4 Science-Backed Secrets to Holidays that Really ARE Happy

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The Challenge: The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year.
The Science: Gratitude and mindfulness can help us ground and reconnect with ourselves.
The Solution:
Try these 4 tips to put the “happy” in your holiday!

The holidays are upon us and it’s an easy time to get lost: in Christmas shopping, errands, travel or the stress of financial expenses or difficult family situations. It can also be a lonely time for some, or one of confusion or even depression due to the long winter nights. The good news is that there are some great research-backed ways for you to make the absolute best of the holidays. Here are 4 ways to ensure they truly ARE happy!

1. Ditch Your Phone

Many people think of exercising portion control over the holidays. What we forget, however, is to exercise mobile device control. Research shows that when you really take time to completely relish your positive experiences, your happiness increases much more. Whether you’re getting together with family and friends or chilling on the sofa with your cat, completely savor the moments instead of focusing on your smart phones or looking for your selfie stick so you can post to Instagram or Facebook. When you are constantly checking your devices, you lose the moment and break the experience. You’re thinking of making the perfect smile for the camera but – ironically – you’ve stopped being fully present with the thing that made you smile authentically in the first place. Chances are, you’ll continue not being fully present as you keep checking for notifications and number of likes…

So park your phone at the door, or better yet, turn it off and leave it at home. Be 100% there with the experiences and people around you. Bask, revel, wallow and luxuriate. This is your time. Research shows that we are never happier than when we are fully present with what is going on right now.  

2. Focus on Others

Holidays – traditionally a time of companionship – can be stressful. Ironically, stress reduces our ability to really connect with others empathically. As a consequence, we may be with other people, but not really forming any meaningful connections. You might still feel lonely in a crowd, or irritable or even sad.

Here’s how you can counter that: By focusing on what you can do for others. Instead of thinking about how you are feeling, think about what you can do to make things better for everyone else. Whether it’s at a relative’s home or a soup kitchen, there are always ways in which you can make yourself helpful. Listening to an old aunt tell the same story over and over again, cleaning dishes, or ladeling hot meals to the needy. By focusing on what you can do for others, research shows you will not only be happier, but also healthier. Serving and helping others gives us a sense of meaning and purpose. And truly, what do those around you really want? They probably care less about your gifts than about your love. You’ll leave the festivities energized rather than worn out and everyone will be happier for it too.

3. Remember the Gifts You Already Have

While the holidays are a time of gift-exchange, Christmas shopping can make us focus on what we want – if not now, then through the post-holiday sales! But the problem is that focusing on what we want puts us in a lack-mindset. We become aware of what we don’t yet have. We start to feel that we don’t have enough.

In short, we completely forget and discount what we already have. Here’s how to counter that:  Recalling all of the ways in which you are lucky and all of the things you already have will help remind you of the abundance in your life. Studies shows that bringing to mind the things for which you feel grateful boosts your happiness, your relationships and your health.

4. Really Cut Off from Work

Holidays are time to restore yourself, to relax and recuperate from the year. Yet some of us have gotten so used to working that we don’t even really know what to do with ourselves when we are not.  According to the Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey of 2014 75% of Americans do not use all of their vacation time. And those that do take vacation, end up working! 91%, for example, are checking work email. Yet research shows that it’s only by taking time off that we return to work happy and productive.

Here’s how to counter that: When you notice your mind wandering and an itch to check your work email, take a deep breath and come back to the here and now. This is an opportunity to reconnect with the things you enjoy doing. The holidays are a unique moment for you. Think about what it is that you really want in this moment, is it really to sit hunched over a screen or obsessing about creating the perfect powerpoint presentation? This time off is an opportunity to connect with yourself and to engage in activities that profoundly nourish you so you can start the new year refreshed. Research shows that walks in nature, cuddling with loved ones (or pets), meditating, exercising, or engaging in activities you love like reading can profoundly reduce your stress and give you a renewed sense of perspective and happiness.

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Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppälä

EMMA SEPPÄLÄ, Ph.D. is the author of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success and Science Director of Stanford University's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. She also teaches at Yale University and consults with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. She founded Fulfillment Daily and a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review and Psychology Today.
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