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Holiday Happiness

November 17, 2016

It’s the happiest, most wonderful time of the year. That’s what we’ve been told over and over...so many times that some of us begin to think, “Bah humbug!” Expectations are high for the winter holidays, and the magic does not always unfold according to our expectations. We find ourselves fighting traffic to buy presents we can’t afford. We are more busy than usual due to the additional holiday events. We get together with family and friends only to find ourselves opening old conflicts. Is there really any such thing as holiday happiness? A Harvard researcher collected data from more than 20,000 individuals and concluded we actually are happier than usual on special holidays. He found that Christmas Day, though not celebrated by everyone, is the happiest day of the year followed closely by Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. One of the main reasons for this happiness is we spend more time with family and friends, and this interaction is closely tied to our feelings of happiness. Greek philosopher Aristotle considered happiness to be the primary goal of human life–the ultimate end at which all of our activities aim. Present-day psychologists often see the pursuit of happiness to be closely aligned with engagement. Being engaged with family and friends over the holidays means not just getting together in the same house or the same room, but empathizing with them and sharing feelings, experiences and memories. The giving of presents around the tree is a traditional way of recognizing a broader spirit of giving and forgiving that is often forgotten in today’s highly commercialized celebration. You don’t have to be a Christian or even a religious person to engage in that kind of giving. At Thanksgiving, we get together to share our favorite dishes with family and friends in a gesture of mutual gratitude, all of which is associated with happiness. Having a special day each year to celebrate thankfulness is itself something to be grateful for. Use it to discover how much happiness you can gain by being grateful for those around you. Engagement and gratitude help strengthen existing relationships and nurture new ones. A friend, according to Aristotle, is “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” As opposed to friendships based solely on utility, a “complete friendship” is one in which both parties see and appreciate the strengths of the other. Strong social relationships are essential to the pursuit of happiness. Studies have shown that subjects with strong social relationships are more likely to exercise, have lower blood pressure and are less likely to develop depression. Winter is a time when it’s easy to be gloomy. Given the weather, the traffic jams and commercialization, do you give in to the temptation to say, “Bah humbug,” or do you actively engage with family and friends in the pursuit of happiness?

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