Home All Happiness, Busyness, and Holiday Letters

Happiness, Busyness, and Holiday Letters

written by Bridget Grenville-Cleave 27 November 2009

Bridget Grenville-Cleave, MAPP graduate of the University of East London, is a UK-based positive psychology consultant, trainer and writer. She is author of Introducing Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide (2012), and The Happiness Equation with Dr Ilona Boniwell. She regularly facilitates school well-being programs and Positive Psychology Masterclasses for personal and professional development. Find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter @BridgetGC. Website. Full bio. Her articles are here.

In the paper, Communicating and Philosophizing about Authenticity and Inauthenticity in a Fast-Paced World, Becky DeGreeff, Ann Burnett and Dennis Cooley at North Dakota State University suggest that living life in the fast lane is actually preventing us from achieving true happiness.


So first, let me ask, how busy are you on a scale of 1-10, where

  • 1 = you feel calm and in control: you have plenty of time every day to put your feet up, twiddle your thumbs and contemplate your navel
  • 10 = you feel tired and overstretched: your daily activities or appointments are starting to overlap, and you couldn’t get them all done if you didn’t multitask, grab lunch on the go and use your commuting time at both ends of the day to answer emails via your cell phone or Blackberry

I asked this of a group I was working with the other day; 90% of them said they were 8 or above every day, including weekends. I bet the vast majority of you are also on the wrong side of 5, that is, your lives are hectic combinations of work commitments, social activities, family gatherings, shopping trips, visits to the gym, running round organizing the kids …and maybe even study on top of that. “Running to stand still,” was how one described how he felt most of the time. “Feeling that everyone and everything is overtaking me,” said another. “Frightened that I’ll lose control if I stop,” said a third. Who doesn’t feel like this quite a lot of the time?

How full is your bucket-list?

But how can it be that being so busy gets in the way of happiness?

It seems much more logical, doesn’t it, that in order to maximize our chances of finding happiness, we should try to do as much as we can, and experience as many things as possible. Got a half-hour to spare? Why not finish that report, make a few more appointments, or answer a couple of emails. Going on holiday? Let’s get a tourist guide to the city and see if we can visit every museum and gallery on the map, we don’t want to miss anything. So if we pack our lives full of activities, achieve everything on our bucket-list, we won’t waste a single, precious moment, and then we’re more likely to find happiness. Aren’t we?

Becky DeGreeff  and colleagues argue that we’re so focused on doing stuff (at work, at home, with the kids, with friends and so on) that we have little time to focus on just being, or living honestly and courageously in the moment.

So you’ll have spotted the paradox here: we keep busy because it leads to more experiences, and we think that more experiences is equivalent to more chances of being happy. But being busy reduces our chances of being happy because we reduce the amount of time we have to reflect and learn, to savor, appreciate, and be in the moment.  In other words, say these researchers, we’re living inauthentic lives which actually prevent us from being happy.  As I was reading this paper, I was reminded of Gretchen Rubin’s inspirational video “The years are short” – if you haven’t seen it, view it now here.

The suggestion from this paper is that the majority of North Americans (and I’d add others in the Northern Hemisphere/Western World) are living inauthentic lives, because they’re too busy to stop and reflect on what ‘stuff’ really means. The researchers base this conclusion on their analysis of holiday letters exchanged with friends and family at around Christmas time or the New Year, describing what has been going on over the past 12 months. [In the UK, holiday letters, or what we call round robin letters, are less common. I don’t know why that is. Maybe we’re too busy to write them… 8)].

What do we say in our holiday letters?

The researchers analyzed these holiday letters for signs of authenticity, for instance reflection on important life events such as births, marriages and deaths. They came up with 3 different categories: authentic, inauthentic and in-between. So in authentic letters, the letter-writers might talk about what happened during the year, and then discuss the impact on their lives, how it changed them, or how they have grown by the experience. In an in-between letter, the letter-writers might  acknowledge that events had meaning, but then  fail to elaborate on what that meaning was.  In the inauthentic letters, the letter-writers might still mention the different life events, but in a more cursory way, for example presenting them in bullet points, like a shopping list, without any detail or explanation.

