‘Tis the season to be jolly — and also stressed out. If you’re feeling irritable, rushed, resentful, lonely, or overwhelmed, keep these strategies in mind to help boost your happiness:
1. Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation is a major disturber of people’s moods. Jet lag, traveling, parties, and over-excited children all make it hard to get your usual number of hours. Making an effort to get to bed at a decent time really pays off.
2. Exercise. Studies show that one of the quickest and surest ways to boost your mood is to exercise. If you’re away from home and can’t do your usual routine, even a short walk will help. Even better, exercise outside, where the sunlight will help improve your mood and focus.
3. Stay in control of your eating. It seems to me that guilt about holiday binging is a major source of the blues. It may seem Scrooge-ish to skip the gingerbread cookies, but I’m happier when I’m not worrying about it.
4. Take your time; plan ahead. Rushing through stores, yelling at your kids to put on their coats, sprinting to make a flight – these are sure to put you in a bad mood. Try to give yourself plenty of time to do what you need to do.
5. Learn from the past. What has made you unhappy in years of old? Think back. Avoid your triggers. If it will make you happier, stay out of the kitchen, stay out of the mall, stay away from Uncle Jim. Don’t expose yourself to known happiness risks.
6. Make time for real fun. Sometimes holiday vacations, which are supposed to be “fun,” are actually a huge hassle. Figure out ways to have more fun and less work. In my family, we decided to reduce gift-giving; all the adults draw one name, and we each buy stocking presents for just one other person. Also, include time for things YOU like to do: going to a movie, taking a nap while everyone else goes skating, going to the gym.
7. Behave yourself! If you sulk, snap, tease, or shirk, you’re not going to feel happy. It may feel good, but only for a moment. Then you’re going to feel bad. Instead, try to help out, bite your tongue, clean up, or run to the store. Look for opportunities to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it,” or “This is fine,” or “What should I be doing?” Do good, feel good—this really works! The way we act shapes the way we feel, so if you act in an affectionate, thoughtful way, you’ll feel more affectionate and thoughtful.
8. Fill your heart with love. My Twelfth Personal Commandment is “There is only love.” If you’re heading into a difficult situation, take a moment to fill your heart with love. Think of all the reasons that you’re grateful to your family and friends, and the happy memories you’ve shared, and how things might look from other people’s perspectives. This can be hard to do, but it will make you happier. And if you’re happy, you’re going to be better able to make other people happy.
Holidays are supposed to be a time of peace, love, and fun — and we can’t bicker, complain, and nag our way there. Figure out what you need to do to keep a holiday spirit. What stresses you out during the holidays? What do you do to keep yourself feeling calm and light-hearted?
2011 Massachusetts Conference for Women keynote speaker Gretchen Rubin is author of the #1 New York Times and international bestseller, “The Happiness Project.”