Social support is one way we can help ourselves improve our overall psychological and physical well-being, but does it always have to be accomplished by other people? Research suggests the answer is no (but you happy pet owners already knew that, didn’t you?)! McConnell and colleagues conducted three studies in 2011 exploring the benefits of owning a pet. Their studies demonstrate multiple benefits including, but not limited to, greater self-esteem, decrease in loneliness, healthier relationships, and improved mood. Research is also demonstrating some evidence that people with pets fare better when facing serious health challenges (e.g., recent heart attacks, HIV). While studies have demonstrated a link between pets and various positive benefits, those who have human support and a pet receive the largest benefits. It is important to consider pets often come with large responsibilities that if not properly planned for can diminish or eliminate the positive benefits. However, if adequately planned and cared for, a pet can be every bit as good as a best friend (just like the old adage says)!
Through our lives, we all perform acts of kindness whether consciously or unconsciously. It can be in the form of opening a door for someone while walking out of a grocery store or carving out time to volunteer with a local charity. There are also times where our acts of kindness may not be known by the recipient. For example, having coffee ready for your co-workers because you had to go in early one morning to work on an assignment. They may not be aware of who made the coffee, but for coffee lovers, the smell of the aroma can be enough to put a smile on their face. In that moment, perhaps it may not be important to you to share you made the coffee because the reactions of your co-workers are enough. Research has demonstrated that when individuals engage in different acts of kindness, there is an increase in happiness, as it increases our pro-social tendencies toward others. Challenge yourself to perform acts of kindness regardless of whether they are big or small. As research suggests, the key is engaging in a variety of acts to avoid these acts becoming routine and feeling like a chore. It can also be helpful to write down your acts of kindness and reflect on them periodically.
While the holidays are filled with cheer and joy, stress can also be a part of it. There can be multiple upcoming parties, work events, family gatherings, and costs that need to be prioritized. Sometimes it helps to start thinking about the holidays earlier to ensure the associated stress does not take away from the happiness experienced during the holiday season. Try focusing on what is important to you. Decide whether hosting everyone at your home is important or being together regardless of the location matters most. If attending church on Christmas Eve is something you have missed in the recent years due to other responsibilities (e.g., cooking, wrapping gifts), then perhaps this year you may want to consider asking other family members for help. If you are hosting a party, make a conscious effort to socialize during the evening even if there are other hosting responsibilities that need to be taken care. It is okay to delegate some tasks to other family members. Often, we do not get to spend time with our family and friends because we find ourselves too caught up with hosting duties. It is also helpful to consider the small things. Aside from the hosting, gift giving, festivities, and delicious meals, filling your home with holiday scents and music can also add a special touch improving the mood and overall joy of the holidays.