Becky DeGreeff and her colleagues found these results with the 598 holiday letters they analyzed:


Authentic letters    32     5%
Inauthentic letters    495   83%


The vast majority were so distracted by the hectic details of daily life that they failed to show any awareness of ‘being’, a sign of authentic happiness in the view of the authors. So it looks as if we’re fooling ourselves into believing we need to do and achieve as much as possible. As a result we get so busy that we can’t appreciate the really important things in life.

Are some types of happiness better than others?

This paper, with its juxtaposition of authenticity and inauthenticity, reminded me of the eudaimonic versus hedonic happiness arguments that we had in our MAPP class. It’s assumed that the former has more inherent value than the latter.  Happiness, like most other things in life, is not values-free.  This needs to be discussed more. Several of the current MAPP students at UEL were up in arms at the suggestion that hedonic happiness might be less ‘worthwhile’ or ‘meaningful’ than eudaimonic happiness. They were actually more than happy with the meaning that they got from earning $200,000 per year and wearing a pair of Jimmy Choos or a Hugo Boss suit (not necessarily at the same time). They didn’t like the implication that this type of happiness was somehow ‘less good’ or less authentic. Who are positive psychologists to tell others how to live their lives?

So at the end of the article I was left wondering about a number of things:

  • Can we assume that people are living inauthentic lives based on what they write in a holiday letter or anywhere else? Just because they don’t openly express the meaning and purpose they derive from certain life experiences doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate their true value, or aren’t changed by them in a meaningful way. Perhaps some people are incapable or unwilling to express their authentic selves in writing.
  • Is there a trend in holiday letter-writing which some people find difficult to go against? For example, perhaps there is an expectation that holiday letters will be light-hearted, optimistic, and cheerful, not full of profound statements about finding the meaning in life. On the other hand, perhaps if more people did reflect on life-changing experiences in their holiday letters, others might also be encouraged to do the same.
  • And do positive psychologists (or indeed anyone else) have the right to prescribe what others should and shouldn’t do in order to be happy?

I found this paper raised some very important questions about what authentic happiness is, how we achieve it, and how we act as role-models for those around us, be they friends, colleagues or our children. So when you sit down to write your holiday letter to your friends and family this Christmas, what are you going to write about?



DeGreeff, B.L., Burnett, A. & Cooley, D. (2009). Communicating and philosophizing about authenticity and inauthenticity in a  fast-paced world. Journal of Happiness Studies.


Paris traffic courtesy of Let Ideas Compete
Multitasking for fun courtesy of sha in LA 
Multitaskabulous! courtesy of eflon
Boy in a basket. Mum in a hurry courtesy of Steve Punter 

Not seeing the pictures for the book links? Disable Adblocking for this site to view them.

You may also like


Marc 27 November 2009 - 1:04 pm


Thank you for the interesting article. Thankfully, I don’t believe I fall into the upper echelons of the “busy scale,” unless, of course, it’s exam time and the whole world seems to be working against me. Also, I agree with your criticism of the letter analysis and prescription of positive psych methods; every person is different.

Out of curiosity, what kind of a sample are the generalizations being based on? I would imagine there is a major difference between studying retired folks and young professionals in terms of how much time they have for, “authentic living.” Furthermore, who’s to say that working every waking our for the attainment of some goal (I’m thinking of career-focused people) isn’t being authentic? For some people, that may be their very definition of authentic living.

Thanks again,

Sable Watson 27 November 2009 - 2:29 pm


Great article! I think this is a very important topic that people need to think about. If I had to rate myself on this scale, I would argue that I am a 3; but I know a good number of people who are pushing 8 or 9. I think some of the things you mention are right. People who cram their schedules oftentimes lose the time they could be spending on reflection and savoring their moments.

