Notice what your immediate association is when you hear the words:

The holidays.

What do you think of? What do you feel? What sensations run through your body?

Do you see sharing, having fun, enjoyment, and connection? Do you see 6 weeks of social obligation, financial strain, stress, and potential weight gain?

When I was a kid, I loooovved the holidays. Gifts, loads of sugar, time off from school, playing in the snow, hot chocolate, games, socializing, sleeping in, and amazing meals was basically a dream come true.

But, like a scale gradually tipping, as the years went on my attitude morphed from joy and anticipation to feeling dragged down by obligations and expectations, financial strain, stress, and a glaze of depression.

This shift bummed me out but for years the only solution I came up with was to avoid everything holiday related as much as possible and hold out for January when it was finally over.

But in truth, I wanted to get the feeling of enjoyment back. So I decided to take a look at what changes I could make to revitalize my experience and here’s what I came up with that perhaps can help take your holiday experience to the next level too.


1. Get clear about what you want the holidays to mean to you.

What are the background assumptions, expectations, and motivations you bring to your holiday experience? To be liked? To be/do what others expect of you? To make your kids happy? To be loving? To connect with those you care about? To have meaningful experiences? To step back from your day-to-day and reflect on your life? To honor your spirituality?

Any, all, or something other than this is absolutely ok. But whatever it is, the #1 key to bringing more joy to your holiday experience is getting clear about what motivates you, seeing if this gives you the joy and meaningfulness you’re looking for, and if not – choosing a new intention to shape your experience.

2. Create traditions you enjoy.

However your family went about the holidays is just that – how your family went about the holidays. If the traditions you inherited don’t work for you, you can make up new ones that you enjoy. You are under no obligation to keep doing things in a way that stresses or bums you out. Truly.

My family has a pretty traditional Christmas. But one year my dad and I mixed it up and skied at Vail for the day and it turned out to be our favorite Christmas. This made me realize two things. One, that if possible, I want to spend the day outside doing something active and fun. Two, that I want to have opportunities to connect more in-depth with the people I care about over the holidays as opposed to only connecting during group experiences. From then on, I’ve done a lot more of both of these things and it’s made the experience so much more enjoyable.

3. Live and give within your means.

I love presents – both giving and receiving them. But when I looked at what my main holiday stressors were, a big one was feeling obligated to buy everyone presents. I felt stressed trying to figure out what people wanted. And I felt even more stressed spending money on things that didn’t seem meaningful. So I did something that felt radical and I stopped buying people presents. Eek!

Instead, I wrote heartfelt cards and perhaps, though not always, gave something simple like cuttings of plants from my yard, a piece of art I made, or experiences of doing something together and this felt much better.

I know there is a giant cultural expectation to give gifts and spend lots of money on meals. For many people, this means spending beyond your means, using credit cards, and accruing debt and stress. You don’t have to do this. You can use your creativity to engage in a way that makes you feel good and honors your finances so that you’re feeling good before, during, and after the holidays are over.

4. See the good in those you care about and let go of your grudges.

Our culture promotes consumption as our main holiday focus and activity, but the real point is connection. But it’s tough if not impossible to really connect with others when you’re carrying a bunch of baggage about them, in the form of old stories, judgments, and resentments.

What if, as an act of radical acceptance, you let go of your baggage, choose to see the good in those you’re close to, and made it your “present” to relate to them through this new lens? You’re never going to get closer by judging, sending negative vibes, or having your walls up. People can feel this animosity and they will respond in kind. At best this acts itself out as tension and social awkwardness, at worst drama and fighting.

This is not the holiday experience you want. But nobody can change the patterns you have with those in your life but you. So, regardless of what’s happened in the past, be the one to bring kindness and acceptance to your interactions. You will enjoy the people in your life, and they you, so much more for doing this.

5. Make it fun by being fun.

What do you want your holiday experience to feel like? Lively, loving, fun, adventurous, uplifting, connected, harmonious… Just to name a few.

Whatever it is that you want to experience, don’t wait for others to set the tone – initiate it yourself. Bring your intentional, positive, and fun energy to your experiences with others and you’ll find things go so much better than if you leave it up to chance.

How do you cultivate more joy during the holiday season? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments below!



Photo by Lauren Manning via Flickr


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