My family has had a theme party tradition for over 13 years. We do a couple theme parties a year, rotating responsibility for hosting, and drawing the next party’s theme from a box at the end of each one. Everyone in my family agrees this has done a lot of good for us, so today I want to share what exactly it is about theme parties that can actually increase happiness and otherwise improve your well-being.

First, research shows that one of the main contributors to happiness is having a strong social network, having positive relationships with friends and family, and having more face-to-face interactions. (See Stephen Marche’s “Is Facebook making us lonely?” in The Atlantic for more on this topic.) Theme parties provide an occasion for this kind of face-to-face engagement with loved ones.

Of course, any kind of party provides that opportunity. So what makes a theme party so special? Two things come to mind.

First, having a theme allows you to be more creative than a “standard” party simply because the theme puts constraints on your party planning process. Just like the strict meter and rhyme requirements of a sonnet force you to tap into your more creative right brain, having a theme for your party sets you up to make creative connections between seemingly disparate things. When my family selects the theme for our next party, we immediately launch into a creative, loose brainstorming session where we draw on all sorts of random associations, cultural references, and wordplay (oh, the puns!). The association we made between Don Corleone and Don Knotts led to one of our favorite theme parties ever, “Mafia Night: An Evening of the Dons,” featuring scrumptious Italian food and a host of famous Dons, including Don King, Don Ho, Donald Duck and Donna Reed.

Secondly, a theme requires you to throw your yourself fully into learning as much as you can about the topic at hand. Evidence supports the idea that learning, even as an adult, leads to increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy. One of my favorite parts about my family’s tradition is the opportunity to dive into a new theme and learn all about a cuisine, a culture, or an idea.

If you want to increase your happiness further, you might consider upgrading from a single theme party to an annual tradition. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor writes that having something to look forward to can raise your endorphin levels and increase happiness, so an annual event might be just the ticket for a hit of happiness.

Get happy with a theme party!

Bonus! If you want to increase happiness even further, add some element of gratitude to your theme party tradition. Research shows that practicing gratitude is a simple and effective way to boost your happiness. Make it part of your tradition to share things you’re grateful for before you dig in to dinner. Or simply send thank you notes to guests after each party.