What I want to know is: has there been any other research on this topic? I, too, find it questionable that we can measure one’s authenticity through holiday letters. Something I feel might be interesting to look at are journal entries of some sort (assuming a person would want to share them). Is there anything involving that type of thing?



Danielle 27 November 2009 - 4:20 pm

Hi Bridget,

I enjoyed reading your article and can totally see how our busy lives can get in the way of our happiness. I just came across one quick question when I was reading your article. I was hoping you could explain to me the difference between eudaimonic and hedonic happiness.



Bob Reuter 27 November 2009 - 9:45 pm

Hi again, Bridget

You seem to be the writer who triggers a response from me as I recall how much I enjoyed your article “In praise of Slow.” Today, I opened PPND as a break from my fourth day of working on a response to some legal findings that I have been waiting two years for. How to ensure they know I remain engaged without poisoning my own well sounding harsh? It is a kind of self-imposed, two-way stretch.

So, that being on a totally different subject, as I only scanned over your article I feel I should go back and do a line by line read. But, before I do, may I offer the thought that came to mind as I noted the various terms — new terms, I felt — among believers in Positive Psychology. My net feeling was that I am starting to feel so busy trying to learn what the positive psychologists are talking about in their new vernacular I could be spending more time at that than at doing science or just being happy with whatever I am doing.

I am growing skeptical of the assertion of a need for a totally fresh start in Psychology. I don’t think we had to throw out the baby with the bath water which sounds more and more like what has been done. Positive Psychology appears to me to be the “New Psychology” or, then, not Psychology at all. I am not far from my forty-fifth class reunion from Brown University in whose Department of Psychology as an undergraduate I offerred a wholly new perspective I felt belonged in Social Psychology. I was advised by a professor that most “breakthroughs” occur in the context of an ongoing evolution of a body of existing knowledge.

I would add to that the idea that if a “breakthrough” is a completely new direction it is more of a break with than a breakthrough for the development of the parent discipline. After recently doing most of a masters program in counseling with a lot of interest in cognitive therapy and, now, brief, solution-oriented therapy (that fits with my own “new school” of strategic collaborations), I felt that the “traditional” field of Psychology, has indeed, been advancing as science in the century-and-a-half it has been evolving from Freud’s day to ours. I have tried to open a dialog with Bill O’Hanlon and just referred back to his reading list for a hint to recall the right sequence of words for “Brief, Solution Oriented Therapy.” Doing that, I passed over a co-authored title of his that seemed in its own domaain to make the point I am working on, here. The title is “Love is a Verb: How to stop analyzing your relationship and start making it great. I need to fill in something for the starting words “Happiness is . . . .” The parallel to my thoughts, here, is of course the idea that we can become so preoccupied with the “what when, where and how” (I assume we all agree on the “who”) of happiness we could lose sight of what we do naturally to be happy and become less happy in the process.

I now want to go back and see what I did not see in my fast look at your article. I hope you will still accept my thanks for the food for thought.

Best regards, Bob

Jacqueline Johns - Happy Life Mentor 27 November 2009 - 10:16 pm

I think the people who rate themselves as 8 or 9 on the scale are so busy chasing happiness that they’ll never find it.

Of course we need to have meaningful work to do, and a hefty salary is always nice, but not at the price of inner peace.

I really believe true joy is inside us all. People who are too busy to get in touch with that joy are living empty lives – that’s why they try to fill them up with ‘stuff’. Here’s my theory on happiness:

“Happiness is snuggled up in a quiet spot within you. You need only be still and silent and allow it to unfold until it eventually engulfs you.”

Live Life Happy!

Lara 27 November 2009 - 11:47 pm

Thank you for a fantastic article! I often feel that I am in a rush to get nowhere fast. How else do you think we can use savoring techniques to improve on our authenticity of happiness? Thanks again!

