“Happiness is the only thing that multiplies when you share it.” - Albert Schweitzer
Skill makes love unending, and knowledge creates skill, so let’s explore our knowledge about having a joyful holiday.
Nadya was stumped, with salt and pepper hair a bit awry from the blistery weather, her blue eyes looked both angry and sad, as she poured out her frustration with her husband, Morris.
As a grandmother of four grandchildren, she scouts thrift stores each Christmas for bargains, tailored specifically to the loquacious 4-year-old, the cartwheel wiz, the blond, blue-eyed princess, and the racing car maven. Victorious, she returns home to show her treasures to Morris. Instead of offering support, he throws her a cursory “Oh, good," leaving her feeling discounted.
Recounting this worn pattern, Nadya asked herself if she should keep trying to change Morris’ bah-humbug attitude, or should she seek support for her purchases from her friends and sisters? Nadya added that she deeply loves Morris, other than what he proudly refers to as his Grinch-like demeanor. Nadya’s conundrum is shared by many wives, so I researched how to avert a disappointing holiday.
Although many of us experience three times more positive than negative experiences daily, we naturally accentuate the negative experiences that create anxiety and pain. Baumeister calls this the negativity bias, meaning we can automatically ignore positive aspects and focus on what's not working in our lives.
Once accustomed to a pleasant experience, we often take these experiences for granted, so they lose their joyfulness. Even dark chocolate at every meal becomes a habit. For this reason, we tend to associate joy with experiences that are novel, and we overlook the daily hugs and dog walks that bring us joy.
Nadya knew she loved and enjoyed Morris, but found his condescension so frustrating that it overpowered her ability to appreciate him at the holidays.
What can we do to accentuate the positive?
Lambert’s research suggests that Nadya would naturally expect her husband to be genuinely supportive of her great fortune. Sharing pleasure with a loved one leads to a heightened well-being, increased life satisfaction, and increased energy. Describing our happy experiences to close friends and romantic partners is a wise investment in a joyful holiday.
Since Morris was being a curmudgeon, Nadya needed to redirect her desire to share holiday joy. What lessons can we take from Nadya’s situation?
- Accentuating the positive and expressing gratitude is a powerful medicine. Research indicates that the more we share happiness daily, the happier and more satisfied we are. It is the act of sharing, not only thinking about happiness that boosts well-being. Expressing gratitude can improve psychological and physical health and well-being by improving our ability to connect with others, boosting our altruistic tendencies, making us optimistic, and decreasing envy and materialism. It even improves the health of those with physical ailments. Nadya decided to express appreciation when Morris put up the tree and bought her white poinsettias.
- Sharing happy events with others increases zest and energy for life. Research informs us that sharing grateful experiences correlates with a greater zest for life, happiness, and vitality. Nadya benefits from sharing regularly with friends.
- Asking for needed verbal support from partners and friends creates greater happiness, love, and appreciation. Nadya avoids Morris’ negativity because it increased her self-doubt. Instead, she often calls a friend each week.
- Sharing joy increases it for all involved. Kristakis and Fowler found that sharing our happiness is infectious. Others feel happy when we share happy events, and supporting a friend can impact their well-being, too. Nadya is sure to ask her friends about their holiday successes, and all benefit from it.
Like Nadya, could it be helpful deciding who genuinely cares about the tiny pleasures in your days and find a way to share with them? Sharing each other’s brief interludes of pleasure can increase health and well-being for you, and your buddy.
This holiday season, take a lesson from Nadya, and allow your personal Morris his solitary grinchmanship. Instead, share with friends and family who, like you, love to celebrate the joy of the season. I bet you won’t regret it.
To consider: Whom shall I choose to share my joy over small triumphs? Who cares enough to be there for me? Who knows what it means to share with those you love?
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.