One of the things many of us miss about college is the near four-week long holiday break associated with this time of year. Back then (and there’s no need to admit how long ago “back then” might mean) that break provided a mental dump—a disconnection—where classes and homework and social obligations faded to a barely audible murmur of responsibilities. All plans were soft with the exception of spending time with family and old friends.

It was a good break. A much-needed break. Unfortunately, full-time jobs and adulting have prevented many of us from taking several weeks off of work just because it’s the holidays. Some get a few days or even a week, but having three full weeks to disconnect and do as we please is a mere college dream. Oh, to be young again.

The key word, however, is disconnect. Let’s face it; our society is addicted to gadgets. We love our shiny laptops and smartphones and tablets. Those of us that game have been known to do so for several hours. We live in a world where #NetflixAndChill is a nightly routine. Which is fine. A few days off of work means we can finally binge-watch the latest season of our favorite show.

But the holidays are meant to be spent with family and friends, especially if you have only a few days away from the office. So perhaps a better way to spend that time is to turn those screens off, unplug, disconnect from devices, and reconnect with those around you. Sure, it’s fun to play video games and watch movies with each other, but, as we’ve mentioned in the past, the value of unplugging for a few days has long-term health benefits.

So instead of gathering around the cold, blue glow of technology, power-off and enjoy the people around you. Get everyone on board and commit to that time. We promise you’ll be glad you did. Here are three recommendations of activities for when you disconnect this season. Feel free to add yours in the comments!

Dust off those old board games.

Board games have been around for a long time. Like, a really long time. Historians tell us the Egyptian game, Senet, is the oldest in existence, dating back to 3100 BC. And it’s still being played. In fact, you can buy it on Amazon, which is rather amazing when you think about it.

While the games you might find in your grandma’s closet aren’t quite that old, chances are they’ve been in the family longer than your younger siblings or cousins. The reason those games have withstood the test of time is because they’re a blast to play. And many of them have the flexibility to be played by just a few people or a large group.

But beyond just having fun and interacting with the people around you, board games carry several positive health benefits, such as developing cognitive skills, lowering blood pressure, and reducing your risk of mental illness. You won’t find that by watching six hours of Breaking Bad.

Bake a bunch of cookies.

And not necessarily just cookies. Brownies, pastries, cakes… whatever you like. The point is, baking as a family or as a group builds a sense of community and collaboration that sitting around and watching TV does not. If you have a bunch of family recipes that have survived generations, dig those out and teach the young ones around you. Teaching kids how to bake and cook sets them up with practical skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives. Things like following directions (recipes), learning techniques with tools so they don’t injure themselves or those around them, and self-evaluation when the process is complete. Not to mention, they’ll know how to cook for themselves and clean up when finished.

In fact, check out this touching moment from Masterchef Junior:

http://booksandmagizoologists.tumblr.com/post/136249810530

Clearly, teaching kids how to cook is invaluable. But even beyond passing on life skills, cooking with a group of people is a bonding experience that everyone gets to enjoy in the end. There may be such a thing as “too many cooks in the kitchen”, but everyone at a party ends up in the kitchen anyway. The time in between waiting for food to finish cooking/baking provides a nice pause from all the other distractions in our lives and gives us a chance to reconnect with each other.

Volunteer your time.

This should really be at the top of the list. It’s easy for us to forget that there are hundreds of thousands of people out there that don’t have families or much of anything. Whether they be on the street, in homeless shelters, in hospitals or nursing homes (and even prisons), this time of year can be very tough on them, and they need our help. So pick a few charitable events or places to visit, and spend time with the needy.

Many communities have several options, such as donation sorting, feeding the homeless, visiting the elderly, bowling with the blind, etc. Sign up for a few of them this season (and beyond), and get your family and friends to join. You’ll find that not only do those in need benefit greatly, it also provides a positive bonding experience for you and the other people donating. Even if your gift of time seems small to you, it could mean everything to the recipient.

Justin Bonnema

Lead Writer at SAC
Justin left the music business to focus on his true passion: writing. A talented writer and detailed researcher, he’s involved in every department here at SAC to make sure all content is fresh and up-to-date. In his spare time, Justin writes about fantasy football for FootballGuys.com and practices mixology (he makes a mean margarita).