Todd Kashdan 28 November 2009 - 3:27 pm


I am curious as to how you are being trained in the so-called difference between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness? How you define eudaimonia? How you do you measure it? How do you reconcile the fact that nearly anything can be antecedent to life satisfaction from the strawman hedonism examples you list to helping other people to sharing intimate time with family and friends to anything else.

I hope you are being trained that the notion of two separate kinds of happiness is a debated issue, not a fact. But let me know.

Biswas-Diener, R., Kashdan, T.B., & King, L.A. (2009). Two traditions of happiness research, not two distinct types of happiness. Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 208-211

Kashdan, T.B., Biswas-Diener, R., & King, L.A. (2008). Reconsidering happiness: The costs of distinguishing between hedonics and eudaimonia. Journal of Positive Psychology, 3, 219-233.

No wonder your fellow students have a visceral response to the idea that one research tradition is better than the other. The two intersect and perhaps the entire focus on possible types of happiness takes our eye off the prize- what do people do to achieve lasting fulfillment and what are the best ways to go about doing it?


Ethie 28 November 2009 - 3:38 pm


I really liked this article. I have a blog and I have been wanting to discuss this topic for a while, especially since it seems to be a bigger issue during the holiday season. I would genuinely rate my self as an 8 or 9 as well. I find it hard to imagine myself being nearer to the 1 side of the scale. I’m a student and the end of the fall semester is nearing… and of course, this is the time where you are tying up lose strings and turning in semester long assignments, studying for exams, etc. Amongst all the other things you have to do, like pay bills, work, buy presents, make phone calls, emails… life is so hectic and Ive known that around this time of the year, every year for the past four years, I feel overwhelmed and depressed. I can’t enjoy the beauty and splendor of the holidays, and that makes me sad. So every year I vow, I will get shopping done in August or September, and it never happens. It makes me wonder, what if i finished all of my christmas duties earlier… would I somehow find a way to still be too busy to enjoy my life? Hmmm… what do you think?

Darius 28 November 2009 - 5:19 pm


This article is interesting to me because I would rate myself at around 3. I find that I’m more happy when my busy scale is less than 5, but I notice that many people I know prefer to have a lot of things on their plate, and thrive above 5. I agree that people need to take time to relax, and it can’t be healthy to be a 9 or a 10. But do you think that where people find happiness on this scale is relative?

thanks, Darius

Sarah 29 November 2009 - 12:06 am


I feel as though society today has such a difficult time discussing feelings with anyone other than their close friends and some family members. Showing emotion and how the events during the year have impacted your life, puts the person out on the line and gives those receiving his/her greetings information that they could possibly use against them. A lot of people send Christmas letters to everyone they know so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings. Therefore, many of those receiving the letters are not necessarily people that you would want to open up your heart to. It’s just like the question, “How are you?”; You probably ask that question a least a few times to each day to complete strangers or people that you barely know. You do not truly care about how they are doing, but instead it has become a default question to ask everyone, and to adhere to our culture the person responding is not expected to go into their day or feelings with you. A simple, “good” is sufficient and then the conversation is over. Many daily or as in the case of the Christmas letter annual events are not ways in which we communicate our feelings or happiness with another person. Instead it is a way to show that you care about that person, and feel the need to update them on your life.

Don’t you feel that people that are very busy can be happy or unhappy depending on their personality? Some people enjoy keeping busy and being productive while others enjoy lounging.

Great article, I really enjoyed thinking about this topic!


Amanda 29 November 2009 - 5:02 am

Hi Bridget
Thank you – a very enjoyable read and a great reminder.
I found this comment interesting: “Becky DeGreeff and colleagues argue that we’re so focused on doing stuff (at work, at home, with the kids, with friends and so on) that we have little time to focus on just being, or living honestly and courageously in the moment.”

I wonder whether people are ‘being’, but sometimes they don’t take a moment to reflect that they are ‘being’. Amongst all that doing, they are probable doing the meaningful activities, that they are being brave doing what they are doing, and so on. This reminds me of a comment by Dianne Vella-Brodick (Monash University) about research being undertaken to ask people to review their day for the three good things and to find something that was pleasurable, engaging and meaningful. Her suggestion is that these things do occur each day – amongst the busyness! – people just need to reflect to notice they did these things.


