Saint Nicholas taking on new experiences by exchanging reindeer and sled for a goat. Image: WikiCommons (

Saint Nicholas taking on new experiences by exchanging reindeer and sled for a goat. Image: WikiCommons

A friend rings me in December every year and warbles, “Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree for me.” Her sometime-Eartha Kitt, sometime-Madonna Material Girl imitation morphs into one of a 10-year-old requesting a hippopotamus for Christmas.

Then she moves onto the greedier lines of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, and ends with a rousingly nasal rendition of the Chipmunks demanding hula hoops and planes that loop the loop. We call this annual singsong The Gimme, Gimme, Gimme Medley. It seems to suit the season.

Yet, despite singing about wantin’ stuff, Bev and I inevitably end up talking about events and activities. The concerts we attend during December. The dinners with friends. The family gatherings, the anticipated holiday vacations, the quiet days with good books… .

Some of the activities we talk about come with price tags. Some require only time and effort.

Chances are, those experiences will influence our emotions to greater, longer-lasting and more positive effect than any possessions we acquire during the season, no matter how much we may covet the objects.

According to San Francisco State University psychologist Ryan Howell, people who invest in acquiring experiences over obtaining possessions report greater happiness and life satisfaction. Experiences can include anything from attending concerts or theatre to spending time at the spa, to travel or even going for walks….

Read the rest of this editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist….

Parks like East Sooke Park help make nearby residents happier and healthier. Photo by Logan C (flickr's LoganTech)Back when Nature Boy worked at a big California museum, I flew down to visit on a semi-regular basis.

I remember looking out over the city as the aircraft made its final approach to L.A.’s airport. Below me stretched mile upon mile of concrete: buildings, roads freeways, parking lots. Few trees and no green spaces relieved the sunbaked ugliness that extended from the mountains in the city’s east to the Pacific Ocean.

No wonder, I thought at the time, crime rates were so high. No wonder crazy people were using drivers on Los Angeles freeways for daily target practice—events which, by that time, were so commonplace, even the most reputable of the city’s news organizations no longer reported them.

With so many people living in Los Angeles, the absolute number of already-crazy people living among them was going to be high.

But packing so many people in so close together would surely compound the problem. Those conditions could easily push anybody unstable and close to the breaking point, mentally and emotionally speaking, over the edge into outright nuts-dom….

Continue reading at the Victoria Times Colonist

Anticipating a vacation extends the period of happiness a vacation causes. Photo by Ralph Daily

A friend started a long-planned vacation last week. I interrupted her last-minute preparations with a phone call to wish her a happy and safe journey.

“You must be really looking forward to this.”

“Umm, well…. I am…. Now.”

“Just now?”

“You know, I’d booked the essentials almost a year ago, but I haven’t thought about it much since. With everything that’s been going on at work, I just haven’t had the time.”

Alas for my friend, in neglecting to nurture anticipation for her vacation, she has cheated herself out of some key holiday-related happiness. Psychologists have been trying to nail down the effects of vacations on emotional wellbeing for years. The verdict to date is that taking vacations boosts a person’s overall level of happiness only slightly and only over the very short term. However, a person can engineer an early jump in their vacation gladness—they can extend the holiday-happiness window—if they consciously feed their own anticipation for the getaway….

Continue reading this article at the Victoria Times Colonist….