It’s cold and dark out there – and it doesn’t feel much better in here either. But help is at hand. From baking rude biscuits to walking backwards, try one of these quick, cheap and (moderately) silly ways to beat the gloom
Do it all now. Put the tree up, snack exclusively on Quality Street and only watch bad films about big city girls who return to the countryside for Christmas and fall in love with a nice local man. Everything is bad, you need this.
Unfairly viewed as naff and dated, fondues are overdue a revival. The real question is how did dipping snacks in molten cheese with friends ever fall out of fashion? Pro tip: use cut up bits of crumpet. It’s like a sponge.
Discover the life-changing power of an electric blanket. They start at about £20; they finish with extreme cosiness. Wrap it around your shoulders when working from home, or put it under the duvet before going to bed.
A sure way to build up the resilience needed to get you through these challenging times is to watch terrifying films. According to a 2020 study, fans of horror movies appeared to have lower psychological distress and increased levels of psychological resilience. “Through fiction,” according to the study, “people can learn how to escape dangerous predators, navigate novel social situations, and practise their mind-reading and emotional regulation skills.”
Make like Mrs Beeton and enjoy the simple pleasure of a perfect jelly. Buy a vintage Victorian jelly mould made of glass, stoneware or copper and have fun with layers of colour. Throw in some edible flowers and savour the paradox of a jiggly yet sculptural creation.
There is no greater sensation available to a man than returning from a winter walk and realising your beard is moist with condensation. Start now and you’ll be sufficiently beardy by Christmas, and everyone you know will buy you beard oil as a present. Lucky you.
On a crisp winter’s day, there is no finer companion than 82-year-old actor Seán Barrett. His sublime narration of Mick Herron’s Slough House series, about a bunch of MI5 outcasts, will bring cheer to the gloomiest days.
Take 10 minutes to put pencil to paper and not give a damn what happens next. There’s only one rule: no scribbling out.
Throw yourself into eating earlier evening meals coated in darkness, attaining the feeling of pleasant omniscience granted by the first gulp of your second glass of red at 6pm, rather than waiting until 8pm.
Enjoy the absurd Jenga of carrying a sofa down stairs, the weepy nostalgia as forgotten items are packed away, the takeaway you’ve earned in the evening. It will bond you forever.
And keep it up all winter. A kitsch bauble is for life, not just for Christmas. The memento mori skull detail from Holbein’s painting of The Ambassadors this year is highly recommended, available from the National Gallery shop. It’s a perfect reminder to enjoy the moment.
Turn around and start walking backwards. Begin with 10 steps and build up the distance as you take your brain out of its comfort zone and keep it guessing.
Walk to work a different way, switch to a more nutritious breakfast cereal, or get off the bus one stop early. According to New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin, we repeat about 40% of our habits every day – now’s the time to try something new.
There is nothing better than lip-syncing to a power ballad while making unbroken eye contact with someone. Whack on Total Eclipse of the Heart or Freak Like Me or Dancing in the Dark, and get miming. Do not let your family video you. This is a safe space.
Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud too deep, to compare with the misery endured and the corruption and cruelty perpetrated in Bleak House, Charles Dickens’s ninth novel. Published between 1852 and 1853 and set in London, all living hell is here – squalor, mystery, death, tragedy and a crooked legal system. It is impossible to read about the plight of those caught in its web and not be reminded that things could be a lot worse and appreciate what is better in your own life.
A wonky face or an inspirational message drawn on the peel of a banana is a joyous bit of silliness. Satsumas work, too. For the hygiene conscious, edible marker pens are available.
Here are the benefits: your mind feels less foggy, you feel in control, organised and superior to your fellow slovenly humans. Don’t have a car? Offer to wash your neighbour’s, and score double on the feelgood factor.
Purchase food in shops where the majority of products have no English on the packaging, so eating what you buy is an adventure. It might be black limes, a box of tamarinds or a rosewater drink with vermicelli pieces. It’s like travelling without travelling.
Follow the advice of Mark Twain. “The best way to cheer yourself is to try to cheer someone else up,” he wrote in a notebook in 1896. However, if you are going to do something kind, like carrying your elderly neighbour’s shopping into their house or slipping a waiter a whopping cash tip, make sure other people are watching as witnessed acts of kindness are also contagious.
