Why art is the most important thing you can do in January

Activate the creative side of you brain to make sure you have the right type of blues

We often feel like we accomplished something, even if it is just colouring within the lines.

We often feel like we accomplished something, even if it is just colouring within the lines.

 

There are very few of us who don’t feel a little more down in January. The weather is dark, the money is gone and all the festivities of Christmas are over. A range of research suggests that more people become depressed in January than in any other month. So if we still have to wait months for the energy and sunshine of spring to come, what can we do?

One answer is to feed the right sides of our brains. Although all neural networks are inter-connected, generally the left side of our brains focus on thoughts and language and rationality. It can also be the focus of worries and negative thinking.

In the modern world, we tend to use the left side of our brain a lot. We work at computers. We commute with the radio or podcasts on. We are seldom without our smartphones in our hands. Even therapy is often focused on talking. The right side of our brains are focused on the artistic, spontaneous, emotional aspects of living. The right side opens up lots of wonderful spaces and most of us could benefit from living in this side our brain a little more. The thing that reaches the right side of our brain the quickest is art.

Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, proposed that there are five elements to psychological wellbeing: positive emotion, engagement, accomplishment, positive relationships and meaning. Art can touch on each of these aspects of wellbeing.

Art can contribute to our sense our happiness. It is different things for different people are can be a very emotional experience. Few of us can watch a John Lewis Christmas ad without tearing up or listen to Elvis without tapping our feet. Art goes straight to emotional core. Because it bypasses language, art can even reach straight to the unconscious. Not what we think we should feel but what we actually do. Often things that have been “unnameable” are brought to clarity by something artistic. These unspoken feelings are often who we are, when we stop the litany of what we do.

Non-stress

Engaging even in the simplest of artistic endeavours can be enjoyable. The sales in adult colouring books are proof of that. We don’t have to be Monet to hold a colouring pencil. But we can get lost, in a non-thinking, non-verbal, “non-stressy” way of being for a while. We don’t have to know the saxophone, to immerse ourselves in listening to music. Anyone who dances even a little bit will talk about how it takes them “out of themselves”.

We often feel like we accomplished something, even if it is just colouring within the lines. My kitchen was recently painted. The sense of new colours, new light and accomplishment has lifted my mood since (even if I did very little of the work!). It feels like we are doing something for “ourselves” not just for our jobs or our roles.

Art opens up friendships because we it often happens in a shared a communal emotional space. The audience leaving a play is not just a hundred strangers. We feel joined to each other, even if only for the few minutes as we walk through the lobby.

Art brings meaning to most ordinary things. We see the everyday in new light. Seamus Heaney probably said it best (in Postscript): “As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways/ And catch the heart off guard and blow it open”.

Art takes us out of the humdrum toil of routine and notices what is special. Isn’t this the definition of meaning?

That is why the smart people at the First Fortnight Festival hit upon a genius idea. They realised that more than anything we need art in January. To understand ourselves, to express ourselves, to feel better about ourselves. Once again this year, they have a stunning programme of challenging, original, hilarious and insightful events. These often have the theme of mental health but they could just call the theme life, love, sadness and jokes. All of this will feed us, in exactly the way we need to be fed.

At this darkest time of the year, we need light. Art can be that light.

Dr Keith Gaynor is a senior clinical psychologist at Saint John of God Hospital, Stillorgan

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.