Yale’s Happiness Expert Says ‘Fresh-Start Energy’ Can Help You Create New Meaningful Traditions

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A top mental-health coping strategy for life in quarantine is re-creating your old routine to help you retain a sense of normality. Except...things aren't normal. A lot of us now are sharing office spaces with our partner, or roommates, or cohabitating with our parents for the first time in years. To that end, if it doesn't feel plausible to re-create your routine under such abnormal conditions, you may benefit from embracing fresh-start energy to form new, joyful traditions.

In a recent Facebook Q&A session, psychologist Laurie Santos, PhD, host of The Happiness Lab podcast and professor of Yale’s viral happiness course, pointed out that now is actually the perfect time to create new rituals and traditions as a way to feel (ironically) closer than ever to our loved ones.

"We can harness what are called 'fresh starts,'" says Dr. Santos. "Wonderful research by Katie Milken and others shows that these new situations and these new moments of fresh starts allow us to form habits better."

Whether your current primary objective is to fill your schedule with learning experiences during isolation, foster a sense of connection with your loved ones, or maintain your already strong bonds while you wait things out, this concept of embracing fresh-start energy to cement new habits can benefit you.

"Think about creative experiences for your family. Maybe you start cooking dinner in a different way. Maybe you all take a yoga class. Maybe you start a gratitude practice." —psychologist Laurie Santos, PhD

"This is the time to think about creative experiences you could come up with for your family," says Dr. Santos. "Maybe you start cooking dinner with your family in a different way. Maybe you start Zooming Grandma and Grandpa into your Zoom meetings. Maybe you all engage in a yoga class or some crazy exercise together. Maybe this is the time to start gratitude: three good things that you list at dinner with your family."

Feel free to get really silly with it. In my household, for example, dessert before dinner has become an unapologetic norm. We have bar in our basement that we call St. Nicks, and I get dolled up before heading down at happy hour and blast Frank Sinatra while my dad makes cocktails in his sweatsuit. My mother, father, and I drink about 10 cups of tea within a day, with almost compulsive regularity. ("Do you want a cup of tea?" "Again? Yeah.") And I've joined a virtual Zumba class with my mother and like three women named Dolores. The new traditions are bonding, joyfully ridiculous, and now part of the regular fabric of our lives.

"All these things are easier to start now, because we don't really have norms of what our families are supposed to be doing, because it's so new," says Dr. Santos. "And that provides this new opportunity, if you can harness it, to put good things in place for yourself and for your family."

No need to limit the scope of your fresh-start energy to family members, either; creating rituals with chosen family and friends you don't live with is just as important. So spend Saturdays enjoying brunch in costume jewelry and faux fur coats with your best friend over FaceTime. Go wild with your fresh-start energy and ideate any number of new meaningful traditions with any number of meaningful people in your life.

Still feel free to re-create parts of your old routine if doing so makes you feel normal, happy, and comforted. But also recognize the silver-lining expanse of possibilities this new, temporary world offers, and how we can explore those possibilities together. After all, we can all use a fresh start when things feel so rotten.

Can't bear a to-do list right now? This is why short- and long-term quarantine goals might be the better way to keep it rolling. And for a little levity, this is your virtual connection style, based on your star sign.

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