"A large part of happiness is anticipation," said Christian Waugh, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. "Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Year's Eve and other holidays offer punctuated moments of joy we look forward to for weeks. While the celebration itself may be short-lived, the anticipation of the fun and excitement to come extends the feelings of positivity."
But once the season has passed in an eggnog-fueled blur, some people risk sliding into a post-holiday funk. To combat the "Christmas is over" blues, Waugh offers the following tips:
Plan for cheer all year. Don't make Christmas the only season for celebrating. Plan a combination of big events and small celebrations throughout the year. Everyone gets excited for big vacations, but don't forget the joy of a simple Friday night with friends or watching a baseball game on TV. Also take time to plan for personal milestones and accomplishments. "Scheduling ahead and preparing appropriately is important," said Waugh. "Advance planning both helps build anticipation and reduces the likelihood of disappointment."
Go ahead – get excited. Let yourself look forward to the fun to come and feel good about a positive experience just around the corner. According to Waugh, the stress that comes from planning an event is to be expected but should not overshadow the joy of anticipation. "Research shows that resilient people are marked by the ability to recognize that stress and excitement can, and likely will, occur at the same time," he pointed out.
Savor the moment. Switch out of planning mode long enough to appreciate the experience you have been anticipating. "I can't stress enough the importance of actually enjoying the experience as it happens. After spending so much time and energy preparing for something, it can be too easy to the let the moment pass and later feel let down that you were too exhausted or distracted to enjoy it," Waugh said. "Take a deep breath and switch your focus away from the work that led up to the celebration and forget about what comes next. Have fun. Then start looking forward to playing with that new toy or using your gift card on something exciting."
So this January, February and beyond, invite the holiday spirit for a delayed stay – ideally, all year long.