Let me tell you a secret. I do not consider myself a happy person. That’s not to say I am unhappy, but I am not one of those people who can find the positive in every situation – who jumps out of bed in the mornings with glee and is always brimming with joy. I tend to fall on the more cynical side and consider the worst case scenario.
You may be thinking that I am a Grinch during the holiday season, but nothing could be further than the truth. I LOVE Christmas! My favourite film is Elf, and as a cynical person I have also longed to have the mind-set of Buddy. In my quest to be more like him (the outfit always seems that step too far) I have decided to try and answer the question what is it that makes Buddy the Elf so happy?
Picture by Travis Spencer https://www.flickr.com/photos/travisspencer/8252330825/
Let’s start with what is easy to see with our eyes. Buddy’s body language is expansive, put simply he takes up a lot of space. Part of this is that he is tall, but if you go back and watch the film you will see that he uses his arms and gesticulates wildly to show his enthusiasm and excitement. He spends a lot of the film in power body language. High power body language is expansive, head high with arms wide, chest open and shoulders back. According to a study carried out by Harvard Business School, high power body language can affect how others see you but can help you affect how you see yourself. This might explain why Buddy is so charismatic and endearing to his new family, and manages to attract Jovie to be his girlfriend. His body language can actually help him feel more confident, which in turn helps to make him happy.
As Buddy famously says “Smiling is my favourite.” It is very rare to see Buddy without a smile. This links to something called the facial feedback hypothesis, first suggested by Charles Darwin. This is the idea that facial movement can bring on an emotional response. If we have to smile in a networking event, then this can cause genuine happiness, using an angry expression can cause a person to begin to feel genuine anger. Essentially Buddy’s constant smiling may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and actually make him feel even happier.
When-Then Mind set
For many of us we believe happiness will happen once we (insert correct answer here, lose that weight, make more money, get that job etc). This means that when we get that promotion, when we lose ten pounds or when we get that new client then we will be happy. The problem is we get these things, and they don’t make us happy, so we continue to create new when’s and it becomes a cycle. Is this describing you? Buddy does not have this mind-set, he is completely happy in the moment whether that is meeting a racoon in the woods, getting his shoes shined or eating gum off the street he is authentically in the moment enjoying himself.
The importance of Play
Play is a concept most adults rarely engage in, and see this as something for children. Prioritising fun through play has tremendous benefits to our health and happiness levels and as adults we often forget about this importance or have no idea how to implement it in our lives. Buddy engages in play in nearly every scene of the movie. We see him jumping in lifts, running around and around in revolving doors and even jumping across the road in traffic. He takes Jovie on a date ice-skating reminding her of her own need to prioritise play.
The wow mentality is a combination of awe and relishing positive emotions. Children are excellent at finding the wow in situations that we as adults take for granted. Buddy has a very childlike approach to life and as this is the first time that he has ever left the North Pole this only adds to his wonder in everything he sees. One of the first scenes when he arrives in New York is to take the lift up the Empire State Building. As viewers we can see the wonder he has just to see the buttons in a lift light up “just like a Christmas tree!” something which the man in the lift with him simply takes for granted. Buddy is constantly savouring the wow whether it is the world’s best cup of coffee, to an escalator or even the size of the toilet!
There are many forces at work which are helping to increase Buddy’s happiness, but his childlike ability to live in the moment and appreciate every detail is something that will help him every through difficult moments in his life. I personally want to be more like this, and I am sure I am not alone in this. Hopefully we can all take steps to be more elf-like, not just for the Christmas period but every day of the year. Happy Holidays!