3 Ways to (Really) Have Happier Holidays

It’s that time of that time of year, isn’t it? Christmas is fast approaching, and for many, the nor’easter of financial stress, family conflict, and migraine-inducing holiday preparations is becoming more intense. As the lines at stores get longer, the holiday travel more hectic, and the planning for festivities more frantic, St. Nick is the only one who’s got time to check his list twice. Amidst the yuletide chaos, much of the holiday spirit is lost, so much so that we frequently speak of Christmas as a season that must be “survived” or “saved.”


Most of us hope for much happier holidays. We have warm visions of spending time with those we care most about, laughing and sharing stories while enjoying family traditions. We yearn for the joy of connecting with family and friends, the happiness of sharing gifts, the awe of spiritual rituals, and the relaxing time away from the office. We long for these visions to be realized, and how could we not? In these dreams, we are more connected, more authentically alive, more fully ourselves, than we now are.


Every year, however, as we again experience the travails and aggravations of the “most wonderful time of the year,” the blizzard of seasonal stress blankets our warm visions of holiday aliveness with fresh disappointment. It’s no wonder that articles about how to get more enjoyment out of the holidays pop up online this time of year, but too often they’re filled with advice about how to buy the perfect gift or keep your distance from family (for an example, click here). I always finish them disappointed and wanting more, because they don’t come close to describing my wishes for a merry and bright Christmas season.


If you’re like me, maybe you’re wondering how we can take meaningful steps to be happier and more connected with others during the holidays. Here are a few things you might consider trying this season:


1) Reflect on your hopes for the holiday. If you live in southern California, like me, chances are you’re not dreaming of a white Christmas. However, you may have family and friends you’re looking forward to seeing again. The holidays remind us of what really matters in our lives, and you probably hope to spend time with those you love. What is that time like? What makes it special for you? What memories do you long to create? How might you change the way you engage the holidays to make your memories this season more meaningful?


2) Make room around the tree for yourself. This sounds corny, I know, but let me explain. Sometimes, I think this in the midst of the holiday fervor to finish the present-wrapping, the baking, card-sending, the cooking, and the like, we forget to mind ourselves. We spend so much time and energy making sure that others’ expectations and longings are met—how stressful!—that we neglect to care for ourselves. So often, attending to ourselves is difficult because we fear it will mean doing less for and disappointing others. If we act on this fear and allow it to motivate us, though, most of the time we’re the only unhappy ones. Perhaps it’s time to try something new.


3) Don’t let the gift do the all of the talking. At Christmas, our time with family and friends often includes traditions and rituals that you and yours have “always done,” including the exchanging of gifts. These practices help you feel connected and close to each other around the holidays, and that’s a good thing. Though I wonder if sometimes we let our traditions and gifts say what we often don’t in words, either because we feel uncomfortable or even a little unsafe in saying how we really feel about one another. Whatever the case, when it’s time to give that perfect gift you found by following another blogger’s advice, find a way to communicate with words how much you enjoy that person and how much richer your life is because they’re in it. The way you feel when you’ve said it will be your gift to yourself.

Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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