Since I have such an intense affinity for a good routine, it may not come as a shock that I am also a big fan of traditions! While discussing my trip back home with someone this past week, I was asked about some of the holiday traditions and rituals that my family observes. As I excitedly told her about decorating gingerbread houses, Christmas Eve with the extended family, and Christmas morning stockings with the immediate family in pajamas, I immediately felt a surge of happiness rush through me. As I basked in the glow of cheerful anticipation, I was reminded of what I had read earlier in the year in The Happiness Project about traditions in general. Gretchen Rubin wrote about some of her resolutions to establish and observe family traditions in light of the fact that they tend to “make occasions feel special and exciting. They mark the passage of time in a happy way. They provide a sense of anticipation, security, and continuity [and] studies show that family traditions support… social development and strengthen family cohesiveness…[providing] connection and predictability, which people crave.” They give us something to look forward to which makes us happier before and during the actual event. Holiday traditions do indeed boost happiness.
Last year Matthew Hudson wrote an article for Scientific American citing a series of studies which included hundreds of subjects who were interviewed about the family traditions they observed throughout various holidays and found that “those who said they performed collective rituals, compared with those who did not, felt closer to their families, which make the holidays more interesting, which in turn made them more enjoyable.” The research showed that although the types of traditions the subjects described did not necessarily predict their level of holiday pleasure, the number did – “apparently having family rituals makes the holidays better and the more the merrier!” When I read this I immediately suspected that this has something to do with the fact that traditions usually mean we are spending quality time with others, which is the best predictor of and most consistent boost to our happiness. As Ovul Sezer of Harvard Business School said, “whatever the ritual is, and however small it may seem, it helps people to really get closer to one another. With some rituals, we don’t even know why we do them, but they still work.” I know that more than what it is exactly that we do, I am beyond excited just to spend time laughing and catching up with friends and family.
Not only do traditions help to bring us together, but they also give us something to look forward to. Anticipation of a pleasant experience alone can produce positive endorphins and emotions. I wrote about rosy prospection before and how an experience is only made better if we actively anticipate an event in advance, take the time to be present and enjoy it when it comes and then reflect on it later. This is one of the reasons that I have always loved the tradition of maintaining an advent calendar to count down the days leading up to Christmas. My mom made one when I was a little girl which has been hung and used every year for over 20 years now. Now married and living in Ireland, I made our own for my little family which alternates between treats for Jonathan, Coco, or me (dark chocolates, mini puppy treats, or raw almonds respectively!).
With my sister and our long standing family advent calendar and the new Vasquez family version.
Since holiday traditions are so beneficial to our subjective wellbeing, it is important to consider that even though you may not have longstanding ones or you may no longer be able to spend time with the people that have been key participants in former rituals, you can still benefit by creating new ones. Since living abroad, Jon and I have gone to the pantomime at the Everyman Theatre for the past three years. We had no idea what we were in for the first time as I thought it was just a local production of Aladdin, but we were pleasantly surprised by the infusion of countless Cork cultural references and top 40 hits from 2015. We look forward to the show each year and by now have only greater appreciation for the Irish colloquialisms. We have also introduced some of our friends here to the American Thanksgiving dinner (completely Paleo-fied OBVIously!). And as we have gotten older, my parents have started a new tradition which includes a full day of shopping with the family complete with breakfast and dinner together along with a fashion show or presentation of our finds back at the house once done. It is a very fun event and time spent together that even my teenage brothers can tolerate/enjoy and we all look forward to it immensely. Also, this year was the first ever Flex in the City studio Christmas party which was quite a success and already one of my favorite new traditions.
But I have already and will certainly enjoy some of the old ones as well. I love decorating the tree, making gingerbread houses, and baking Christmas cookies. And one of my personal traditions includes making healthier treats for the fabulous barre and reformer clients at the studio for all holidays throughout the year. I usually make a variety to appeal to many different tastes and always include some new along with some consistent favorites – like these paleo zucchini muffins (or courgette muffins for those on this side of the pond). I made these originally a few years ago by tweaking a more traditional recipe and piloted them with positive feedback from my bridesmaids at my wedding. And they have become a signature item ever since. The heavy dose of cinnamon and nutmeg makes them a viable option for Christmas, but they are truly delicious as a treat anytime throughout the seasons and holiday traditions.
- Zucchini/Courgette 1 medium (150 g)
- Banana 1 each
- Honey .33 cup (85 g)
- Eggs 3 each
- Almond Flour 1.5 cup (150 g)
- Cinnamon 2 TSP
- Sea Salt .5 TSP
- Nutmeg .75 TSP
- Baking Soda 1 TSP
- Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C and spray or wipe the muffin trays with a small bit of melted coconut oil to avoid sticking
- Grate/shred the zucchini/courgette (you can include the peel) and set aside
- In a blender or food processor, combine the banana, the honey, and the eggs and pulse a few times until frothy/foamy
- Add the zucchini/courgette and pulse a few times to combine
- Add the remaining ingredients and pulse a few more times to combine
- Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tray and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. I always check at 15 minutes to be safe and to ensure I don't end up with overcooked muffins!
- I find these will keep well if covered and refrigerated for up a week.