LeanRainMakingMachine 29 November 2009 - 8:49 am

I do not buy into much of this.
First, self reporting on how busy we feel is fraught with bias and error.
Americans regularly report that they are exceedingly busy/stressed. Yet, they AVERAGE something like 4+ hours a day TV time. Oprah Winfrey is an incredibly successful TV star. Her show is on in the afternoon. In short, millions and millions of people are sitting around watching TV in the afternoon. Reality is that for Americans, “being busy” is noble and self important–e.g., ” yes, I have a busy life, cause I’m as or more important and noble than you…”

Moreover, I am almost offended by the notion that less self involved/emotion packed writing in a letter renders one “inauthentic.” Fact is, men are less emotionally expressive than women. So, right off the bat, one needs to adjust immensely for gender. Next, cultural differences pervade one’s emotional expressiveness. We all know that, relatively, Italians are more expressive than Asians and Brits, etc. This cultural difference extends through the generations.
Third, some folks just do not believe that the recipients want to hear all about their emotional sturm and drang..
So, I think this “science” is horribly flawed.
I think the reality is that almost all Americans waste huge amounts of time watching TV. They don’t want to admit: “I’m a schlub, I sit around watching TV and eating bon bons, which is why we have an obesity epidemic in America.” Instead, they say “I’m much too busy to exercise, write a novel, etc….”

LeanRainMakingMachine 29 November 2009 - 8:51 am

As for the few Americans who ARE authentically exceptionally busy and rushing, this sounds like yet another job for Wayne. If we are busy, we need/can/should/might practice mindfulness while in the experience–thereby savoring/enjoying it.

Elizabeth Hofelt 29 November 2009 - 10:21 am

Dear Bridget,

The correlation I see between business and holiday letters might be that people who are at the highest end of the range possibly don’t have time for the dear friends that are not part of their fast paced life, but still love them and want to keep the relationship going until things slow down. How the recipient feels about the letter would vary based on how much they cared for the sender and if they were fine with or had bad feelings towards the person for not having time for their relationship.

If the fast paced life has been going for many years and the person has found dear friends in their fast paced life, then I would think the person is sending reflective letters. If they are busy with no friends inside the fast lane or outside of it, I’m guessing the holiday letter would be lacking intimacy and perspective, much like the person writing it. But there are plenty of people who are not busy who would fall in this same category. So maybe its not so much about business as it is about people being in right relationship with themselves and others.

In my most generous moments I think people write holiday letters to stay connected to others. In my less generous moments I think that people are trying to convince themselves and others that their life is a good one. But in some way, we all are trying to do this. Sometimes our lives really are good and we know it, other times we are not sure and need to convince ourselves it is good until we are able to figure out a new direction.

Let Ideas Competer 29 November 2009 - 9:38 pm

I am flattered that you selected one of my photos. However, you need to give credit to the sources of the photos you use. Mine is the Paris Traffic photo. Please give credit and a link to “Let Ideas Compete.”

Perhaps I have the Flickr licensing incorrectly set.

Senia 29 November 2009 - 10:26 pm

Hi Let-Ideas-Compete,

We like your image very much, and do give credit to you at the bottom of the post. Please look where it says “Images.” We think your image is fabulous. Thank you!


M.K. 30 November 2009 - 12:57 pm

I was drawn to this article because I have spent the last year consciously eliminating some of the busyness in my daily life. At the beginning of the year, I would have given myself a 10 on the busyness scale. Though I have now reduced my score to a 7 or 8, I still have difficulty eliminating many of the to-does in my life. Perhaps, the socially accepted norm is staying busy. However, I have made a conscious effort to reduce the value I place upon staying busy as a means to happiness. Still I find that certain aspects of my daily life, including going to work, going to classes, doing laundry, etc., cannot be omitted.

