Southern Virginia Psychology Professors: Seven Suggestions for Beating the Winter Blues

In light of Punxsutawney Phil’s recent prediction that we are in for six more weeks of winter, Southern Virginia Dean of Students Michael Gibbons and Professor of Psychology Chad Kelland offered students seven suggestions, backed by science, to beat the “winter blues.”

The presentation took place at Southern Virginia’s weekly University Convocation, Friday at 11 a.m. in the Knight Arena. Students, faculty and professional staff members in attendance also received a personal “happiness kit,” containing chocolate, a clementine and a blank thank you card to fill out and give to someone.

Kelland began by giving students an overview of the science behind happiness, noting the power of positive thinking in rewiring the brain to be happier.

“Neurons that fire together are wired together,” Kelland explained. “When we think happy — when we think positive — that part of the brain is creating a very strong neural network. Vice versa when we’re doing negative things and feel poorly.”

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Chad Kelland

Kelland also noted the important distinction between pursuing a meaningful, happy life, and settling for merely a pleasant existence.

“A pleasant life is just waking up, doing your thing, maybe working at a job, maybe calling a friend, maybe watching some Netflix, but it’s not rich; it’s not full,” Kelland said. “You can be much happier with a meaningful life.”

Dean Gibbons the gave specific suggestions, backed by science, to help live a more meaningful life and beat the “winter blues” that often accompany cold weather and shortened daylight hours during winter months.

“If you have depression or anxiety, that’s a very real thing,” Gibbons noted before going through his list of tips. “We’re not going to pretend that what we’re going to talk about is going to cure that, but it will help regardless of what your condition is.”

Below is a summary of Dean Gibbon’s seven suggestions for a happier life:

One: Find ways to be challenged

School is not supposed to be easy. If this were easy for you, it wouldn’t be as fun. Science actually backs that idea.”

Two: Things do not bring lasting happiness

“This is what researchers call the hedonic treadmill — we’re always chasing something that we can’t quite catch,” Gibbons said. “If we think that our material possessions and goals of what we want to have are somehow going to make us happy, we’re actually already losing the game.”

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Michael Gibbons

Three: Invest in relationships

“There really is no such thing as a happy hermit according to science. We’ve got to have people in our lives, so find a way to do that.”

Four: Practice compassion and kindness

“It sounds like something you would learn in seminary, but there’s science behind this. As we look out for other people, instead of ourselves, we are happier. We are actually changing our brain structure; we’re building a happy, compassionate brain by just practicing this.”

Five: Give

“When we’re thinking about something for ourselves, that’s nice — I like my iPhone; I get it. But studies show that you are happier if you’re giving something away.”

Six: Live your faith

“Research shows us that if you have a value system based on religion or faith, and if you live that, you are a happier person. You can’t live contrary to you value system and be okay with it. If we live our faith, we are happier.”

Seven: Give thanks

“We have never lived in such a blessed time. And I’m not saying we’re all complainers, because life is hard. But can we just see how good we’ve got it? When we do that regularly, we feel good. Life is good when we have gratitude.”

After concluding, Gibbons directed those in attendance to pick up a personal packet containing snacks and a thank you note as they exited. “What we’re asking you to do is experience this,” he said. “Write that card, give it to somebody, and the research shows that you will be happy.”

While Friday’s presentation focused on general suggestions for a more meaningful and happy life, Gibbons and Kelland both counseled those struggling depression or anxiety to stop by Southern Virginia’s Student Support Center.