UBC happiness expert gives tips for a more joyous holiday

Meaningful social connections are key

It may be the season of sleigh rides, jingle bells and stunning holiday light displays, but stress can also accompany the holiday cheer.

Derrick Wirtz is a senior psychology instructor, director of the PhD program in psychological science and a happiness researcher at UBC’s Okanagan campus. He says overloaded schedules and over-limit credit cards can make this time of year more stressful than joyful for many.

To help navigate some common stress triggers, Wirtz shares his tips for boosting happiness and staying positive this holiday season.

Make the holidays about people

While exchanging gifts is often a happy holiday tradition, Wirtz says it’s important to remember that it’s not material items that make us happy.

“When we look at people who report high levels of happiness, research shows that 94 per cent of them have fulfilling social relationships,” explains Wirtz. “These deep connections to the ones we love are why we spend hours shopping and planning to try and find the perfect gifts-we feel it’s important to express our gratitude and show how much we care.”

Ironically, the stress we put on ourselves to find these perfect gifts can actually come at a cost to these cherished relationships.

“While we’re waiting in never-ending lines at department stores, and scouring the web for ideas, we’re missing out on rewarding social relationships,” he says. “The holidays are about spending time with loved ones and making memories-not what’s under the tree-the best thing you can give someone is your time.”

Savour the moment

While there can be numerous stressors over the holiday season, Wirtz says taking a few moments to reflect on what’s gone well-the positive moments-can help us to stay resilient when we’re feeling stressed about things like overspending and overindulging.

“Savouring positive moments helps us to focus more of our attention on what makes us happy,” explains Wirtz. “One of the best ways to savour is to share our joys with friends, family and acquaintances.”

Wirtz suggests that spending time with others increases positive feelings while decreasing negative ones.

“Sharing these positive experiences with others intensifies and prolongs them, buffering us from the negative effects of holiday stress,” he says.

Manage your expectations

Many people strive for perfection at the holidays, but Wirtz stresses that imperfect is okay and often makes for the best memories.

“I think we all have this image in our heads of what our holidays should be,” he says. “The perfect holiday party, the perfect presents, the perfect experience for our children, the perfect turkey dinner-we put a lot of unnecessary pressure on ourselves.”

Instead, Wirtz suggests showing ourselves compassion by appreciating that doing our best is enough.

“Remember to be kind to yourself at the holidays,” says Wirtz. “No one is going to remember if the turkey was a bit dry, or there was mismatching glassware at the dinner party-nobody’s perfect, and reminding ourselves of this fact can help us to feel happier and be less critical towards ourselves.”

Practice self care

“The holidays are a hectic time and if we don’t take a moment to care for ourselves, there’s a higher chance we will become overwhelmed,” says Wirtz.

He adds that people often overlook themselves during this time of giving. While doing things for others is certainly beneficial to mental wellbeing, he says that people shouldn’t forget to be kind to themselves and to find the right balance.

“Take a walk in nature, make time for your preferred physical activity, practice mindfulness – find an activity that relaxes you and make time for it.”

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

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