Go where no person has ever gone (since 1979) and pick a dish from the popular Twitter account @70sdinnerparty. You could even gather a gang and make one dish each. It’s one way to guarantee a memorable dinner party.
It is not only delighting others that cheers you up, you have to focus on the trick in order to learn how to perform it – and that takes your mind off your troubles. The satisfaction when you do get it right gives you a further dopamine hit.
You may not want to and may dread the rebuff, but you’ve got nothing to lose and, paradoxically, the doubt and dread can make you feel more adventurous.
Ironing clothes is the worst chore and should be banned. Using a handheld steamer, however, is très exciting and makes you feel like you’re backstage at Paris fashion week. Watch the wrinkles disappear! The ones on your shirts, anyway.
A two-tone lip (bright red on the top, pink on the bottom) is a punchy way to lift your countenance. Also no one will guess the real reason you’re wearing two lipsticks is simply because you are indecisive.
A prepper for our straitened times, Squishy the Canadian chipmunk is living its best life. Follow the Chipmunks of TikTok account and see this furry hoarder’s cheek pouches expand to three times the size of its little head as it puts away one hazelnut after another. Wholesome.
Even in our favourite cookbooks, we often only make three or four of the dishes. Become a militant glutton: start at the beginning and work through, to expand your palate.
It’s satisfyingly simple and anything that requires a tool called a “mushroom” is instantly appealing. Clashing mends are cooler than invisible. Go for hot pink or turquoise wool and turn the moth holes on your dreary woollies into a feature.
Here’s what you do. You go for a walk. You keep on walking. You find an empty area of remote woodland (the bit of the park behind the bushes will do), and then you scream. Let rip. Release your winter demons, and return home glowing.
False lashes are glamorous and they are fun. The thick, dense options? Not so much. These will impair your vision so you spend the day bumping into lamp-posts and scaring small children, so keep them au naturel. MAC Cosmetics have great false lashes – the 84 Goddess True or False are so natural looking most people will (enviously) mistake them for your own.
When reviewers first listen to a superstar’s album, they sit for the duration in a sealed, distraction-free room. You can recreate this oddly mindful experience with an old favourite and pretend you’re hearing it fresh for the very first time.
Distract yourself with newly published titles from three formidably gifted women. In The Light We Carry, former First Lady Michelle Obama “shares practical wisdom and powerful strategies for staying hopeful and balanced”. Patti Smith’s A Book of Days is a year of her life in 365 photos, and Shirley Hazzard: A Writing Life is a biography of the much acclaimed Australian-American novelist by Brigitta Olubus.
Discover the disproportionate pleasure of restoring a bobbly cardigan, or rug, to its former pristine glory with the electric debobbler. Therapeutic, mindful and money-saving, for maximum satisfaction, do before and after patches and experience a high akin to that experienced by a Wordler completing in two.
Stamping rude, personalised messages on to biscuits – “You Disgust Me”, say – is huge, childish fun. You can buy a set of alphabet stamps for under £20 and Nigella’s butter cut-out biscuits recipe makes for crisply clear obscenities.
The best antidote to the news is whittling a spoon. It’s ancient and meditative, and connects you to your ancestors. The tools are cheap, while DIY offcuts or fallen winter branches make good material. Bring the campfire to your home, but not literally.
Relish the joy of seeing them return (almost) to their pristine boxfresh glory. Tip: remove loose soles, put laces in a pillow case, add a towel or similar to the wash so that the trainers don’t damage the washing machine.
You are. You just washed the trainers that have been stinking out your closet for months. You’ve survived a tough few years: job threats, rising prices, the world gone mad… High-five yourself on a regular basis. It’s like putting an oxygen mask on yourself first – help yourself in order to help others.
True connoisseurs of fashion have always known that the cardigan is exactly where it’s at. You can undo a cardigan whenever you enter a warm room. You can roll up the sleeves and look like a supply art teacher. A single garment offers a million looks, all of them wonderfully unthreatening.
