Mark Holder, Ph.D.

The Happiness Doctor

Happier Holidays: 10 Ways to Increase Your Seasonal Joy

10 science hacks to increase happiness and decrease stress over the holidays

Posted Dec 01, 2016

Research findings from the science of happiness can be applied to make your holidays better. Here are my top 10 ideas, based on research findings from positive psychology, to help you experience “happier holidays.”

1) Give. We know the old adage that “it is better to give than to receive.”  In a test of this, Dunn, Aknin and Norton (2008) assessed the well-being of people who were given money.  Those who were instructed to spend the money on others were happier than those who spent it on themselves. So giving money to a charity or treating a friend at your local coffeehouse may increase your happiness more than spending money on yourself.

2) Avoid Debt. Debt can be corrosive to your happiness. Avoid it.

By siddu; snow-night; commons.wikimedia
Source: By siddu; snow-night; commons.wikimedia

3) Buy Experiences, not Things. Suppose that you have $3,000 cash in your pocket - then you are probably a drug dealer. But seriously, what should you spend that money on? People who spent money on things were just as happy as those who spent money on experiences – but only at first. Within a week or two, the happiness boost from spending money on things faded. The happiness boost that accompanied spending money on experiences lasted longer.

4) Share with Others.  Research strongly suggests that our personal relationships are critical to happiness. In fact, it is difficult to find someone who is happy who does not have meaningful interpersonal relationships. Therefore, share your holiday experiences with others.

5) Take Pictures. Taking photographs can increase and prolong our happiness because photos allow us to relive and savor our good times.

6) Go out in Nature. The holidays can be stressful. For example, they are often associated with disruptions to our normal schedules, and increased demands on our finances and time. We recover faster from stressful events, both physically and mentally, when we are exposed to nature. Take a walk outside in a park or forest. Even viewing beautiful nature scenes on your computer may help.

7) Save the Best for Last. Research shows that we remember events more positively when the most positive experiences occur at the end. For example, when the highlight of a holiday or vacation occurs at the very end, we remember the overall experience better than when the highlight occurs at the beginning or in the middle. 

8) Emphasize Frequency, not Intensity. Though we often think that it is the intensity of the good events that matters, research shows that it is really the frequency that counts. Aim for more frequent small joys that you can savor (for example, sitting in front of a fire or having a delicious hot chocolate) rather than trying to achieve a few big events.

9) Exercise. Research shows that we underestimate the happiness boost we get from exercise.  A brisk walk or a bit of cross-country skiing may increase your happiness more than you anticipate.

10) Watch Your Favorite Holiday Movie. When we watch a movie we have seen many times, the cognitive demands are quite low because we don’t have to pay much attention to it. This contributes to our well-being.  My two holiday favorites are “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Love Actually."

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