This weekend just gone by we had a Birthday party for my son. It was a couple of hours in a local village hall with a hilarious magic show, cake eating, loud music, singing, dancing, party games and balloons filled with lively 4 year olds. It was wonderful and everyone had a fabulous time, and we have been on a high ever since.
There are so many things that happen during a Birthday celebration that science proves makes us happier. However, it does not have to be stuff that we do exclusively on Birthdays; the principles can be applied throughout the year. Let me highlight them:
– Party Planning:
My wife and I asked our son what kind of a party he wanted many months ago. We have been talking about it, looking forward to it and planning it ever since. We have all experienced times when we have had a huge amount of pleasure from anticipating Christmas or another celebration of some kind, haven’t we?
In a study entitled Looking forward, looking back: Anticipation is more evocative than retrospection researchers Van Boven and Ashworth (2007) showed that people enjoy looking forward to events more than we enjoy looking back upon events. It makes sense that we all involve ourselves in planning happy occasions, we are currently planning Halloween, Christmas, my Daughter’s Birthday party and next year’s family holiday.
– Spending Money On Others:
There is very limiting evidence to suggest that money can actually buy happiness. The evidence tends to suggest that one particular way money can bring happiness is to spend it on others. At Birthday time and at parties, money is spent on gifts that aim to make the Birthday boy or girl happy.
A study entitled Spending money on others promotes happiness, the researchers Dunn, Aknin and Norton (2008) state;
“It’s partly because giving to others makes us feel good about ourselves. It helps promote a view of ourselves as responsible and giving people, which in turn makes us feel happy. It’s also partly because spending money on others helps cement our social relationships. And people with stronger social ties are generally happier.”
The study showed that individuals who spent money on others were happier than those who spent the same amount on themselves. When we buy presents for others for their birthday, we all feel good as a result.
A large cross-cultural study By Aknin et al. (2010) that gathered information from 136 different countries also showed that people who reflected upon times they’d spent money on others were happier than people who recalled times they’d spent money on themselves. Birthday parties illustrate this point in amplified fashion.
– Buy Experience, Not Just Stuff!
A couple of times last weekend, I had to dig my son out from underneath a mountain of wrapping paper, and I must say that him and I have been spending a lot of time playing Lego together since then. However, at children’s Birthday parties when lots of toys are being bought, it is important to bear in mind that experience is just as important, if not more important to spend your money on.
Psychological research suggests that the party, with friends, watching ‘Count Backwards’ and his exploding magic wands, hilarious sparkly platform shoes doing his magic show will bring the happiness home.
I say that, but have you ever played musical statues and tried telling 4 year olds that they have to sit out? As DJ and judge for this game, I got plenty of frowns from the children I asked to sit out because they moved when the music stopped! That aside, experiences and happy memories are easier for us all to talk about, happily reflect upon and as a result they give us continued pleasure long after the cake has all been eaten.
– Be Active and Move:
In another large study conducted at the California State University, Thayer, Newman and Mclean (1994) examined what strategies people found most effective for feeling better in themselves and uplifting mood.
The number one strategy rated as most effective for changing mood and raising energy is exercise. The authors of the study state that this is not the type of long-distance running training that I write about all the time, but a simple stroll outdoors which stretches our legs is as good for mood elevation.
Getting the body moving, the heart pumping, and oxygen flowing into the lungs gets us happier. And boy, does that ever happen at Birthday parties!?? Both my kids spend Birthday parties with sweaty foreheads after they’ve been there for two minutes! For the rest of us, it makes sense then, to take stairs instead of lifts, to have a walk during breaks, to breathe the air and move our bodies throughout our days and we’ll be happier as a result.
– Music Maestro Please!
The number two strategy in the same study mentioned in the previous point, is listening to music. Listening to music lifts mood and makes us feel better. Music has the capacity to alter and influence mood in a wide number of ways. Importantly, people simply love music.
Birthday parties have plenty of music – and when coupled with all that movement and activity from our previous point, we hit happiness central.
Evidence suggests that even sad or depressing music can make us happier as people enjoy the mix of emotions it stimulates. I have many hours of first hand experience of this from my teenage years listening to some of my favourite Smiths records, enjoying moping around in response.
– Social Interaction:
The third most successful strategy in the large study is social interaction. This is central to children’s Birthday parties. Not just for the children, but for the adults, family and parents of those involved. We get to talk, share experiences, laugh and enjoy the event from an adult perspective.
Social interaction makes us happier.
– Pan For Gold:
My son and I share the favourite parts of our day each night before we go to bed. At the weekend, I asked him what he enjoyed most about his party. He spoke for a long time. This tends to happen naturally following children’s parties. The children discuss it at school, with friends, with family afterwards. They pick out their highlights and it makes them smile.
We can all do this every day. Scan through our day and pick out the highlights that let us reflect in a positive way which makes us feel happier.
Martin Seligman and colleagues (2005) showed that when people did this exercise it made them happier for a full 6 months afterwards.
You don’t have to just list positive elements of your day prior to going to bed. Throughout the day, you can reflect upon happy memories by daydreaming.
Quoidbach and colleagues at the University of Liege found that positive mental time travel made people happier. When people think back to times in their lives that were enjoyable, filled with happiness and connection with others, that happiness was rekindled. Birthday parties give you plenty to talk about afterwards, and also to remember fondly.
Of course, we all know that Birthday parties make us happy. Science supports many of the underlying reasons though and as a result, we can all adopt elements of children’s Birthday party psychology to make ourselves happier every other day of the year too. Bring some of that kid’s party attitude into your day-to-day life!
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