A psychologist’s plan for enjoying a positive holiday season

Give thanks

I have the privilege (or some might say burden) to introduce graduate students aspiring to become counselors or psychologists to a myriad of psychological problems. As you can imagine, this is not the most uplifting class in their program of study. Week after week we focus on abnormality. We attempt to understand what keeps people from experiencing a meaningful and joyous life.

So I thought about focusing this blog on the numerous studies that discuss the increased incidence of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders during the holiday season. But then I was reminded that even though there is an increased incidence of mood disorders during this time, most of us are far more interested in learning ways to optimize this holiday time to
experience joy and fulfillment. I’m not the first one to realize this. Dr. Martin Seligman, a past American Psychological Association president and proponent of positive psychology, has spent years researching what works to improve people’s level of life satisfaction and meaning. Among his recommendations there is one that I believe could make this holiday season one to remember. It is called a gratitude visit. Here is what you need to do in Dr. Seligman’s words:\

  1. Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with new-found romantic love, or with the possibility of a future gain.)
  2. Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we fell asleep at night.
  3. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone.
  4. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice… but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift.
  5. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression, and with eye contact.
  6. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you.

It is my hope that this simple but profound visit may change the way you experience your
holiday season.

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Douglas Ribeiro

Douglas Ribeiro

Assistant Professor Psychology

Ribeiro joined the psychology and counseling faculty in Fall 2012 after completing his Ph.D. in Coun... [More]

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