There are deep cultural and historical associations between the phrase “comfort and joy” and the holiday season. But the positive impact of finding comfort and joy in our lives, and bringing comfort and joy to the lives of others, is no longer just a quaint part of ancient holiday lore. Studies show that experiencing comfort and joy in our lives makes a real difference in how we feel. In fact, we now have scientific confirmation that, just as your mother may have told you, it actually is better to give than receive.
A Harvard study found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more than spending it for their own pleasure (despite participants hypothesizing in advance that the opposite would be true). Additionally, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charity, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Scientists also believe that selfless behavior releases endorphins in the brain, creating a “high” for the giver.
Essentially, the more you give, the more you open yourself to opportunities to enjoy life.
And this joy is not limited to adults. A study by psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that the same joy of giving we see in adults is also present in our earliest acts of giving. The benefits of giving and cooperating seem to be in our genetics from the start, so it is a great idea to provide your young children with the opportunity to participate in the gift giving process.
But what about “comfort” part of “comfort and joy?” As I have described before, we live in an age of Cultural Stress, with constant reliance on technology, a barrage of conflicting deadlines and uncertain economic times. This means that comfort seems to be in short supply. Or is it? I believe that finding comfort can be more about appreciating what you already have instead of focusing on what you don’t have or feel you need.
Scientists heading up the Research Project for Gratitude and Thankfulness found that teaching college students to “count their blessings” and cultivate gratitude actually caused them to exercise more, be more optimistic, and feel better about their lives overall. Additionally, a recent study conducted at Florida State University found that expressing gratitude to a close friend or romantic partner strengthens our sense of connection to that person. Therefore, by being grateful for what we have, we are actually creating more comfort in our lives.
I have long advised my patients to reflect on the things they are most grateful for or happy about before they go to sleep at night. This technique has helped many of them to reduce the impact of Cultural Stress on their lives.
Finding comfort and joy in our lives may actually be much simpler than we think. By reflecting upon the good things, sharing both gifts of time and treasure with others, and setting realistic goals for the future, anyone can experience “comfort and joy.”
I hope you and your loved ones find much comfort and joy this holiday season!
Article by Howard Murad, M.D., FAAD, a world renowned skincare expert and founder of the Inclusive Health movement. Click here to learn more about Dr. Murad.