We’re more than halfway through January now, which for most of us is a blessed relief. Generally, people hate January. There are good reasons for this. For a start, Christmas has come and gone, and everyone’s all out of both goodwill to all mankind and money, a situation compounded by the fact that January always feels about nine weeks long, and never seems to have a paycheck in it. Plus, most of the bad weather associated with winter usually comes in January, like some delayed Christmas present from someone who hates you.
Worse still, any bad news event in the first fortnight of January—and there’s no shortage of that this January—seems colossally magnified to apocalyptic proportions, as if it’s pronouncing judgement on us all. Bad news in January can’t fail to seem like an omen, a gloomy portent for the next 12 months. We had a new year. A fresh start. An unblotted copybook. And now this. Well done, humans. January’s not just cold and lonely, but it can feel ominous, too.
Worst of all, however, January brings us face to face with our failings. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. Many of them, by now, will be broken, serving only to underscore our failings as we head into a new year. It’s as if even our little rituals, our magical spells of self-improvement, have proved worthless.
However, there is one ritual I try to do every January and it never fails to enrich the month, and the year. It takes two minutes and you can do it right now. Here it is:
1. Take your phone out.
2. Scroll through the contacts.
I bet that within a minute you’ll hit the name of someone you really, really like—maybe even someone you love—whom you didn’t see at all in 2014. (In fact, I’m betting that if you scroll through all your contacts, it won’t just be one person who falls into this category, but many.)
You didn’t see them, not because you’ve fallen out with them or stopped liking them, or anything dramatic like that. You didn’t see them simply because life got in the way. You were busy. They were busy. You know how it is.
Plus, a part of your brain also thought “Well, that person will absolutely and definitely be around forever, so I can just leave it for a while,” as the brain does. In other words, you made an excuse, and you made up a reason for sticking to it. Which is fine, but as we all know, that person won’t be around forever. In fact, one day, they won’t be around at all, and neither will you. But at the moment, you both currently are. Can you see where this is going?
So here’s what I recommend you do:
3. Call that person.
Say hello. Don’t text them, and definitely don’t reach out via Facebook, or any other social media. Because, as we all know, people are different there. They’re not as open, not as honest. And “liking” their status or making any other faux-connection online is not the same as seeing people face to face, finding out where they are in their lives, what they really think and feel. It’s not the same as seeing people smile or laugh, it’s not the same as having them put you in a comedy headlock or slap you on the back. Neither should it be mistaken for them putting their arms around you.
The digital age has reduced our cherished networks of family and friends, in all their glorious, life-affirming messiness, to a contacts book. A drop-down menu of humans, with a drop-down menu of responses, as if our emotional lives can be reduced to the toolbar in a role-playing game; a simple algorithm, rather than a complex and ever-changing emotional landscape. And you know what? For a lot of the time, that’s just fine. We’re all busy people, and we all have numerous demands on our time. But in January—the coldest and loneliest of months—make that call. Make an effort to meet up with the people you really value. Clink glasses. Laugh at rude waiters. Sing something stupid at karaoke together. Remind yourselves what your friendship was before it was reduced to “likes” and tweets. I promise you, you won’t regret it.
I hope at least some of that helps. It always, always helps me. And if reading that just made you even more curmudgeonly about January, it could have been worse. At least I didn’t tell you to do any exercise.