As certain chores of our daily lives are not readily omissible, what is the best way to begin making time for happiness? Perhaps cutting corners in certain activities helps us leave time for the activities of higher value in our lives. Is it possible that cutting corners on writing the messages in our holiday cards leaves more quality time to spend with family baking cookies or just relaxing?

Bridget 30 November 2009 - 8:03 pm

Hi Marc

Thanks for your comments and question.

The letters that were analysed in the research came from a variety of people, but because the letter-writers were guaranteed anonymity, the researchers couldn’t collect specific demographic details.

They were acquired through colleagues, friends, students and others. The article states “Letters appeared to have been writtn by individuals of all ages and a variety of backgrounds…states represented included Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, Rhode island, North & South Dakota and Texas”. There’s more detail given in the examples they quote, but unfortunately not enough to work out what % are retired vs still working, for example.


Bridget 30 November 2009 - 8:06 pm

Hi Sable

Do you mean research on the question of being busy or on authenticity? I don’t know what research there is using people’s journals, I’ll see what I can find and let you know.


PS great name – my sister’s favourite when she was little!

Bridget 30 November 2009 - 8:38 pm

Hi Bob
thanks for your comments. You make some very interesting points e.g. whether Positive Psychology is really new – that’s a tricky one. On the one hand you could say quite simply that “there is nothing new under the sun” and that PP is just a big bold repositioning (as in marketing) exercise which has created a whole “new” industry. But that would be very cynical and completely anti-PP. On the other hand you could say that it’s actually opening up a whole new discussion on what it means to live a good life (which is not a purely psychological question, of course). In support of this you could say that there has been far more psych research looking at depression than at well-being, for example, and that this imbalance needs to be corrected. Or perhaps PP can be both new and old at the same time?

Maybe what we could ask is whether PP as a field is more effective at enabling people to enjoy/make more of their lives/increase their well-being than traditional psychology?

BTW I would probably agree with your professor about breakthroughs, but then we’re back to repositioning I think.

As to whether love is a verb, that’s a tricky one too. From a lay perspective, I would say that love is something you do for others, but those who are newly in love would probably say it’s as much, if not more, about feeling. Perhaps it changes over time, or just depends on the person? Maybe it’s the same with happiness.

That’s the paradox I love in PP, that the more you look at it, the harder it is to see.

Hope you managed to finish off that legal matter you were working on!


Bridget 30 November 2009 - 8:40 pm

Hi Jacqueline

Well said!


Bridget 30 November 2009 - 8:50 pm

Hi Danielle
That’s a very interesting and important question you ask. Hedonic happiness is easier to define: it’s about pleasure, feeling good, having fun – ‘wine, (wo)men and song’, that kind of thing. Eudaimonic happiness is not so easy to define. In the words of Ilona Boniwell (2006) ‘It’s a MESS!’. Some would suggest eudaimonic well-being is about finding meaning and purpose in your life, or achieving fulfilment, or flow, others would use the words personal development or personal growth. It’s a bit of a hotch-potch of ideas, depending which well-being theory you’re looking at. It does seem to be different to hedonic happiness though.

Hope that helps


Bridget 1 December 2009 - 5:20 am

Hi Tod

I’m curious as to your use of the word curious ;->

I don’t think you’re really expecting me to give you a definition, are you? If students couldn’t get hot under the collar about their subject, it would be a very dull world.

Don’t forget we still have a fantastically robust class system over here…!


Bridget 1 December 2009 - 5:38 am

Hi Ethie
Thanks for your comments. I’m sure you’re not alone when you speak of feeling overwhelmed and depressed at this time of year. I don’t know what would happen if you did finish all your Christmas tasks early – you’d have to try it and see…

You could say that the ‘lighthearted’ side of Christmas, the fun and jollity, is really for kids; for the rest of us, once we grow out of believing in Father Christmas, maybe it never can be that again? I wonder if there is such an expectation that it WILL be a happy time, and that we WILL enjoy being with family and so on, that it cannot help but disappoint?

