Not everyone’s holiday experience is classic Norman Rockwell perfection (which is why I find the above image from him such a welcome, realistic depiction). The holidays can be a difficult time for all of us, for a variety of reasons: perhaps we’re single and feeling a bit empty, or we find being with relatives challenging; hectic holiday travel is enough to frazzle even the most zen amongst us, and financial pressures around gift-giving put a damper on an otherwise uplifting act. Plus, expectations and tensions run unrealistically high this time of year — it’s hard to live up to the picture perfect ideal we’ve created for ourselves, which too often leaves us with a feeling of “not good enough.”
Fortunately, you can transform your relationship with the holidays and your state of mind with a few savvy, strategic choices. Much of the advice I offer in my new book is particularly effective during the holidays.
Here’s how to beat the holiday blues and start the New Year stronger — and happier:
- Be with people: Granted, sometimes it’s people that stress us out the most during the holidays, but isolation is not the answer. Companionship is the single biggest indicator of long-term health and happiness, and we need it more than ever during the holidays. Seek out people who bring you joy, who spark your imagination, and who are great listeners. We often have some downtime during the holidays, so be sure you’re spending it in good company.
- Give back: Money alone doesn’t make us happy, but strategic spending does. “Giving is receiving” sounds cliche, but it’s an effective mood-booster. And remember time is money, even when it comes to philanthropy — and spending time with people in need can puts things in perspective and make you feel needed, all while improving the lives of others. Simply being present (and distraction-free) with people in your life is one of the greatest gifts you can give this holiday season.
- Retreat into nature: A little fresh air goes a long way toward clearing the head and lifting the spirits. Whether you’re deep in winter or more of a snowbird at the beach, make time for playing outside and take note of how you feel before and after — the difference will likely be striking.
- Reflect on the year: The holidays are a culminating point — the end of one year and the beginning of the next. We are always living in transition, but these annual milestones are important. They offer an opportunity for reflection and for mindfully moving forward. You can pivot your life toward happiness by actively reflecting on the challenges and opportunities of the last year. It’s important to usher in the future through strategic experimentation and by staying nimble to possibilities. The excitement of those possibilities alone will lift your spirits.
And while you’re shopping for loved ones, give yourself a gift of a life upgrade — one that will actually empower you, beginning today, not someday.
Wherever you are, whatever stage in life you’re at or unique challenges you’re facing, this can be a satisfying holiday season, IF you take back control and mindfully apply the right strategies. Holidays are intense punctuation points in our year, and it’s when we are most challenged that we experience the most profound growth. So seize the moment.
May you give yourself the gift of reaching beyond your comfort zone, an invitation to play (and fail), and the space to make sense of it all this holiday season.