“I think you ought to be happy. It’s a gift to others.”
Let’s depart from the normal ID University editorial flavor for a bit of light-hearted advice from a very talented marketing professor who also happens to be an expert on feeling happy.
As most everyone knows, the holiday season is often filled with pressure, unrealistic expectations, and complicated personal feelings involving family and friends (either their presence or absence). In short, a recipe for sadness rather than joy.
Professor Raj Raghunathan of McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, creator of the blog Happy Smarts and author of the upcoming book If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Happy? has spent several years studying the true determinants of leading a happy and fulfilling life.
He has three recommendations for relaxing, enjoying the moment, and facing down negativity during the holidays, and throughout the rest of the year.
1. Employ positive role play
Humans are social creatures, and the holidays bring families and friends together (sometimes too close together). That may mean face time with negative people who can bring your mood down with their non-stop pessimism, anxiety or distrust.
When walking away is not an option, Raghunathan believes the best alternative is to purposely assume the mindset of a happy, fully secure person. “Act like someone who is respected and loved by others, even if you struggle to feel that way at first,” he suggests.
As an example, in response to a negative comment about the futility of pursuing your dreams, you might respond, “I would rather take the chance and fail than not try at all. Let’s see what happens.” Raghunathan explains that even negative people like being around positive people, whether they are willing to admit it or not.
In a season that emphasizes selfless giving, the always-smiling professor believes you should be happy, too. “When you’re happy, you’re spreading your happiness to other people, you’re being selfless,” Raghunathan said. “So for the sake of others, even if you think you don’t deserve to be happy, I think you ought to be happy. It’s a gift to others.”
2. Abandon the captain’s chair
Do you want to feel in charge of everything? Trying to wrangle your family for a holiday snapshot, or convince your teenager to put down the iPhone and talk to grandma, is simply adding stress and aggravation to an already tense time of year. Your ability to control your own mind (and thus, your happiness) is diminished by seeking to control people and circumstances around you.
Raghunathan says, “You may believe that governing all aspects of the holiday experience is what guarantees your happiness, but letting go and enjoying the outcomes you are dealt is the real key to good cheer.”
3. Cherish some quiet time
The professor of happiness warns against packing every holiday moment with activity. Instead, allow time each day to meditate, a research-proven method of finding calm amidst turmoil. Even five minutes a day of slowly counting up to 20 in your head (and repeating the task), or paying attention to your breathing, can calm runaway thoughts.
“It’s crucial to get back in the moment, forcing your mind to focus on what is really important, which isn’t whether all of your holiday cards get mailed on time,” he asserts.
Raj Raghunathan earned his Ph.D. from the Stern School of Business at New York University. His work has been published in top marketing and psychology journals, such as Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology, Journal of Marketing, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Motivation and Emotion, and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. He was recognized as a Marketing Science Young Scholar in 2005, and was recently awarded the prestigious NSF Career Award.
Raghunathan on marketing: