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Christmas sanity

Hazel Sillver

22nd December 2013

New research reveals how to remain composed and serene in the face of Christmas Eve traffic, weird relations and Brussels sprouts. But Hazel Sillver is dreaming of Christmas in Morocco ... where there is no Christmas.

Loving yourself, loving your family (all of them) and loving Christmas seems to be the shortest cut to being in a festive good mood.

Aunt Mabel has had her fourth brandy and announced that your Christmas pudding was dry, no-one is helping with the washing up, hoards of sugar-revved children are tearing around the house and you are forced to watch yet another TV Christmas special. Don't you just love the festive fortnight?

But staying sane amid the madness of Christmas doesn't have to be hard, according to new research from the US.

The sound of happiness

Earlier this year, psychologists conducted experiments to find out if we can put ourselves in a good mood. Writing in The Journal of Positive Psychology, Yuna Ferguson, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Kennon M. Sheldon, Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri, described the tests carried out.

In one study, cheering, upbeat music was played to two lots of participants in one sitting. The first group was simply instructed to listen, while the other was told to actively try to feel happy.

In another experiment, volunteers listened to positive music over a 2-week period, again divided into two camps: one trying to feel good via the music and the other just focusing on the sound.

In both instances, those wanting to feel happier and trying to feel happier reported the highest level of positive mood afterwards. The findings challenge previous research that suggested trying to feel happy was counterproductive.

"These results suggest that without trying, individuals may not experience higher positive changes in their wellbeing," write Ferguson and Sheldon.

"Thus, practitioners and individuals interested in happiness interventions might consider the motivational mindset as an important facet of improving wellbeing."

The attempt to feel happy was in this instance paired with upbeat music. So perhaps consider playing your favourite song before you face the weird relations or you could even sing at them, all the time willing yourself to feel happy: "Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la!"

Taking charge of your mood

Another recent study from the U.S. looked at the emotions of 1,400 Americans to discover what made them happy and unhappy.

The researchers found that ‘self-fulfilling' happiness most related to three mood-boosting mindsets: self-government (for instance being responsible, self-accepting and in control of yourself), being sociable and, thirdly, being spiritual.

"This supports suggestions about how self-awareness based on the self, our relation to others, and our place on earth might lead to greater happiness and mental harmony within the individual," said lead researcher Danilo Garcia from the University of Gothenburg.

All you need is love

But just because this is what a huge portion of happy Americans do to maintain good emotions doesn't mean that they are the most effective methods.

To date, the happiest brainwaves ever recorded were produced by somebody generating feelings of compassion: meditation master Matthieu Ricard "flooded his mind with unconditional love" whilst neuroscientists at the University of Wisconsin recorded his brain activity. He was announced to be the happiest man in the world!

So loving yourself, loving your family (all of them) and loving Christmas seems to be the shortest cut to being in a festive good mood. Of course this love relates to the environment too - if we buy eco-sound gifts and eat local, organic produce at Christmas we will feel happier than if we shop without care.

Morocco anyone?

Overall what these studies on happiness have in common is the concrete proof that no Scrooge will ever enjoy Christmas because they're not trying to enjoy it. We can feel happy if we want to, say the scientists, and there are certain tools (such as playing music and generating specific emotions) to aid that process.

So when you have to listen to Slade singing It's Chriiiistmas for the fiftieth time this season and you unwrap yet another present you don't want, it is possible to feel happy... if you want to. Either that or go to Morocco at the end of December - they don't have Christmas there (what a wonderful thought).

 


 

Hazell Sillver is a regular correspondent for The Ecologist's Green Living section.

 

 

 

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