Best It: Have A Happier Holiday
While there’s no prescription for finding happiness over the holidays -- too many of us are focused on what's supposed to make us happy, instead of on what actually makes us happy. “How we express our social connections depends on our personalities,” says Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of Raising Happiness.
“You have to feel connected even if you’re introverted. Humans are very tribal and we need to feel that we’re a part of something larger.” Here are three ways to make your holidays happier
Good: Sing With A Group
Singing -- yes, even bad singing, as in the "American Idol"-wannabe awkward/strange kind -- lowers stress, raises endorphins and boosts the immune system. Group singing specifically has been found to release the stress- and anxiety-managing chemical oxytocin, and a new study on the connection between group singing and happiness in old age is currently underway.
While singing in a choir may seem like the perfect blend of holiday cheer (go to ChoirPlace or ChoralNet to find one near you), not all of us are keen to sing in public. On the shy end of the spectrum? Pass holiday guests the mic and ask them to sing at the table for a similar effect, says Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. "The focus is on connection," she says. "It's the connection that we really crave, and it's connection that we remember."
Better: Do Something Charitable
Giving to charity not only makes us feel happier emotionally, it also makes us feel healthier physically. According to a new study, volunteers have a lower risk of death, lower levels of depression and increased life satisfaction. “We feel happier when we’re kind,” observes Carter. “[Giving] will have a profound effect on your physiology, so you’re not living in a state of stress.”
There are innumerable large charities to give to over the holidays (the National Coalition for the Homeless, animal shelters, needy families, Meals on Wheels), but as NBC's Ann Curry demonstrated last year with her #26Acts of Kindness after the Newtown school shooting, giving can also be micro. Smile, make eye contact and give a dollar to every homeless person you see in a given day. Buy a single mom a cup of coffee and give her a hug. "That will boost her happiness and yours," says Carter.
Best: Make A (Positive) Connection
The holidays give us so many fun opportunities to be part of a crowd -- visiting Santa's Village, lighting the giant menorah, ice skating at night -- but there are some who shrink from large groups. Yet, introverted or not, humans are hard-wired to crave connection. Loneliness has long been linked with a number of health disorders -- including depression and heart disease -- and a new study suggests that being socially isolated may even put you at risk for early death.
We're not saying you have to watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Instead, focus on making small, meaningful connections. Have a deep conversation with your daughter. Enjoy a quiet lunch with your best friend. Happiness will come about when you make a connection, because it’s about having a sense of common humanity. "The beautiful thing about adulthood," says Carter, "is that you have a choice over who you spend the holidays with."