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This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.

Esther Lui for NPR

Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
 

Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.

“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.

While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).

“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.

According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
December 9, 2017    JULI FRAGA
 
source: www.npr.org
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Start Reaping The Benefits Of Being Happy With These Steps

Research tells us that only 1 in 3 people label themselves “happy.” Happiness seems elusive for many. There is simply too much sadness, stress, pressure and difficulty in relationships for you to be “happy.” Most people are waiting for their happy day to come: “I will win the lottery.” “I will get that new job.” “I will move to a warmer climate.” “I will get rid of this jerk.” The pot of gold is just sitting there waiting, and you only need to catch the rainbow and slide to the bottom to reach it.

It’s likely that you have grabbed the gold one or two times before. There was probably a time when something went really well – you had a good relationship, or a good job, or some money in your pocket, or the promise of something good to come.

Getting the gold didn’t make you permanently happy. It might have given you an upper for the day, week or month, but it didn’t buy you the long-term happiness you are probably seeking. Life is filled with irritants, obstacles, difficulties, unforeseen circumstances and interruptions just waiting for the right time to happen. Big things like death, divorce, loss of a job or home, and little things like bad traffic, a stain on that brand-new shirt, or a vacation that got derailed, can all lead to a dearth on the happiness scale.

Is it possible to just live happy? Can you take some steps to find yourself in the one out of three? Does it mean you have to make millions or become more successful than your most successful friend? No, it doesn’t; but it probably won’t just happen on its own. You might have to make some choices to decide in favor of happiness.

If you are ready to stop moping and complaining, and start reaping the benefits of being happy, here are some steps you can take:

Practice reframing your experiences. You may see an event now and label it “bad” or “unwanted” or “negative.” Instead of reacting to everything with a negative response, choose to reframe the situation in a more objective and neutral manner. This means when the next driver cuts you off, you don’t talk to yourself (or out loud) about all of the terrible drivers out there who are out to get you. You say something like, “It’s a shame more people don’t drive politely. It isn’t worth it to me to get upset about it.” Then turn your attention to something positive. Be sure your speakers (if you are in the car for this example) are broadcasting something good – uplifting music, a positive or spiritual speaker, or a book you enjoy. Turn the volume up if you want, and focus on that instead of that other driver.

Find something that uplifts you. For some people it is positive music, for others it is meditation or yoga, for others it is a warm bath. What puts your mind in its happy place? Have a regular schedule to include whatever it is that is good for you. Don’t find yourself stuck and saying “I need to meditate.” Instead, make it part of your schedule so you are doing it regularly.

Stay away from news that depresses. Of course you shouldn’t hide your head in the sand – you want to be an educated voter, and know what’s happening in the economic markets, or realize what areas of your city have become dangerous at night. You want to be informed, but you don’t want to be inundated. You can get updates or skim the headlines, and then put it away. Some people actually make a diet of negative news. It does nothing but bring you down. Be choosy about how much you allow to sink into your subconscious.

work-life-balance

 

Get rest, relaxation and exercise. The research is clear on how much sleep people need, how important destressing can be, and how much your body is fueled by exercise. Of course, don’t become upset if you aren’t getting these enough; create a working plan for you to get more. It is hard to stay upbeat and happy when you are running on three hours of sleep and too much caffeine, and just taking a walk around the block seems daunting!
Learn to breathe. The mind can’t focus on two things at once. If you are focused on your breath, breathing in and out slowly and thoughtfully, you can’t be focused on something that upsets you. Turn your attention to your breath several times throughout the day, not just in reaction to something negative, but as a practice. Breathe comfortably and easily. Allow your breath to flow in through your nose and out through your mouth. Think about the gift of breath. It’s a natural process most take for granted.

Develop a thankful ritual. Be careful with this – some people do this as a way to say, “It’s bad and I am miserable but look at the things that are going well!” You don’t want to try and fake yourself out; you want to genuinely be thankful for what you have and what’s going well. Make a list of things that really have meaning to you. Read the list out loud and pause at each one. Allow the positive feeling associated with whatever you have listed to permeate you as you read. Smile while you are reading it, and soak yourself in the happy.

Smile more often. Most people have a perpetual scowl on their faces, unless they are smiling in response to someone else. Smile randomly. Pretend you have your own secrets on how great your life is. Smile at the checkout clerk, the gas station attendant and your mother-in-law! Most people smile back in response, so you might make someone else’s day too.

Choose happy. Every second of the day you have a choice about where your mind is focused. You can be sad, mad, irritated, joyful, or whatever emotion you choose. You may think your emotions are in response to your situation, but they aren’t. The sun can be shining, you received a raise, your child got into their coveted school, and you feel happy but then someone’s negative, casual remark comes around and your happiness turns to shreds. Now, instead of your happy day, you are focused on how mean and cruel that person was to you. You do have a choice. Make yours.

Jun 30, 2016      Beverly D. Flaxington     Understand Other People      Choose in Favor of Happy