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Stress-Relieving Tips for the Holidays

I joined Candace Rose for an interview to discuss how we can avoid disappointment this season and stop being so hard on ourselves, the secret to saying “no”, and stress relieving tips we can use when we feel a sense of overwhelm.

Candace Rose: The holidays are often thought of as the most wonderful time of the year, but for some that might not be the case. What’s the best way to avoid being disappointed this season?


Dr. Christine Carter:
 “A mound of research shows that we are happiest over the holidays when we give to others, particularly when we give to people in need.

I like people to create what I call a giving trifecta by shopping at retailers that donate a portion of the proceeds to causes that are really close to your heart. For example, this year I’ll be making my gift purchases through the AmazonSmile program and then I’ll use my Chase Freedom card to do that because I get that trifecta or that triple whammy of gift giving, so everybody on my list obviously gets their present and then the AmazonSmile program gives money to the Tipping Point, which is a local charity that I chose and is really close to my heart. That Chase Freedom card allows me to donate back the rewards, so I get 5% cash back on that and I turn around and donate that money to the Tipping Point as well.

That makes my gift giving which can sometimes be disappointing, as you mentioned, or even stressful much, much more meaningful and fulfilling.”

Read the full interview I had with Candace and check out the rest of the questions she had for me by clicking here.

Break yourself off a piece of happiness - Christine Carter

Break Yourself Off a Piece of Happiness

To celebrate the International Day of Happiness this past Friday, I participated in an interview with Snapchat Stories. Enjoy!

Snapchat: What’s one of the biggest myths about happiness?
CC: We think that happiness is a personality trait, when really it is better thought of as a skill, or a set of skills that we can learn and practice. Obviously we do have genetically-based personality differences, but I think of happiness like learning a language. Some people pick up languages really easily — especially those taught when they are young. Other people have to do more work to speak and write well. But either way, we all need to be taught the basic “grammar” and “vocabulary” of happiness, and we need to practice those things in order to become fluent.

How often should a “normal” person feel happy?
There is no normal; life can be difficult, and when it is, few people feel happy about it. We do know that once a person’s ratio of positive to negative exceeds about 3:1 (three positive emotions or experiences to every one negative) their whole system seems to change — they are said to “flourish.” Flourishing people, who represent less than 20% of the population, are more creative and resilient in the face of difficulty.

Are people generally happier as children or adults?
Happiness levels change throughout the life course. Most research shows that people’s happiness tends to follow a U-shaped curve: it is highest when they are young, and it tends to bottom out between our late 30s and early 50s. Fortunately, happiness levels tend to rebound again around age 60.

Is there a “fake it ’til you make it” factor to getting happy?
“Faking it” only works when we aren’t pretending or performing. Facial expression alone, without first feeling a corresponding emotion, is often enough to create discernible changes in your nervous system. When you lift the corners of your lips and crinkle your eyes, for example, after a couple of minutes your body will release the feel-good brain chemicals associated with smiling. But pretending to feel something that we aren’t makes us feel worse; research shows that inauthenticity is corrosive to our health, especially our cardiovascular system. One way to “fake happiness” fairly effectively, though, is to put a pencil between your back teeth for a few minutes in order to activate your smile muscles. (A word of warning: I’ve found that this technique works for lightening up my mood, but it does make me drool.)

Can money buy happiness? At least a little bit of it?
The old adage is mostly true: Money doesn’t tend to buy much happiness (after our basic needs are met). In our culture, we tend to confuse real happiness — profound joy and authentic contentment — with pleasure and gratification. Money does buy pleasure, but it takes a whole lot of money to increase your overall happiness level just a little tiny bit. And money really can’t buy meaning or fulfillment.

Here are 5 quick (and free) things you can do to find more happiness today:

  1. Smile at the barista and strike up a short conversation. Or with the people sharing your elevator. Or with the crossing guard.
  2. Increase your ratio of positive to negative emotions by watching a silly YouTube video, expressing gratitude to someone, or reading something inspiring. (Yes, you get credit for watching funny animal videos!)
  3. Take a good old-fashioned recess in the middle of the day. For every 60 to 90 minutes that you focus, take a 10 to 15-minute break. Go outside and play! Or at least sit inside and daydream.
  4. Repair a minor crack in an important relationship. Call your mom and invite her to lunch, even though your last conversation with her was tense. Find something nice to say to your spouse, even though he can be frustrating.
  5. Establish a tiny happiness habit. Do a daily crossword puzzle if that does it for you. Read a favorite magazine at lunchtime. Throw the ball for your dog every morning. What would make you really happy if you did it every day?

Photo courtesy of José Manuel Ríos Valiente.