Easy Ways to Make Your Holidays a Little Happier

From Family Circle

When you’re a kid, you start looking forward to the holidays months in advance. As an adult—and perhaps as the adult who might be making all of that holiday joy happen for the rest of your family—the season might seem a touch more daunting. Get back to basics and rediscover your childlike joy with these ideas to soak up all the holiday bliss—but none of the stress.

Go for a walk.

Head out for a daily 20-minute stroll and pay attention to sights, sounds and scents—a festive light display, the crunch of snow beneath your boots, air scented with smoke from a fireplace. Each time you notice something pleasing, pause and think about why you like it. Acknowledging sources of delight around us is a proven way to boost bliss.

Don’t fly solo.

“Depending on one another brings us closer together and strengthens our bonds,” says Rachel Kelly, author of Walking on Sunshine. So if you’re someone who volunteers to wrap all the toy-drive gifts by yourself or prepare a holiday spread single-handedly, ask for help instead of tackling it alone this year.

Take half a breath.

If life throws you a stress-inducing curve ball (like a last-minute school bake sale), try this breathing technique commonly used in yoga. Press a finger against one side of your nose and take a few breaths through the other nostril. Then switch. This automatically causes you to breathe more slowly, says Kelly. “That, in turn, leads to deeper breathing, which triggers the body’s relaxation response.” Ahh!

Keep on moving.

It doesn’t matter if you dance while cleaning your house or log miles on the treadmill: exercise releases mood-boosting neurochemicals, and the benefits can last up to 12 hours.

Appreciate the small things.

When it doesn’t seem like the most wonderful time of the year, find something to be thankful for: the shining sun or the barista making your coffee just right. Let the gratitude sink in. “Lingering on a positive moment helps embed it in your brain,” says Meg Selig, author of Changepower!

Give yourself a lift.

If you need a quick pick-me-up before braving the mob at the mall, try some realignment. When asked to perform stressful tasks, people sitting with good posture (think straight back and shoulders) were more enthusiastic than slouchers.

Unpack your schedule.

Instead of suffering from FOMO, experience JOMO (joy of missing out). As fun as your cousin’s holiday open house might be, sometimes it pays to pass on an invitation and enjoy the freedom of doing nothing.

Use good scents.

Happiness may be just a sniff away. Fill your space with the scent of a clementine (which made people feel cheerier and more energized in one study) or vanilla (which left them merry and mellow).

Name negative feelings—and let them go.

Angry. Helpless. Sad. Anxious. When you’re anything but cheerful, just identifying your emotions can ease your suffering. “Attaching a label shifts activity from the emotional part of your brain to the thinking part, making you hurt less and be more in control,” says Selig.

Get awestruck.

You don’t have to visit the Grand Canyon to be filled with wonder. Bask in the beauty of a singing choir, a cleverly crafted snowman or a sunrise (perhaps on New Year’s Day). Even brief moments of amazement have been shown to improve a person’s outlook and—most important, considering how crazy-busy it gets around the holidays—make you feel as though you have more hours in the day.

Live by the 60 percent rule.

Although striving for excellence is admirable, satisfaction shouldn’t hinge on every cookie being homemade. “Perfection is an illusion, but the pursuit of it is real and can have damaging consequences,” says Kelly, who is also a mental health advocate. “When a friendship, home project or relationship is 60 percent right, consider it a success.”

Hit rewind on good memories.

“When people look back at their past, they tend to focus on good memories,” says David Niven, Ph.D., author of 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People. Besides improving your mood, it may encourage optimism about the future too.

Form a happy habit.

Whether it’s playing fetch with your puppy or reading love poems, find an activity that brings you pleasure and do it every day, suggests Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of The Sweet Spot.

Borrow someone’s joy.

“Notice other people’s upbeat emotions and ‘catch’ them,” suggests sociologist Christine Carter, Ph.D., who is also a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. When you pay attention to another’s cheer, you’ll mirror it, a phenomenon called “vicarious joy.”

Search for the silver lining.

Try to reframe thoughts so they’re positive rather than stressful. If you’re feeling slammed (“I still have 23 more gifts to buy!”), see the bright side (“I'm lucky to have so many people I love in my life”).

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