Rediscover the Healthy Joy of the Holidays

Have you been feeling it? That unrelenting pressure to find just the right gift for every person on your list. How could you miss it? It’s Melissa Dyrdahleverywhere – in the shops, on the television, on the radio and especially pouring into our email inboxes — constant reminders that the holidays are here and it’s time to buy, buy, buy.

I enjoy this time of year, but sometimes I am pushed into overload. We all already lead busy lives and then we toss in a holiday season that consumes more than a month. Christmas and Hanukkah parties, cards, decorations, cookies and of course, the gifts – it can become overwhelming.

At a time when we’re supposed to be feeling joy and peace and good will to all, we too often feel more stressed and have less good will than usual. Who to buy for? How much to spend? What do they need or really want? What one thing will make them happy? How can we relax when we’re trying so hard to make everything just right for everyone else?

Here is the ironic thing – all this gift giving and good willing is actually good for our health. Despite the stress and pressure we feel at the moment, we could be better off in the long run. Research shows that we do better when we give.

The evidence is in our brains. Just thinking about donating money to a charity rather than keeping it activates the primitive part of the brain that responds to good things like food, according to a National Institutes of Health study. And there’s more. Harvard University researchers found that when people suffering from multiple sclerosis made compassionate calls to others with the disease, they experienced lower rates of depression. Another study goes so far as to suggest that giving could prolong your life. People who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die when facing stressful situations than those who hadn’t, according to the research published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Gift giving might not offspresentset a plate of cookies or makeup for skipping our exercise routines, but maybe keeping in mind that we’re doing something good for ourselves when we’re doing good for others can make the holidays go a little more smoothly – and allow us to experience the joys of the season.

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