Pound for pound, the most satisfying piece of housework. Take half an hour to first declutter (sorry, impenetrable wall of six-year-old condiments), remove all the shelving and scrub with hot soapy water, then take joy every time you open your fridge door.
Climb the highest building, mountain, viewing platform, crane. Get to the top and take in the vista. It’s wonderful for putting yourself in context.
Impress your friends and yourself by spending five minutes a day watching one of the many YouTube tutorials available before burning through every marble on the board.
Put them in a big bowl of hot – but not scalding – soapy water, occasionally lifting them out to shave off – with a foot file not a razor – the dead skin from your soles. All this while watching Netflix. As long as you don’t end up tipping the entire bowl of water all over the floor, it makes for a very satisfying evening.
And get high on the paradoxical pleasure of negative emotion and the clarity it brings.
One of fashion’s favourite brands, Ganni, has collaborated with Submission Beauty to launch biodegradable glitter – which actually looks chic and fabulous on grownups. Unless, of course, you have sparklophobia (yes, a phobia of glitter is a real thing. Who knew?)
Indulge in some armchair cake art with an online tutorial on how to make a novelty cake from the likes of Tasty Plus or April’s Baker. A rainbow cake disguised as a loo roll, a starry sky cake, feel the briers of the world slip away as you lose yourself in these seemingly effortless creations.
Intensely dry, parched hair? You need mayonnaise, eggs (raw, not fried or scrambled), rosemary oil, olive oil and honey. Yes, it’s a little messy. Yes, you will smell like a salad dressing (hence it’s best as a pre-shampoo treatment), but making it is strangely therapeutic and post blow-out your hair will look and feel amazing.
Hand-cut with no picture on the box, sometimes no edges and pieces deliberately missing in the middle, these puzzles by PAR are fiendishly challenging and highly rewarding.
If you haven’t yet seen it, try Big Boys (Channel 4), the story of a bereaved young student going to university and making friends – a warm, gag-a-second tribute to the fundamental decency of human beings. Don’t miss Glass Onion (Netflix), released to streaming just in time for Christmas. It’s a sequel to Knives Out, the hit comedy murder-mystery, with Daniel Craig returning as the world’s best detective and a new cast of A-list potential suspects, including Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe and Edward Norton. It may be set on a sunny luxury island, but there’s no more fitting time of year to watch a dinner party descend into bickering and lovely, hilarious chaos.
For too long we have lived under the tyranny of “decision making”. Just once, and just for the hell of it, abandon it. Order (or cook) two different cuisines on one night and avoid all conflict. Fuse your own foods and taste the chow-mein-pizza-flavoured freedom.
Did you know that Toblerone do a bar that weighs 4.5kg? Do with that information what you will.
We’ve all been told about the wellbeing boost of plunging into cold water, wild swimming and turning your shower down to freezing. But who wants to be cold? Book yourself into a sauna. Let the heat and steam soak deep into your bones and sweat out all your worries.
Not in the dating sense, but in the get your feet off the floor sense. Find the biggest, strongest friend you have (ideally a rugby player or wrestler) and ask them to wrap their arms around you and lift you into the air. You’ll feel like a small child with your feet dangling. And you will definitely get the giggles.
Walk into the centre of your nearest park or field. Ideally a very muddy one. Take your shoes and socks off, roll up your jeans. Wriggle your toes. Feel the cold oozy joy. Stride out. Enjoy the sense of connecting with Mother Earth through the soles of your feet.
Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, just stop! Spend a few minutes looking around and take in every tiny detail. Marvel at the beauty of our world. It feels gloomy now, but it soon won’t.
Words by Emma Beddington, Funmi Fetto, Genevieve Fox, Stuart Heritage, Ursula Kenny, Martin Love, Rebecca Nicholson, Séamas O’Reilly, Rhik Samadder, Amelia Tait and Eva Wiseman
Styling by Hope Lawrie; models Santana at Premier Model Management and Jarrakeh at Mustard Models; hair and makeup by Shani Mushington using Ganni X, Danessa Myricks and MAC; mohair cardigan by Marni at Mr Porter and yellow T-shirt by Toast; red silk jersey top by Akris, pink trousers by Ami Paris and earrings by Toolally; purple rollneck by Cos