in your neighborhood. Participate in life around you. And try singing to yourself. As silly as this may seem, you will be amazed at how it makes you feel. Loneliness can be conquered by the company of others, by the simple act of reaching out. Everywhere there is a look or a smile if only you are willing to see it. It is just as easy to put yourself in the frame as it is to stand outside of it and feel sorry for yourself.

There is nothing wrong with being single, of course—it is merely a different state of existence from being coupled. Still, for those who wish they were coupled but aren't yet, cultural expectations can be vexing because they harp on our deep longings. You may have not gained your heart's desire, but that is no reason to make yourself anxious. Besides coming across as unattractive, why should your happiness be contingent on the absence or presence of someone else?

Why not admit to yourself that no one viable is on the horizon right now and let things happen in their own time? Worrying about the future only spoils what is happening right now. Don't allow cultural expectations to drive your schedule and thereby drive you nuts. If you are not in synch, so be it-but don't let being out of synch turn you out of sorts or, worse, willfully out of step. Being bitter and antisocial hurts only yourself.

Complaints of having no place to go or nobody to talk to is often a delusion of people who refuse to see what their options really are. They turn down what company is offered because it doesn't meet their ideals. Such a choice merely achieves the opposite of what you intend and guarantees that you end up alone. Accept what company others are willing to offer and make yourself pleasant to be with by being friendly or simply a good ear rather than a gossip.

Reputation is shaped by the company of others. Rather than bemoan your unattached state or complain that not enough of the "right" people seek you out, leave others with a favorable impression so that they think well of you. Gossip may travel at the speed of light, but imagination travels faster than sight. Give others reason when they speak of you to speak well and commend your company. Ultimately, being wanted will ward off the worst of the winter blues.

 

Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., is a neurologist best known for bringing synesthesia back to mainstream science. His latest book is Wednesday Is Indigo Blue.

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