Let’s face it: We tend to over-complicate the holidays and put a lot of pressure on ourselves (and possibly others) in the process.
“People often have an image of how the holidays should be,” according to Darlene Mininni, Ph.D, MPH, author of The Emotional Toolkit, who works privately with individuals and speaks nationally on topics related to emotional health and well-being.
And those shoulds usually translate into pursuit of the perfect holiday. We try to find the perfect presents or plan the perfect parties, said Master Certified life and career coach Kristin Taliaferro. And since perfection is impossible, all we end up doing is getting disappointed and stressing ourselves out.
Keeping things simple this holiday season can help you stave off stress and focus on what counts. Each person may have a different idea of what a simple holiday looks like, depending on your traditions, family life and financial situation.
But we can probably all agree that a simple holiday is one with fewer obligations and headaches and more relaxation and joy. Here are nine ways to enjoy just that.
1. Don’t take the holidays so seriously.
Realistically, a lot can go wrong during the holidays. But instead of getting distressed and being disappointed, “keep a sense of perspective and humor about the madness of parking lot traffic jams, weird in-law vibes, crazed children jacked up on sugar and other stimulants, packed stores, long lines, credit card denials, you name it,” said Rick Hanson, Ph.D, a neuropsychologist and author of Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.
2. Focus on what’s truly important.
Sometimes, we get wrapped up in the superficial parts of the holidays. Take gift shopping, which is a big stressor and another way we complicate life for ourselves. “Rather than feel guilty if you’re not buying your child a Nintendo 3DS or surprising your mate with a special extravagance, step back and look for the deeper meaning of your celebration,” Mininni said.
That deeper meaning lies in our relationships. “That’s because science shows that relationships are the key to happiness, regardless of your income,” she said. She suggested readers ask themselves this year: “How can I use the holidays to strengthen my relationships with others?”
Also, you might focus on other holiday perks like the time off and profound principles like gratitude, generosity and the religious and spiritual aspects (if they’re significant to you), Hanson said.
3. Simplify gift-giving.
It’s the simple things—not extravagant gifts—that can help you deepen your connections with others. Mininni suggested giving loved ones framed photos (that include those family members or friends) or writing personal letters. “Tell them what they mean to you, or thank them for what they’ve given you,” she said. “It’s a keepsake they’ll treasure longer than a sweater.”
4. Have potluck dinners.
Mininni also suggested people have potlucks with their friends and family. Not only do these events provide the opportunity to connect and make memories, but because everyone is pitching in, you only need to make one or two dishes. (That makes it great for trimming your to-do list!)
5. Commit to less.
The fewer commitments you make, the simpler your holiday will be—especially when you consider that you’re piling on activities and tasks to what’s likely an already full plate. Don’t worry about disappointing others if you can’t make it to a certain event or prepare a special dish. Overextending yourself just leaves you more stressed. (And a lot less fun to be around!)
“Giving to others and building a community strengthens your feelings of connection and your sense of happiness,” Mininni said. And it’s a simple way of making a big difference.
7. Ease your obligations.
Each year many of us feel obligated to take on tasks like mailing greeting cards and getting the perfect holiday photos, Taliaferro said. But if these activities stress you out, do what feels better, she said.
“Could you skip it this year or send a Happy New Year card or postcard instead?” (This will buy you more time.) Or “How about a holiday letter posted online for your friends and family to view?” That’s much easier than writing and addressing countless cards.
In other words, “Give yourself permission to not do something if it feels like a major drain,” Taliaferro said. And if you want to do it, find solutions to make it less stressful, she said.
Remember that you don’t have to do everything yourself. “Ask others to pick up their fair share of the additional tasks,” Hanson said. And consider if you can hire someone for the other stuff, such as cleaning, cooking, organizing or decorating.
For instance, Taliaferro’s mother loves for her house to be decorated every year for Christmas. But she doesn’t love the decorating part… just the end result. So she hires her friend’s daughter to decorate. It doesn’t cost much for mom, and her friend’s daughter gets extra cash around the holidays. Taliaferro also suggested hiring a high school student to address your holiday cards, if you really want to send them.
9. Focus on the simple pleasures.
“Look for the simple pleasures of the season such as making a snowman or sitting around a fire,” Taliaferro said. The holidays are a great time to slow down and focus on the little joys in life. You also might enjoy reading with your family, listening to music together, looking at holiday decorations around town, baking cookies and playing outside.