Just say no: Why declining invitations to holiday parties is actually good for you

WASHINGTON — Saying “no” to a holiday party you simply have no interest in could be the best thing for your mental health. A new study finds politely declining unwanted invitations during the holiday season has a bigger positive impact than dragging yourself to countless gatherings you may not want to attend in the first place.

More than three-quarters of people in a survey confessed that they accept invitations to gatherings they don’t want to attend out of fear of being judged for declining. However, researchers found that loved ones not only don’t care about rejected invitations as much as people think they do, but saying no more often can also be beneficial in avoiding burnout.

“I was once invited to an event that I absolutely did not want to attend, but I attended anyways because I was nervous that the person who invited me would be upset if I did not – and that appears to be a common experience,” says Dr. Julian Givi, PhD, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, in a media release.

“Our research shows, however, that the negative ramifications of saying no are much less severe than we expect.”

A team with the American Psychological Association conducted five experiments involving more than 2,000 people. In one experiment, the researchers asked participants to read about a fictional scenario where they were either inviting or received an invitation from a friend to dinner on a Saturday night at a local restaurant, hosted by a celebrity chef.

The participants receiving an invitation had to imagine themselves declining the invite because they already had plans that day and wanted to spend a night relaxing at home. Those who imagined giving the invitation had to think about their friend declining for the same reason.

The researchers found that participants who imagined turning down their friend’s invitation frequently believed it would immediately impact their relationship with at person in a negative way. These participants were much more likely to believe their friend would feel angry, disappointed, and would likely avoid inviting them to future events. However, the group receiving the rejection rated their disappointment to be at a much lower level.

Group of friends at holiday party
(© Monkey Business – stock.adobe.com)

“Across our experiments, we consistently found that invitees overestimate the negative ramifications that arise in the eyes of inviters following an invitation decline,” Dr. Givi reports.

“People tend to exaggerate the degree to which the person who issued the invitation will focus on the act of the invitee declining the invitation as opposed to the thoughts that passed through their head before they declined.”

In another experiment, the study authors recruited 160 people to participate in what they called a couple’s survey with their significant other. In this experiment, one person from each couple had to write an invitation, and the other had to reject it so they could relax.

The person who rejected their partner’s invitation tended to believe their partner would be angry or more likely to feel that the rejection meant they didn’t care about their partner as much. The researchers believe their findings, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveal that people consistently overestimate how upset their friends and loved ones will be over skipping out on a holiday party.

“While there have been times when I have felt a little upset with someone who declined an invitation, our research gives us quite a bit of good reason to predict people overestimate the negative ramifications for our relationships,” Dr. Givi concludes.

Burnout is a real thing, especially around the holidays when we are often invited to too many events. Don’t be afraid to turn down invitations here and there. But keep in mind that spending time with others is how relationships develop, so don’t decline every invitation.”

South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.

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  1. A few weeks ago I saw a suggestion for Thanksgiving dinner. It reminded us to not forget to bring up politics at the dinner table, the more extreme, the better. This saves a lot of money on Christmas gifts and invitations to Christmas parties we would rather skip.

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