Ahhhhh, the holidays. Time to luxuriate in the company of your loved ones and bask in the delights of the season, right? Totally–that is, if you have time after whipping up Grandma’s 20lshingredient stuffing, changing the guest room sheets, and creating a Black Friday shopping list. Before you start stress-eating candy canes, know this: You can breathe through (and dare we say appreciate?) the bustle. Read on…
When good things come around, like the holiday season, people think they’ll automatically feel happy,” says Fred Bryant, Ph.D., a social psychologist at Loyola University in Chicago and coauthor of the book Savoring. “But we don’t always react to these good things in a way that maximizes their benefits.” (You might, for instance, futz around with the place settings instead of drinking in your family’s laughter, or dismiss a long-deserved promotion as just extra work.) Enter the technique psychologists call savoring, a way to fully absorb life’s wonderful moments, large and small. “Through your thoughts and behavior, you extend and intensify a good experience, extracting every morsel from it,” says Bryant. The result: not just more delightful moments but a boost in overall happiness levels as well.
“Savoring gives you a bigger dose of positive emotion,” notes Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work. “And positive emotions have been shown to bring our blood pressure down, reverse the stress response, and give us more access to the parts of our brains needed for creativity and problem-solving.” Plus, a number of studies have linked positive emotions with a host of health benefits, from better blood sugar levels to greater longevity.
So now that you know that savoring could be great for you, how do you actually do it? The key is to be on alert for the nice things that happen during your day that you normally wouldn’t give a second thought to. When you notice something, pause and really soak up the moment. Involve all your senses as you delight, advises Carter. Say you’re arranging a floral centerpiece or hanging up a live wreath:
- Linger in the moment to appreciate the intricate delicacy of the blossoms, breathe in the sweet freshness, run a thick leaf through your fingers. Pay attention to the pleasant emotions it evokes in you (It’s almost Christmas! Woot!).
- Scan your body for the physical sensations happiness elicits–for instance, a spreading warmth in your chest.
- Extending the encounter as long as possible–even for just 30 seconds–will help etch it more deeply into long-term memory and create a stash of wonderful feelings you can draw on to see you through life’s challenges. “The benefits of experiencing positive emotions are cumulative.
A little hit is good, but more is better,” Carter says.
Even if this “stop and smell the roses” mentality doesn’t feel natural at first, keep at it. “Savoring is a skill like any other–the more you do it, the better you get at it,” says Bryant. And the holidays, with their once-a-year special moments, are a perfect time to practice.
Savor the magic of the season with these easy techniques.
START CELEBRATING EARLY
Stores that stock holiday decor In the fall have got the right idea. Thinking about and planning a holiday extends its bliss beyond a few short weeks, One study found that anticipation in the weeks before a vacation is a big part of the happiness the vacation brings.
CREATE MINI TRADITIONS
Engaging in a short ritual before doing something you like can make your experience even better. Subjects told to unwrap and eat a chocolate bar in a specific step-by-step way savored it much more. Build rituals into your holiday activities whenever possible, says Jeffrey Froh, Psy.D., author of Making Grateful Kids. “We have a special routine when we decorate the Christmas tree. We make hot cocoa. We listen to holiday music. And no phones allowed!” he says.
BE GENEROUS WITH GRATITUDE
Don’t just give thanks in front of the turkey–thank each person who helped with the feast in any way. “Research suggests that the act of saying “thank you’ can actually increase our own happiness by making us more aware of our positive feelings,” says Bryant.
HAVE AN INTERMISSION
Even a brief hiatus from something enjoyable can reset your pleasure level, says Jordi Quoidbach, Ph.D., a professor at ESADE Business School in Barcelona, who has extensively studied savoring. Try waiting a couple of hours after the turkey to bring out those pies.
TREAT JOY AS IF IT’S FINITE
“The awareness of an ending encourages us to seize the moment while it lasts,” says Bryant. “It’s why people tend to savor the last day of vacation more than the middle.” Acknowledging that soon your tree will come down and your extended family will go home (Sob! But also. Phew!) can help you treasure all of it even more.
HOW TO SAVOR THE REST OF THE YEAR
BUDGET TIME FOR HAPPINESS
Schedule little breaks that are gratifying, not just relaxing, says Quoidbach. For example, take a stroll under the spectacular night sky instead of just zoning out in front of the TV.
DON’T OVERDO YOUR FAVORITE THINGS
“If you have, say, a beloved sandwich, resist ordering it every day. Treat it like a special occasion and order it only on Thursdays,” advises Quoidbach, In one of his studies, people who were instructed to give up chocolate for a week savored it more and experienced a greater mood boost when they ate it again compared with people who were allowed to scarf it down at will.
REVEL IN OTHERS’ BLISSFUL MOMENTS
So your husband nailed an important presentation at work–awesome. Responding actively (rather than being low-key) has been proven to boost bonding, says Froh. Show your enthusiasm (high-five!) and ask follow-up questions (“What was the best feedback you got?”). You’ll feel amazing too: One study found that couples who made a point of responding to each other’s good news in a constructive, engaged way were happier than couples who didn’t.
LEAP FOR HAPPINESS
Go for it–even if you’re in the middle of the cereal aisle. Demonstrating how you feel with gestures can Intensify the positive experience, says Bryant. Laugh out loud; jump up and down; smile widely–evidence has shown that each of these actions can make you feel good.
TAKE A PHOTO (IN YOUR HEAD)
If you snap a mental picture of an unexpected delight like your kid’s face as she scores a soccer goal, and memorize the way you feel, you can replay those images in your mind later and instantly rekindle the same positive emotions.
Start a “Daily Memories” album on your phone to scroll when you need a smile.
Be on alert for nice things that happen during your day that you normally wouldn’t give a second thought to. When you notice something, pause and really soak up the moment.