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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making the Holidays Happy

It is heard throughout the season - - the hopes for and the wishes offered to others to “have a happy holiday” or for a “Merry Christmas”. It is helpful to reflect on what composes a joyful experience of this holiday season. By understanding what creates a general sense of happiness, there are clues on what elements in the holiday season will facilitate a truly Happy Holiday.

What produces happiness is somewhat subjective to an individual, yet the discipline of positive psychology has determined that many underlying determinants of happiness are consistent. A large influence in level of happiness is personality. General temperament and outlook on life are key factors. These factors include optimism and resiliency which can be nurtured and developed over time, leading to an improved overall sense of happiness.

For some when they consider happiness, they often think about things that bring them pleasure. Food, possessions, or sex often are mentioned when people are asked about what brings happiness. However, research conducted by positive psychologists has determined that often these bring temporary pleasure but are not the core of deep joy. True happiness has been found to be more connected to having things in life that are both pleasurable and meaningful.

Humans are a social species, and social interaction is crucial. Healthy relationships are important in an overall sense of happiness and fulfillment in life. An interesting statistic is that people who describe themselves as very happy watch 20% less television than unhappy people. TV seems to be a short-term pleasure, but humans crave connection; and while a distraction, TV offers little opportunities for meaningful interpersonal interaction which is crucial to life satisfaction.

One of the most highly rated predictors of happiness is being in love. Additionally, while all marriages are imperfect and often complained about; married men and women are generally happier than people who are single or divorced. It may be that marriage contributes to happiness or that happiness causes marital satisfaction. Whatever comes first, people who are happier tend to have better intimate relationships and more stable marriages.

Money does little to make us happier once basic needs are met, but how someone spends money can affect happiness level. Using money to buy experiences such as a vacation or outing has been shown to bring far more joy than a new toy. Additionally, using money to do good and help others brings higher levels of happiness than funding fun activities. This suggests that spending money on charity contributes more to happiness than the same amount of cash spent on oneself.

Research confirms the connection between faith and happiness. Religion and spirituality can give a sense of purpose and meaning in life, provide a connection to a caring, supportive community, and offer a sense of comfort. Generally, people of faith express greater levels of happiness.

In the rush to do it all, the importance and meaning of this holiday season can be forgotten. There is more happiness in a holiday season when relationships are focal, religious expressions are nurtured and less when spending money and gift giving are the predominate elements of the experience. The materialistic features of Christmas celebrations may undermine joy, while family, social, and spiritual activities may create the most satisfying holiday memories.

During this season - - at least once a day - - stop the endless progression of doing the next essential task towards creating the perfect holiday and do something that brings joy - - something meaningful that make the holidays special for you and your family.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It can without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
~Dr. Seuss

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