Anyone who has seen a holiday movie knows that seasonal gatherings should be joyous occasions that enrich lives and deepen connections among friends and family. They are times for finding new love, overcoming personal faults, burying old feuds and performing acts of much-appreciated kindness.

Real holiday gatherings may not go quite so well, but people needn’t dread them as inevitable sources of stress, boredom, conflict—or all three combined. Anthony M. Tobia, a professor of psychiatry at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, said science-backed strategies can help everyone get more from their get-togethers this month.

What separates people who love holiday gatherings from those who don’t?
People who get the most from holiday gatherings tend to have two traits. First, they intuitively realize there’s good and bad — stuff they like and dislike — in almost everyone and everything. Second, rather than focusing on the negative, they focus on the positive and bring it out in conversation.

Are people who lack those traits doomed to hate parties?
Not at all. For those for whom it isn’t intuitive, people can consciously teach themselves both traits, though it’s getting harder as the media we all consume becomes more polarized. We struggle more to see good in people who disagree with us on topics we consider important. We can do it, though, and making that choice enriches our lives.

So, changes in media and media delivery have made it harder to enjoy gatherings?
Yes, and in many ways, starting with the ability to stay mentally present when we’re with others. Any lull tempts us to pull out our phones and divert our attention. We all know it’s a problem, but few of us consciously check the impulse.

What are the other negative effects?
Social media has increased our tendency toward the happiness-destroying habit of comparing ourselves to others. This has always existed, of course, particularly during the holidays, but social media gives us many more opportunities to wish our real lives measured up with the idealized lives that people present online.

Do we all need to quit social media and discard our smartphones, at least until January?
No. It’s fine to see what friends are doing. We just need to remember to be more present in the moment and to avoid judging ourselves by what others present or think about us, what psychiatrists call an “external locus.”

How can people do that?
It starts with reflection, thinking about what the holidays mean to you and what you want to get out of them in terms of connecting to other people. Once people do that, I’m a fan of participating in as much as possible. Even if you don’t really feel like going to an event at the time, when you wake up on Jan. 2 and reflect on the holiday season, most will be happy that they did.