Go Ahead and Celebrate the Small Things—It’ll Boost Your Mental Health

Celebrate the wins (no matter how small) to shake off the pandemic doldrums.

At the beginning of the pandemic, back when we were all whipping our coffees and perfecting our sourdough starters, Ottawa-based recruiter Jackie Johnson and her husband went on a beach getaway—in their living room. “We were actually trying to plan our wedding at that time, and we realized we wouldn’t be able to go on a honeymoon,” Johnson says. “So we took the date that we had expected to be down south and said, ‘Let’s try to replicate it however we can.’” Johnson cranked up the heat in her house, bought a tropical-themed photo backdrop to set the scene and served cocktails in hurricane glasses, all to mimic an all-inclusive resort. “It was fun and we were able to take ourselves out of the pandemic for a little bit.”

Since then, Johnson and her husband have planned many celebratory days while stuck at home. A highlight was their version of a music festival, which they affectionally dubbed “Fauxchella.” Johnson and her husband rounded out the at-home celebrations with a SoCal-inspired menu (featuring dishes like fish tacos) and music by the couple’s dream festival lineup. Planning these themed days has allowed the couple to “enjoy the pieces that we could from home,” she says. “It made us really happy and brought us out of the monotony of working from our dining room table.”

Johnson isn’t the only one inviting levity into the monotony of pandemic life. Elaisha Jade, the founder of the mindfulness and meditation consulting company Your Mindful, recently bought herself a cake from the grocery store just to celebrate making it through another week. Jade has been engineering celebrations, often as simple as dancing around her living room, to “ensure my days aren’t filled with doom and gloom.” When the Omicron variant ushered in new restrictions, as well as feelings of anxiety and isolation, Jade decided to launch her “Year to 30.” It was a way to celebrate various milestones leading up to her 30th birthday—small things like cutting her hair short (she wanted to feel freer) and big things like visiting 30 countries before turning 30.

It makes sense why people are turning toward joy right now: This past winter, as COVID cases skyrocketed and public health restrictions once again put a damper on the holiday season, Canadians’ mental health plummeted. A poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute at the end of 2021 found that one in three Canadians said they were struggling with their mental health—an increase from the one-quarter of Canadians who said so in November 2021, before Omicron slowed reopening plans.

Erin Barker, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Concordia University in Montreal, notes that the public health restrictions meant that people stopped having very much to look forward to. Beyond celebratory gatherings and holiday parties, weekly dinners or a regular coffee catch-up with friends can break up the day and boost your mental health. Plus, “a lot of these [events] build and maintain social connections,” says Barker, who points out that socializing is integral to mental wellness.

“As individuals, we benefit by seeking emotional support. We feel cared for and connected to people,” she says. “On the flip side, when we are the ones giving support, we also benefit from that—it boosts our positive mood.”

Putting time aside to do something fun for yourself, to celebrate simply making it to Tuesday, can get us through the hard times by “creating positive trajectories upward,” says Barker. In other words, the more we create our own happiness, the happier we become. “We’ll have more positive relationships with other people, more resources to help other people, and then it actually creates a positive feedback loop.”

Christine Tran, a writer and a PhD researcher based in Toronto, uses gatherings with friends to reward themselves whenever they reach a writing goal. Having an excuse to socialize has been a balm. One of Tran’s favourite activities to do with friends is to apply cosmetic face gems and temporary tattoos. “It’s a way to manage intimacy in a breezy, fun, non-threatening way,” Tran says. “Being close to someone is the reward—and helping someone feel a little bit more glamorous, too.”

As well as restricting our social lives, the pandemic has seriously curbed opportunities for new experiences. “We get a sense of pleasure and reward and excitement when we try something new,” says Barker, who points to early pandemic trends like elaborate at-home baking projects (think of the bread-baking mania of spring 2020). More than two years into COVID, however, it’s difficult to find novelty at home. That’s why celebrating a writing goal with a bedazzling party or setting up a fake music festival in your living room (as artificial as it might feel) can give you a much-needed boost of mental wellness. “They’re a good stand-in for what we would normally do to boost our mood,” Barker says.

Johnson, who is preparing for Fauxchella 2022, sees her themed days as a way to pull focus from the productivity- and results-focused hamster wheel and do something purely for enjoyment. “We are career oriented, and we spend all our time together, so it’s important for [my husband and me] to really make a point of taking a day for fun,” says Johnson. “We used to dedicate a whole week to going on vacation. This isn’t the same, but it’s an opportunity to have that little bit of escape.

(Related: How a Mental Health Gym Can Transform Your Emotional Well-Being)

fun party goods like a cake, pinata and candy on a purple backdrop | Small Wins ProductsImage: Kate Ince/ Styling: Nicole Billark

Party favours to kick-start the festivities

Cake By Cry Baby Cakes

Cry Baby Cakes, a whimsical bakery run by Toronto-based Brooke Cowitz, specializes in buttercream creations.Each cake is unique and made-to-order.

Cakes start at $65, order on Instagram @crybaby.cakes.

Donkey Piñata

Gotta Piñata is a Toronto-based husband-and-wife-owned business specializing in handmade piñatas. Drawing on their Mexican heritage, Gotta Piñata can make pretty much anything out of papier mâché. Just stuff the piñata with goodies to get the party going.

$35, gottapinatato.com.

Singsation Star Burst All-in-One Karaoke Party System with Microphones

Nothing beats belting out “My Heart Will Go On” at your local karaoke bar, but this Bluetooth speaker meets LED light show will just about get you there.

$100, bestbuy.ca.

Crying Out Loud Me Time Mini

This self-care package from Toronto-based Crying Out Loud contains goodies such as a chocolate bar, face mask and colourful hard candies, perfect for when you need
to treat yourself after another ceaseless Zoom meeting.

$50, cryingoutloud.ca.

Rainbow Eco Confetti

Transform your living room into party central with this 100-percent recycled paper confetti.

$8, paperandparties.com.

Simply Eco-Friendly Plates

The worst part of every party is cleaning up. Cut out the dishes with these biodegradable paper plates that will still elevate your delivery-pizza-eating experience.

$20/pack of 8, paperandparties.com

Classic Margarita Set

Nothing says a celebration like well-made cocktails. This set brings the beach to you with all the ingredients you need to make a killer margarita (including a pair of glasses with cactus-shaped stems).

$68, cocktailemporium.com.

Next: How a Mental Health Gym Can Transform Your Emotional Well-Being

Originally Published in Best Health Canada