I wanted to talk more about the question of “time perspectives” and how they are linked to well-being (Zimbardo & Boniwell have done research in this area) in this article, but there wasn’t the space – are you familiar with this topic? Perhaps, rather than try to be more organised with your time, you might find a new way of looking at the subject by exploring your relationship with time? Just a thought.


Bridget 1 December 2009 - 5:44 am

Hi again Danielle
Hopefully you have also seen Tod Kashdan’s comments on hedonic and eudaimonic too.

Bridget 1 December 2009 - 6:10 am

Hi Lara

Interesting question about savouring, thank you – Perhaps Bryant & Veroff’s suggestion that we think of savouring in 3 ways (i) things we’re looking forward to; ii) things we’re doing right now; iii) things we enjoyed doing yesterday/last week/last year) is a good way of finding a method which suits us.

i) visualisation is fantastic, works for kids too. Can you think of an occasion that you’re looking forward to? Close you eyes and imagine what it will be like to be there, the small details of what will happen, who and what you’ll see, how you’ll feel on the day and so on.
ii) mindfulness – really paying attention to the stuff that you’re doing this minute, in the moment – perhaps easier to start with physical things like eating, drinking, stroking the cat etc before working up to the intangibles. Take time to think of every movement you make, every sensation you feel.
iii) keeping a scrapbook or a ‘portfolio’ of some kind, with pictures, letters, certificates etc, and taking the time to browse through it and enjoy it. It doesn’t have to be a grand affair, I’m sure even having a photo in your wallet or purse of a great holiday you had, and then taking a moment to connect with the positive emotions it generates, would count.

If you put ‘savoring’ in the search box on this website you’ll find lots of great articles on the subject. Plus there’s also the book: Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.


Bridget 1 December 2009 - 6:22 am


I’m sure it’s relative – I too know plenty of people who ‘thrive above five’ (love that phrase!); the important question is how not to let being busy get in the way of being well, or how to stop yourself spiralling off into stress and burn-out. In the same way there will be people who are miserable below 5, who have time (and the inclination) to ruminate.

Have you looked into the research on well-being and time perspectives? (eg Zimbardo & Boniwell)- that might be fruitful avenue to explore further.


Bridget 1 December 2009 - 6:40 am


That’s a really interesting comment you made, about whether people mean it when they say ‘how are you?’ I wonder what would happen if, next time someone says that to you, you actually tell them how you are? Or, if next time someone replies ‘fine thank you’, and you say, ‘no really, I’d like to know how you’re feeling right now?’, what response you would get?

When people ask me how I am, the word ‘fine’ comes out of my mouth before I’ve even thought about it.

Perhaps we could come up with some new phrases to try in response. How about “I feel good…I knew that I would” (accompanied by a James Brown ‘Whoa-oa-oa!’ or little shuffle). What do you think?


Bridget 1 December 2009 - 6:56 am


Good point about reflection. It reminded me very much about being at work, and rarely stopping to celebrate the things that had gone well, the end of projects etc, before rushing on to the next big thing.

As you say, just because you don’t reflect on ‘being’ doesn’t mean that you aren’t ‘being’. And if we stop to notice ‘being’, it stops being ‘being’ anyway.
But reflecting back on the day, and remembering the moments of pleasure, engagement and meaning is an important activity, I think because it helps us to create different stories.

Can you give me the reference for the Vella-Brodick article please and I’ll look it up.


Bridget 4 December 2009 - 8:10 am

Hi LeanRainMakingMachine

I agree with a lot of what you say.
It’s a shame that many of these articles that we refer to on PPND aren’t available for everyone to read, because inevitably, I have my own perspective on it, and yours may be different. The research starts from the perspective of Heidegger’s theory of Dasein (or human Being), and that the failure to recognise Dasein leads to an inauthentic existence. So when they analysed all the holiday letters they were looking specifically to answer the question ‘How does Heidegger’s notion of Dasein manifest itself in ways that individuals in North American society talk about time in the context of holiday letter?’ The point of using holiday letters is that the writers would not be aware when they wrote their letters that they would be used for this purpose – if they had been, it might have influence what they wrote & therefore would not have been a reflection of authenticity/inauthenticity. Does that make sense?

