4 Ways To Be Your Happiest, Sunniest Self, Despite Shorter Days, According to a Happiness Doctor

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Despite the joy-inducing holiday season being right around the corner, plenty of folks are contending with less-than-happy feelings during this literally dark time of year. Since the end of summer, days have been growing steadily shorter, and the recent end of daylight saving time only made it so nightfall comes sooner each day. When we’re exposed to less sunlight, we can experience disruptions in happiness-promoting hormones and neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine, says psychologist and happiness expert Sophia Godkin, PhD, who is also known as the happiness doctor. This means you may well be in need of some happiness tips for winter to help you kick symptoms of seasonal sadness.

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Since we can’t magically bring back that hour of sun we lost to the end of daylight saving time, or fast-forward the calendar to the forever-long sunny days of June, how can we find this wintertime happiness? Well, while losing an hour of sunlight undoubtedly plays into symptoms of seasonal sadness, it's not something we can control. What we can work to control, though, is supporting our circadian rhythm (the body's natural sleep-wake cycle), which the daily change in sunlight disrupts.

Though Dr. Godkin says there is no official recommendation for whether or not to change your sleep schedule following the end of daylight saving time, she recommends sticking as close to your bedtime and wake time as possible. The body likes routine, but that doesn't mean you can't soak up sunlight and other components of happiness-boosting daytime goodness. Even with shorter days, it's possible to maximize daylight exposure during your waking hours. After all, sunshine is connected to vitamin D, which connects to better moods. Beyond that, Dr. Godkin has happiness tips for winter to share so you can feel sunny despite your cold, dark surroundings.

4 happiness tips for winter, according to a happiness doctor

1. Go for a walk while the sun is still out.

“[During shorter days], we're experiencing a reduction of sunlight [and] an imbalance in our circadian rhythm, so we need to find as much exposure to sunlight as we can...especially in the mornings...because we have such a short window of time when there’s sunlight,” Dr. Godkin says.

Ideally, you’d go for a walk to also get your body moving and spend more time soaking up vitamin D, but even just quickly stepping out and standing in the sun will help.

2. Use light therapy.

You can practice light therapy using light therapy lamps designed to mitigate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. The artificial lights (often called SAD lamps) can help make up for the amount of natural light you're not getting as much of in the winter. And, Dr. Godkin says you can use them anywhere and everywhere—whether in your home or at your office.

3. Be extra mindful about practicing self-care.

Dr. Godkin says that the winter months aren't a great time for you to let go of your self-care practices. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. “[Now] is the time to take everything you know and put it into practice,” Dr. Godkins adds. So be mindful of sticking to your eating habits, your sleeping habits, and your skin-care routines during the shorter days.

Paying special attention to the mind-body connection is crucial to being happier during this time, so Dr. Godkin suggests focusing on components of your self-care routine that start within your body, like nutrition and exercise: “Disruption is happening physiologically, so we want to do everything that makes ourselves and our physiology feel better.”

4. Stick to your regular nighttime routine.

Again, while Dr. Godkin reminds that there's no official recommendation for whether or not to adjust your sleeping schedule following the end of daylight saving time, she does suggest keeping as much about your nighttime routine as possible in tact. But, with a caveat: “You really need to tune into yourself and see how your body is responding to those changes,” Dr. Godkin says. “Your body is refining its cycle, so...I would say just try to maintain some [consistency].”

Even if you do shift your sleep times, you can support that consistency with other components of your bedtime routine or even sleeping environment. Ultimately, it's best to listen to your body for cues.

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