Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Parties + Happiness + Research

These days, it's more fashionable to talk about sparking joy than about straight up happiness (that's so 2009). But I still find the subject pretty riveting, especially as it applies to one of my other favorite subjects: throwing parties.

In 2005, Sonja Lyubormirsky, a noted happiness scholar and psychology professor at the University of California Riverside, published a study indicating that happiness is driven by three things. Genetics are responsible for about half of our happiness; circumstances account for another 10%. We don’t have much, if any, control over either. But the remaining 40% is determined by "intentional activities and practices." Stuff we do to make ourselves happier – or not.

Having parties is what makes me happy – and I'm not unusual. Even people who don't think of themselves as natural hosts or hostesses can benefit from the act of throwing a party. But don't trust me on this - trust science. I've done some research (proving that I can make anything nerdier) and here's what I found:

Throwing a Party Makes Us Socialize – and Socializing Makes Us Happy

Parties bring people together – obviously – and that's a good thing. Two psychological studies of university students both found that socialization is associated with more happiness.

In a 2007 study, students who rated their social skills higher also rated their stress lower and life satisfaction higher. Good stuff all around. An earlier study, published in 2002, found that while exercise, religion and the incidence of "good events" did not differ between very happy and average or unhappy people, those in the very happy group were more likely to be highly social, with stronger relationships.

If this sounds like a raw deal for people who aren't natural extroverts, don’t think of it that way. No, you can't (and shouldn't) force yourself to convert to extroversion. But even if you're an introvert, you can enhance social relationships by throwing a party that fits your needs. A small one, with just your close friends, is still a party. 

Throwing a Party Keeps You Busy – and Happiness Is Action-Oriented

Throwing a party can be a lot of work. There are guest lists to make, invitations to send, menus to plan, drinks to dream up and booze to buy. The good news, though, is that your mile-long party to-do list has a hidden secret. It'll help keep you happy.

A 2010 study at the University of Chicago demonstrated that people who are busy are happier than people who are idle. A separate study,from 2005, found that performing five acts of kindness all in a single day increased short-term happiness levels.

Think of each item on that list - from buying ice to baking cookies - as an act of kindness for your guests. It's true.

Throwing a Party Helps Us Visualize Our Best Possible Selves

When I was a little girl, one of my absolute favorite things to do was to play dress-up in my grandmother's closet. After layering on as much costume jewelry as possible, I'd stick my little feet into a pair of her high heels – my favorites were a glittery pair of silver pumps that were more over the top than your average drag show – grab a matching handbag and shuffle around her bedroom, feeling as glamorous as Grace Kelly. In those moments, I dreamed of my adult life. And wow, did it sparkle.

Every time I throw a party, I go through the same exercise – minus the silver shoes and borrowed beads. From invitations through menu planning to the day of the party, as I chop and sweep and organize glassware, I imagine how the party will turn out, what will happen, how I'll feel. In my mind, it's always a success.

I know I'm not alone in those pre-party daydreams – it's something that happens naturally. And the good news is, those types of thought processes can have a positive impact on our overall happiness.

In a 2006 study, researchers found that exercises helping people visualize their "best possible selves" both boosted the way people experienced positive emotions and hampered negative emotions. That is more than enough reason, for me, to keep on dreaming about the fabulous parties ahead. 

Throwing a Party Helps Us Spread the Love Around

When we surround ourselves with happy people, we'll be happier, too. It's so logical – and it's true.

A long-term study of happiness and social networks (the real life kind, not the Facebook kind), publishedin 2008, found that individuals studied were 15% more likely to be happy if another study participant to whom they were connected (like a friend or family member) was also happy. The study also found that individuals were 25% more likely to be happy if a friend who lived within a mile became happy during the course of the study. Basically, happiness is contagious.

Contagious and, unlike those lice getting passed around your kid's seventh birthday party (true story chez Pollard), something that's actually worth spreading. People meet people at parties. They share stories, laughter, fun. 

Happiness blossoms.


Xani said...

Great post! You know I am on-board with this theory!! :)

Kit Pollard said...

I do know you are! You and Erin are my party spirit twins!!


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