The Christmas season is upon us once again, and once again we find ourselves balancing between our work or studies, hanging out friends, scheduling time with family, and maybe even attending a party or two. The Christmas tree stands are up down at the corner, where they magically appear every year, full of the usual perfect, green triangular symbols of the season.
At some point though, in-between the parties, the family gatherings and the endless shopping crowds, the cheer of the holidays can quickly leave our rosy cheeks and send us into a downward depressive spiral. How do you keep that depression from affecting not only your mood, but the mood of others around you? And how can you keep the joy in the holidays and stop them from turning into yet another year of an endless parade of materialism?
12 Tips to Keep Joy in the Holidays
1. Be realistic and put the “ideal” Christmas out of your head. Too many people have an idealized version of what the holidays should be like, instead of what they really are. Nobody, and I mean nobody, has an ideal, picture-perfect holiday. By setting expectations up-front — and keeping them realistic — you won’t be disappointed that your family gathering devolves into another eating free-for-all, when it has happened every year since you can remember.
2. Take a time-out from materialism and do something spiritual, family-oriented, or non-materialistic this season. All too often we get caught up in the shopping, the endless sales, the “need” to make sure we buy something for everyone, that we lose sight of things that really matter — our friendships, our family, our spirituality, our fellow man (and woman) who may be less fortunate than us. Even in tough economic times (some might say, especially in such times), others need our help even when we feel we have little to offer. Volunteer at a food bank, do something additional for your church, adopt a family in need this season. If you cut just 10% of your spending on gifts and donated that money to charity, you’d be surprised at how much a difference such giving would help.
3. Take a time-out from family arguments, simmering feuds, and unhappy relationships. In an ideal world, we’d be friends with everyone and everyone would be friends with us. But in the real world, we get into disagreements or sometimes full-fledged arguments with others we care about. In the spirit of the giving season, give something that is priceless — your compassion and forgiveness (even if only temporary) to those in your life you feel have wronged you in some way.
4. Schedule sooner and often. Feeling overwhelmed by too much to do and too little time to do it all in? Schedule it all out right now on your favorite calendar or planner, then stick to it. Too many people get into trouble accepting last-minute invitations, or by trying to accommodate a last-minute visit with someone they hadn’t planned on seeing. If your schedule allows for it, fine, but if not, you’ll know in an instant.
5. Check your coat — and guilt — at the door. Everyone has likely felt the pang of guilt due to not being able to meet some holiday obligation or feeling bad about a gift gone awry. But this is the season of joy and celebration, not one where every misstep is meant to make us feel badly for our choices. Leave the guilt at home for a change and if you find yourself going down the guilty road in your head, simply tell yourself, “Yes, I feel badly about that, but I’m going to let it go and enjoy myself anyway, because time is short and this moment only lasts right now. There’ll be time enough to feel guilty next week!”
6. “No” is not a four-letter word. We’re all human (yes, you too!), and we humans get ourselves into more trouble than you know because we simply don’t know when to say, “Thank you, but no.” I suspect it’s tied closely to guilt (see Tip 5), but at some point, the sooner we learn that it’s okay to say No, the sooner we’ll feel less stress and anxiety. You can’t do everything, every year. Choose carefully, schedule well (Tip 4), and then say No to the rest and you’ll rest better at night.
7. Give yourself a break. While rushing around the holidays, we often put ourselves last on the “To do” list. We also feel guilty when we indulge in things we wouldn’t ordinarily indulge in (“Another piece of pie? Why, thank you!”). Give yourself a break this season, forgive your transgressions, and be kind to yourself. That means taking some time out for yourself and your needs, even if it’s just a few minutes of solitude in the morning or before you go to bed that you can relax, catch up a crossword puzzle or some reading, and just enjoy your own company. It also means not beating yourself if you step off your diet or can’t get to the gym for a few days. More people cause themselves more anxiety and stress about beating themselves up over such decisions, when the resulting difference is almost always negligible.
8. Be aware of your breaking points. Rarely does a holiday season pass without someone realizing they’ve reached their “breaking point,” the point where if one more thing goes wrong, they’ll simply breakdown or just lock themselves up in their bedroom and only come out in the new year. Know yours, and when you’re coming close to it. Then stop, take a break, and make sure you avoid those things in the future which bring you closer to it.
9. It’s okay to ask for help, often and directly. Part of the reason we sometimes get into trouble around the holidays is that we simply attempt to do too much on our own. Ask for help from your significant other, children, friends or family when you need it, and be direct and honest with your requests. Don’t expect others to read your mind, either. If you decorate the tree every year, but this year find you won’t have the time, ask someone to do it for you (don’t just assume people will see the bare tree and offer their help). Don’t stop at a single request if you need help with a dozen different things, either.
10. Connect with your significant other on the things that matter most. One of the people we often leave out of our holiday plans is our significant other. Not physically, but often emotionally and directly checking in with them and their expectations for the holiday. Too many couples get into an escalating tug of war about reading each other’s minds, or keeping score on what happened last year, that they don’t start with a clean slate each and every year. Check in with your partner and see what his or her expectations are, and share with them yours. You might be surprised to learn something you didn’t know.
11. Moderation in all things. Aristotle knew a thing or two of what he was talking about a few thousand years ago, and yet it’s a lesson many of us forget. While the holidays are a good “excuse” to stop being moderate in our drinking or eating, we should resist the urge to overindulge. Sure, you can have an extra piece of cake or one extra drink more than you might usually enjoy, but that shouldn’t open the floodgates to eat the remaining half of the cake or finish off a half bottle of Jack Daniels on your own. In the same way, even buying presents for your kids can be taken to an unhealthy extreme (“Always leave them wanting more”). Celebrate, but not to the point of excess.
12. Remember your friends and those forgotten. Because we get so busy, we sometimes lose touch with our friends and people whom we normally rely on to be our sounding boards. Don’t be tempted to go into a communications blackhole and resurface only after the holidays, as such regular communication is often one of those touchstones that keep us grounded. And while not an ideal time to renew old acquaintances, the holidays are a good excuse to do so if you’d otherwise feel awkward in getting back in touch with old friends.
The holidays, luckily some would say, only come once a year and last for a few short weeks. Being aware of these kinds of things may help you better keep the joy in the season, and the happiness in your heart. But you have to take the first step and be vigilant during the next few weeks to keep these tips close at hand. Follow even just a few of them, and you’ll likely find yourself enjoying the holidays more this year than in any year past.