1. Alter your image of the “ideal Christmas”. Many people create a picture in their minds of what the “ideal Christmas” (or holiday) looks like. More often than not, this vision is probably based on idealized memories of childhood Christmases. Then, when they can’t reproduce this vision, they feel dissatisfied with their current reality.
Also, a lot of people feel that the holiday season has to be perfect; and, of course, perfection is unattainable. Forget the images you have in your head of a “Norman Rockwell Christmas” and be honest with yourself about what you can realistically achieve during the holiday season. Be kind to yourself and remember to set achievable goals. For example, avoid the following:
- Don’t commit to cooking a seven-course Christmas dinner for fourteen people all by yourself.
- Don’t accept every holiday party invitation that you receive when you’d rather spend some alone time with your spouse.
- Don’t feel that you have to get a present for your cousin three times removed whom you haven’t seen in the past five years.
You need to pace yourself, stick to your budget, and get enough rest.
2. Do something creative and flow-inducing that’s holiday-related. I’ve written about the state of flow before–a state in which you’re fully immersed in the activity that you’re carrying out–, and how it’s conducive to happiness. Doing something creative is a great way to enter the flow state. Here are some examples of creative activities you can carry out for the holidays:
- If you enjoy writing, brainstorm a list of words that remind you of the holidays and write a short story using as many of those words as you can. Some words you can use are the following: snow; tinsel; presents; bells; angels; Santa Claus; family; ornaments; turkey; tree; cinnamon; carols; red and green; manger; winter; glitter; star; reindeer.
- Also for writers, write an acrostic poem using the word “Christmas”, or another holiday-related word. (An acrostic is a poem in which the first letters of each line spell out a word or phrase.)
- If you enjoy music, compose a holiday song, make a video of you singing it, and put it up on YouTube (here’s one that one of my readers made).
- If you enjoy drawing, make your own holiday cards.
- If you enjoy cooking or baking, make Christmas cookies or try a new recipe to make on Christmas Eve.
There’s lots of ways to get creative during the holidays.
3. Every day in December, practice a random act of kindness. Doing good for others is something else that’s associated with happiness. A great idea is to create an advent calendar of random acts of kindness: every day you uncover a kindness “task” that you have to perform on that day. I found two examples online:
- Here’s an example of a Random Acts of Kindness Calendar, with ideas such as these three: call someone who’s alone; hold the door open for someone; offer to help someone who looks like they’re in need of assistance.
- This blog has a virtual advent calendar on it, with a random act of kindness for each day.
There are many ways you can help others during the holidays, such as gathering toys your kids no longer play with and donating them to children who would otherwise not get any toys for Christmas. You can also put together a basket filled with all the traditional staples of a Christmas dinner and take it to a family that’s going through a rough patch. Or simply help an elderly neighbor put up her Christmas lights.
4. Spend time with loved ones. Another key aspect of happiness is strengthening your relationships with those people that are important to you. You may not be able to afford to get your loved ones expensive gifts this holiday season, but you can spend time with them. Here are some ideas on things you can do:
- Host a Christmas movie marathon and invite your best friends in the whole world. Watch movies such as “Miracle on 34th Street”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Story”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, and so on. Make it a potluck.
- Offer to baby-sit your nieces and nephews so that their parents can go out and get their holiday shopping done. Of course, what this actually translates to is getting to spend time with the little urchins. Take a Christmas Activity book with you, and you’re all set.
- Have a gift wrapping party: get together with your siblings, make some wassail–which is just a fancy name for holiday punch–, put on some Christmas music, and get to work wrapping presents.
5. Find DIY alternatives. Make your immediate surroundings as beautiful and comforting as you can. Who cares if you can’t afford the ornaments you see in fancy magazines or in expensive stores! Make your own ornaments:
At the end of the day you’ll probably appreciate these ornaments even more than store-bought ones, since you made them yourself. Studies show that we value objects that we build more than objects we simply possess (source). In addition, if you make the ornaments with your kids you’ll be creating memories with them.
Think of this quote by Gladys Bagg Taber:
“Best of all are the decorations the grandchildren have made, fat little stars and rather crooked Santas, . .”
6. Focus on what’s good this holiday season. Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar teaches a course at Harvard University on “Positive Psychology” which, at its height, was the university’s most popular offering. One of the happiness tips he offers is to keep in mind that being happy is mostly dependent on our interpretation of the events going on around us.
In addition, Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness” , reminds us that reality is a movie being generated by our minds. That is, barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we focus on and on how we choose to interpret events.
So, instead of focusing on Christmas traditions that you won’t be able to celebrate this holiday, for whatever reason, concentrate on creating new traditions instead. Here’s a few ideas:
- Go to the local church holiday play.
- Attend a Christmas costume party in which the proceeds from ticket sales go to a children’s charity (everyone dresses up as Santas, elves, candy canes, and so on).
- Have the youngest member of the house ring a bell on Christmas Eve as everyone goes to bed to signal to Santa that he can come now.
- Every day in December read a Christmas-themed book to your kids.
7. Go through the motions. Taking action is one of the best ways to beat the blues. Make a list of twenty Christmas activities that you enjoy and make yourself participate in them. Here are some things that might make it onto your list:
- Go out for a drive at night and look at all of the Christmas lights.
- Listen to your favorite Christmas Carols, such as: “Jingle Bells”, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, “Oh Tannenbaum”, and “Deck the Halls”.
- Decorate your Christmas tree and then have a moment of tree appreciation; sit on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa, just admiring the tree.
- Include eating your favorite holiday foods on the list (for me that would be tamales, ham, and turkey).
Don’t wait to be in the Christmas spirit before you participate in these activities. Instead, use these activities in order to get yourself into the Christmas spirit.
8. Shift your perspective. Instead of focusing on the consumerist aspects of Christmas, think of what the holidays are really about. Remember what the Grinch discovered: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” You can even make yourself a little sign so that you don’t forget.