I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.
In February, I happened to stop by a friend’s house around Valentine’s Day, and I saw how she’d set the table for a holiday breakfast. Nothing too elaborate, but very decorated and fun – heart-shaped placemats, some candy, sticky-pads in the shape of hearts, etc. She explained that because of her family’s schedules, they have a tough time eating dinner together, so she uses breakfast as a time to celebrate.
I thought that this was a FANTASTIC idea. Festive, easy to set the table the night before, easy to schedule, lots of happiness bang for the buck. I vowed that I would copy her – but for a variety of reasons, this morning was the first time I had a real opportunity to set up a holiday breakfast.
I had a lot of fun creating it. My kids often eat peanut butter on toast for breakfast, so I dyed some peanut butter black, spread it on bread, and added orange pumpkin sprinkles – and used black plates. I dyed some plain yogurt orange and added some black bat sprinkles. I put out two pumpkin-shaped candles and threw some candy corns around the table. That was all it took to transform the breakfast experience.
The Little Girl woke up slightly crabby, and I thought she wasn’t very interested in the spread (except for the fact that she got to eat some candy at breakfast). But when we got to school, she kept telling children and teachers excitedly about the “spooky breakfast” she’d had, and she described in detail everything that I’d done. So it made a bigger impression than I thought.
Making this kind of effort is a bit of pain, of course. It involves errands and organization. I had to get up earlier this morning, which was hard. But the happiness research shows that this kind of thing does boost happiness.
Although we think that we act because of the way we feel, research shows that we often feel because of the way we act. So by doing something festive, you put yourself in a more festive frame of mind. Also, studies show that family traditions support children’s social development and strengthen family cohesiveness. They provide the connection and predictability that people crave. They help us mark the time and the seasons in a pleasant way. My Third Splendid Truth is “The days are long, but the years are short” (it’s also a video), and I find that this kind of festivity helps to slow time, and at least to make time more memorable. It brings the family together in happy circumstances.
Now, there are a lot of way to be festive. A holiday breakfast is just one example. My mother has an amazing eye, and she has glorious collections of holiday decorations. Parts of these collections she’s given me—for example, I have a bunch of wonderful, elegant Halloween decorations from her—and as long as she hands everything over in a complete set, and shows me how to arrange it, I love putting up seasonal decorations. But the fact is, there’s no way I’d go out and pull together that kind of collection. Also, she always buys colorful squashes, or paper white narcissus, or whatever the appropriate seasonal greenery might be, and I never get around to doing that. (We underbuyers shy away from that sort of thing.)
That used to worry me – I thought I lacked a festive spirit, and I felt bad for my children for not doing a better job. But once again, it’s a matter of remembering to “Be Gretchen.” I don’t like to shop, and I’m not good at arranging objects, but I do love thinking of ways to take ordinary food and transform it, or about how to cobble together items from our shelves to make the table look special for a meal. That’s a way to “Be more festive” that suits my nature.
Many people don’t bother to do anything festive if they don’t have children – but it can be fun to be festive even if you don’t have kids. Buy those squashes that look like mini-pumpkins and put them in a bowl on your kitchen table. Use the holiday as an excuse to call some friends and make a plan. Help decorate your office. Even getting in the spirit of things in a small way can give you (and the people around you) a boost. On my morning walk, I saw three adults wearing a set of black cat ears. That was all it took to show Halloween spirit.
Have you found that being festive helps make you happy? Have you found any good ways to incorporate festivity into your life?
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