If there are five weeks during the year that we should be the most thankful, grateful and appreciative, it’s those between Thanksgiving and New Years. However, it’s not uncommon that those feelings get swept under the rug during the rush of holiday parties, hosting family members and gift-buying.
And while many begin to think of the holidays as more stressful than pleasant, there’s good news: there’s research (both scientific and unofficial) that proves those holiday-season stresses could be better for us than we previously thought.
One of the most popular complaints heard during this season is about having to go home and visit family (not to forget having family come to your home). But the Bowen family systems theory applauds returning to your nuclear family setting, because that bond is often one of the strongest that exists. The theory explains that as families members grow and mature, they often feel misunderstood and disconnected, but the opposite is actually happening. It says families are interdependent units; each member’s thoughts, feelings and actions are linked because of the shared nature and history. A change in one person affects a change in another, and that shared experience can boost family unity and cohesiveness. It turns out that going back home and sleeping in your childhood bed is worth it, unless you’ve been relegated to sleep on a couch.
Being home often includes exchanging gifts, which makes us all feel good, and there’s no shortage of that during this season. But the real benefits come from the other side of the transaction: the giving. When the thought of buying one more gift is making you want to boycott the mall forever, remember that there’s more than one way to give. Research done at The Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany says that giving both time and money makes us happier, because both the experience of helping someone and having the knowledge that your assistance is available is just as gratifying. Because volunteering benefits both parties, people who volunteer report higher life-satisfaction levels, and are less prone to depression. Whether it’s going to the local soup kitchen on Christmas morning, cleaning up the field at the park down the street or simple acts of kindness within your own community, volunteering during the holiday season (and continuing throughout the rest of the year) has clear benefits.
Getting the entire family involved in volunteering would be ideal, but not always possible. Most holiday family gatherings are centered around a single event: a meal. Eating together as a family has been proven to be beneficial even for young families. Research done at the University of Georgia says that family meals teach children how to socialize, and instills responsibility and healthy habits. Those few hours spent together every evening have psychological, developmental and social benefits for all involved, so getting back to the same table surrounded by the same friends and family will have its advantages.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed and burnt out from the socialization and organization that comes with the holidays. Even if the thought of one more side-dish or gift to buy is going to drive you crazy, it’s important to remember that the holiday season, and all that comes with it is, is worth all the pressure and stresses because they aren’t all necessarily bad stresses.