The holiday season is upon us and we’re all hoping for a hot, steamy summer. But the heat can also bring trouble of the ‘hot and bothered’ kind. The kids have got an eternity off school and a lot of families find themselves thrown together on a holiday that is anything but stress-free!
Andy Cope is a happiness expert, yes that really ally does exist, and co-author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence: How to Flourish in a Crazy World. As a happiness expert (Andy Cope (see below) has been studying the science of happiness and well-being for 10 years), here he advises us on his top tips on how to retain your sanity and relationships in what I am hoping, for all our sakes, will be a long and glorious summer.
- It’s not about the money, honey
Almost too obvious to mention (common sense but not common practice) is the fact that happiness is more closely related to relationships than money. I appreciate that a lot of people want to take me to task on this, arguing they’d be happier if they won the lottery. And the short answer is, yes you would, for about 6 months, until the effect wears off. So a better long-term strategy is to spend time with people rather than in a Shopping Centre.
I know your brain will be screaming at me, but this means your holiday is not about the destination, it’s about the people.
- Going viral
Related to the above (because I know you need convincing), human beings are wired for emotional contagion. Your feelings and attitudes will spread. In holiday terms, if you have small children, they will be as happy in Whitby as they are in Mauritius. So long as you are!
Similarly, one negative family member will lower the tone of the entire holiday party. Make sure it’s not you!
- An attitude of gratitude
Related to the above, some have even attempted to put a monetary value on intangibles. According to an esteemed researcher at the University of London’s Institute of Education, here are some monetary values of happiness:
Seeing friends and relatives is equivalent to a pay rise of £64k a year
Chatting to nice neighbours is worth £37k a year
Getting married is worth £50k a year
And the biggy? Excellent health is estimated to be worth £300k a year to you
So whatever the summer brings you, be grateful.
- Happiness is Maximized at 57°F
Weird I know, but the American Meteorological Society found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity. It also found that happiness is maximized at 57 degrees (13.9°C), so, technically, you’re more likely to find it in Whitby than Mauritius.
- Stop musterbating
I’ve tried to cut down on my own musterbating and I think you should too. ‘Musterbating’ is when you turn things you’d like to have into things you absolutely MUST have. Every advert on the TV is designed to make you unhappy with what you currently own, luring you into the shops to spend money on products that will make you happy. And those products will make you happy, for an hour or two, until the next advert! This ‘must have’ society is driving us into debt! Here’s another list to write… the top 10 happiest moments of your life. I’ll wager that most of your top 10 happiest moments are ‘experiences’ rather than ‘products’. So, to squeeze more from your happiness pound, invest in experiences (and guess what a holiday is?)
- Outdoor pursuits
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness: “Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…”
A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier: “Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.”
For the rest of us, we don’t need a university degree to know that fresh air – lots of it – makes us feel a hell of a lot better.
- Take a ‘Fakation’?
Yes, I made it up, because the science suggests that planning a trip, even if you don’t actually go on it, will make you happier. A study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a holiday as people enjoy the sense of anticipation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks. After the holiday, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.
It seems holidays are just one more thing to add to the list of things that you can fake.
A holiday brings families together, in close quarters for a week or two. You will start to notice things…little things… that make you want to strangle them.
Dr Amit Sood created something that sounds rather like a football team formation, what he terms the 5-3-2 technique. You must first consider five people that you’re grateful to have in your life (the likelihood is that they will be on holiday with you). Then, for the first three minutes treat them like a long lost friend and don’t judge anyone or try to improve them. And, says the doc, for the first two seconds when you see them, send them a silent ‘I wish you well’. It’s rather beautiful and the urge to strangle them just seeps away.
- The 7-second hug
This goes hand-in-hand with the above. I started delving into the research behind this and then thought, sod it, nobody cares what the stats say. Here’s the headline news – the average hug lasts just over 2 seconds. If you hang on for a full 7 seconds then oodles of nice warm chemicals flow around both bodies and the love is transferred. One word of advice, don’t count out loud while you’re doing the 7-second hug as it tends to spoil the effect.
- Be the Pied Piper of Happiness
Returning to the earlier point that your emotions are contagious – they leak out of you and ‘infect’ those around you. So, when you make the conscious choice to be positive and upbeat, it takes 4 minutes for other people to catch it too. So, top tip, be enthusiastic for 4 minutes and everyone else will feel great too!
This is especially important if you’re camping in the rain. It only takes one idiot (you!) to be enthusiastically jumping in puddles and, before you know it, the entire campsite is doing the same. When you are old and prune-like, you will look back on your life and realise that these ‘little moments’ were, in fact, the best bits of your life.
Andy Cope is co-author of The Little Book of Emotional Intelligence: How to Flourish in a Crazy World. For more information see www.artofbrilliance.co.uk.