Health: Stay with happy people

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones

This year, the holidays aren’t what they should be. At least the vaccine’s roll-out brings anticipation that 2021 will see a return to normal. Until then, what would be our health advice to cooped up readers in this unusual holiday season? Here are a few suggestions:

Say hello. Connecting with extended family by phone is our best option for now. It’s a great time to reach out to old friends too. Behavioural scientists at the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley report we underestimate the positive impact of connecting with others for both our own and others’ well-being. Their research shows that we tend to abhor a conversation with a perfect stranger until we have it. So when the pandemic subsides, say hello to whomever sits beside you on a park bench.

Try social media. There are important cautions about social media. Health promotion is not always the norm, for instance for children accessing adult content. But having a strong social network is associated with positive mental health and well-being. Harvard researchers have shown that using social media as part of everyday routine and responding to content that others share is positively associated with social well-being, positive mental health, and self-rated health. (We invite you to connect with us on Instagram!)

Visit a museum (virtually). University of Melbourne researchers have investigated the experiences, motivations and needs of older museum visitors and found these spaces can play an important role in building social and inter-generational connectedness and in supporting general health. Research by the University of Leicester in the UK shows that museums provide a sense of optimism and hope, self-esteem and resilience, rest and sanctuary, and a safe, rich environment to access arts and culture. If you haven’t experienced a virtual exhibit or an online performance during the pandemic, it’s not too late. Give it a try over the holidays.

Read a book. Reading fires up neural pathways. Studies show it improves memory and empathy. Immersing yourself in books helps fight depression, cuts stress, and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Share a recipe. Connecting online this holiday to share a recipe or even cook together creates bonds, supports self care, and creates a space for conversation. Even baking tasty treats can boost self-esteem. Donna Pincus, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, says, “Whether it’s painting or it’s making music [or baking], there is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”

Go for a walk in the woods. “Forest bathing” is good for the soul. But even a walk around the block is worthy. Get outside daily.

Try a natural remedy. Read the archive of columns on the Advocate website to learn why you should consider natural approaches as your first line of defence against common health problems.

Hug somebody. Within your household this season, we hope you have somebody to hug. Mutually reciprocated embraces relax muscles, increase circulation, and release endorphins in your body that elevate your mood. One study exposed 400 people to the common cold and found that those who reported more hugging in their lives fared better, a tribute to social connectedness.

Be happy. The research is overwhelming: happiness is good for your health. Your heart, immune system, stress response, and pain management all improve in performance when you are happy, and the effects are lasting. So as Doris Day sings, “Stay with the happy people”!

Healthy holidays to all our readers.

Dr. W. Gifford-Jones can be reached at

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