“Tis the season for merriment”—but isn’t that always easier said than done? While the holidays of afford us many joys — quality time spent with family, good food, thoughtful and generous gifts — they also entail an incredible amount of stress: the good food often requires lots of careful preparation, and holiday shopping can be a nightmare, not to mention the financial stress we put on ourselves to ensure a perfect experience for our loved ones. So how can we stay grounded and present and truly let ourselves enjoy the wonders of the holidays?
Though the next gadget or experience may bring fleeting pleasure, research shows that genuine happiness is about how we truly feel inside. To really enjoy the holidays, try these simple, research-based practices that will help keep you in a healthy state of mind.
Set your intention to enjoy the holidays as much as you can. By making the conscious decision to open yourself to true well-being and happiness, you’ll be more likely not to miss those uplifting moments and even begin to have your radar out for them. By setting your intention, you essentially “prime” your brain to be ready to fully embrace positive experiences. And this can spur a positive cycle of happiness. In fact, research shows that when we allow ourselves to feel positive emotions, we become more open and sensitive to future positive experiences, bringing us even more of those good feelings down the line.
Savor any moments of well-being when they’re here. We savor our food, so why not savor the moment? Don’t just know that you’re feeling good. Let your awareness savor how the experience registers in your body and mind for 15 or 30 seconds by ‘taking in the good’. Research has found that savoring positive experiences strengthens our positive response to them. And neuroscience studies have shown that the longer we hold an emotionally stimulating experience in our awareness, the more neural connections form in our brains to strengthen the trace of that experience in our memory.
Take a break to regain your focus. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by everything on your ‘To Do’ list, remember to take a few breaths. Take a break and enjoy a cup of tea or a hot bath. Try some yoga or exercise. Take a moment to step away and breathe. Or get out of the doing mode for a little while and let yourself just relax. It can be challenging to disengage from the clutch of activity and connect with the moment in a restful way. But research suggests that it’s worth the effort to slow down and regain your focus. A wandering mind—typical in our multitasking culture—is a strong cause of unhappiness.
Be sure to practice gratitude. Don’t take your good fortune for granted. Consciously reflect on all the blessings in your life each day. Express your appreciation directly to loved ones and friends when you’re with them. You and they will both feel the joy of loving connection. Consider this: People who considered themselves severely depressed were asked to write down three good things that happened each day for 15 days. At the end of the experiment, 94 percent of these subjects had a decrease in depression and 92 percent said their happiness increased. A study published earlier this year in the journal Psychological Science found that people who expressed gratitude to others felt significantly closer to those people afterward.
Pay it Forward. Neuroscience research shows that performing an altruistic act lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food! Whenever you feel the impulse to be generous, act on it. As you do, notice the expansive feelings in your body and mind. Without expecting anything in return, notice how good it feels inside when you see someone happy because of your sincere generosity. It can be as simple and profound as being fully present for a friend, sharing the gift of your caring and attention or volunteering to serve those less fortunate. Anytime you do something that contributes to the well-being of another, let yourself feel the joy of generosity. And be sure to include yourself in your generosity practice.
Unleash your inner child. Remember what it was like when you were a kid during the holidays? Let yourself experience that again. Be around kids if you can. Tune into and take delight in their enthusiasm. Singing or dancing are excellent ways to get out of your head and open to joy. Research has shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social emotional development at all ages.
Finally, remember that happiness is contagious. If you’re happy, you increase the odds that your close friends and family will be happy, too. So, the more you can stay connected to your own happiness, the more you help others get in touch with their own well-being. We all benefit when you can awaken the joy within you.
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From all of us at Roper Insurance, enjoy a happy – and stress-free – holiday season!