As for self-reporting – isn’t the vast majority of psych research based on self report?

And TV, well, who was it who said that television is the opiate of the masses? My personal view is that it’s the biggest time waster ever invented. But millions of people get a lot of enjoyment out of watching TV. Again, should positive psychologists dictate what people do or don’t do to find pleasure and enjoyment?

On your second point – do men write letters? ;-> As mentioned in a previous response, the researchers didn’t analyse the demographics so I can’t comment on gender/culture etc. I have also misinformed you if you’ve concluded that authenticity is about displays of emotion. The letters were coded for authenticity based on Heidegger’s Dasein. So for instance, “an authentic letter might have discussed a family member’s illness and death along with acknowledgment of the finite nature of life and provided evidence about how that event altered the writer’s life”. And actually the letter which was thought ‘perhaps the most authentic’ in this research was written by a 76 year old man.

I think you’re right when you say that not everyone wants/is able to reveal all in a holiday letter. But as to whether expression of authenticity is necessarily evidence of authenticity (and vice versa) that’s an interesting conundrum. If you’re authentic but don’t express your authenticity, doesn’t that make you inauthentic? Based on the way the research was set up, this was a logical assumption I think.


Bridget 4 December 2009 - 8:14 am

Hi Elizabeth

You’ve raised some very interesting points there; I’ve been doing some work on narrative approaches to consultation recently, and about creating new, more helpful stories in one’s life, and I liked the way you suggested that holiday letters might be about this. Particularly since informal research has found that narrative documentation (in the form of letters, certificates etc) is even more effective that the therapy session itself.

Thanks for making that connection for me.


Bridget 4 December 2009 - 8:42 am

Hi M.K.

You’ve hit the nail on the head here. I think a traditional time management approach would recommend cutting out as many non essential chores as possible, and multi-tasking the rest, as the route to feeling in control, and on top of your schedule. Whereas an approach more in line with positive psychology would be to do the chores with mindful attention, rather than rushing through them. Perhaps for most people, particularly at this time of year, it’s a matter of a bit of both.

For me personally, if it’s a choice between spending 20 minutes wrapping gifts perfectly, or playing hide ‘n’ seek with the kids, I’d choose the latter. But, it is possible that wrapping gifts can add to your sense of wellbeing if you do it mindfully!

As a matter of interest, have you tried doing any chores mindfully? Did it make a difference?


William 7 December 2009 - 3:23 am


I come from a more is better background, the previous three generations of my family have all out performed the one before and built multi national businesses and comfortable fortunes. So at the age of 45 I am in uncharted water.

I would say I am around the 7.5 a busy scale but this is an improvement on a year ago, I agree with so much of your article and think that Christmas letters are important, unfortunately too many people use them as a way of saying look how clever I am or I bucked the trend a made so much money I can have another Range Rover for weekends. Honest and sincere letters need to be written with one person in mind and a different one to each person, yes it takes time and yes it takes planning but its worth while and if you care about them enough to write then care enough to give them 10 minutes each.

I tripped over Positive psychology earlier in the year and have become very interested. I studied a short corse at City University London and will do another at Burkbeck in January. I don’t know if psychologist have the right to tell us how to live but I think that there is a lot in it and I am willing to listen before I make my own decisions.

Must go now I have a game of hide and seek booked with the kids!

Bridget 7 December 2009 - 5:42 pm

Hi William

I’m glad you tripped over positive psychology – as you’re clearly enjoying your courses why not check out the MAPP programme at the University of East London – I can highly recommend it! If you want to know more about it & what it involves, just email me.

BTW I loved your photos.



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

WP Twitter Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com