20 Little Ways to a Happier Holiday

Health


By Karyn Rapinski
Illustration by Miguel Porlan
Above Image | Stefa Nikolic/Getty
Come to your senses
Head out for a daily 20-minute walk and pay attention to sights, sounds and scents—a festive light display, the crunch of snow beneath your boots, air scented with smoke from a fireplace. Each time you notice something pleasing, pause and think about why you like it. Acknowledging sources of delight around us is a proven way to boost bliss.
Don't fly solo
“Depending on one another brings us closer together and strengthens our bonds,” says Rachel Kelly, author of Walking on Sunshine, who notes that geese fly in a V formation to reduce the workload of each individual bird. “Working as a team and taking turns at the front enables the flock to fly farther.” So if you're someone who volunteers to wrap all the toy drive gifts by yourself or prepare a holiday spread single-handedly, ask for help instead of tackling it alone this year.
Take half a breath
If life throws you a stress-inducing curve ball (like a last-minute school bake sale), try this breathing technique commonly used in yoga. Press a finger against one side of your nose and take a few breaths through the other nostril. Then switch. This automatically causes you to breathe more slowly, says Kelly. “That, in turn, leads to deeper breathing, which triggers the body's relaxation response.” Ahh!
Keep on moving
It doesn't matter if you dance while cleaning your house or log miles on the treadmill: Exercise releases mood-boosting neurochemicals, and the benefits can last up to 12 hours.
Binge watch without blame
Turn on the TV and turn off the guilt. Research shows that chilling with a little Hulu can deliver a much-needed recharge, as long as you relax without regret.
Appreciate the small things
When it doesn't seem like the most wonderful time of the year, find something to be thankful for: the shining sun or the barista making your coffee just right. Let the gratitude sink in. ”Lingering on a positive moment helps embed it in your brain,” says Meg Selig, author of Changepower!
Give yourself a lift
If you need a quick pick-me-up before braving the mob at the mall, try some realignment. When asked to perform stressful tasks, people sitting with good posture (think straight back and shoulders) were more enthusiastic than slouchers.
Unpack your schedule
Instead of suffering from FOMO, experience JOMO (joy of missing out). As fun as your cousin's holiday open house might be, sometimes it pays to pass on an invitation. “There's a lot to be said for the serenity of the freedom to do nothing,” says Kelly.
Find your inner Tina Fey
Every time you enter a room, try putting a convincing smile on your face, suggests David Ludden, PhD, professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College. “As your brain detects that your ‘grin’ muscles are engaged, it thinks to itself, ‘I'm smiling, so I must be happy.’” You'll start feeling even better as people respond positively to your “cheerful” mood.
Do this once a week
If all that mistletoe isn't leading to more action, don't worry. The notion that a lot of nooky yields greater happiness was recently debunked by a University of Toronto-Mississauga study. Instead, it found that couples who had sex once a week were as happy as those who got busy more often. “As long as you're maintaining an intimate connection with your partner, you don't need to have sex every day,” says lead researcher Amy Muise, PhD.
Use good scents
Happiness may be just a sniff away. Fill your space with the scent of a clementine (which made people feel cheerier and more energized in one study) or vanilla (which left them merry and mellow).
Name negative feelings
Angry. Helpless. Sad. Anxious. When you're anything but cheerful, just identifying your emotions can ease your suffering. “Attaching a label shifts activity from the emotional part of your brain to the thinking part, making you hurt less and be more in control,” says Selig, who also blogs for psychologytoday.com.
Get awestruck
You don't have to visit the Grand Canyon to be filled with wonder. Bask in the beauty of a singing choir, a cleverly crafted snowman or a sunrise (perhaps on New Year's Day). Even brief moments of amazement have been shown to improve a person's outlook and—most important, considering how crazy-busy it gets around the holidays—make you feel as though you have more hours in the day.
Live by the 60% rule
Although striving for excellence is admirable, satisfaction shouldn't hinge on every cookie being homemade. “Perfection is an illusion, but the pursuit of it is real and can have damaging consequences,” says Kelly, who is also a mental health advocate. “When a friendship, home project or relationship is 60% right, consider it a success.”
Hit rewind
“When people look back at their past, they tend to focus on good memories,” says David Niven, PhD, author of 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People. Besides improving your mood, it may encourage optimism about the future too.
Form a habit
Whether it's playing fetch with your puppy or reading love poems, find an activity that brings you pleasure and do it every day, suggests Christine Carter, PhD, author of The Sweet Spot.
Channel Adele
Prepare to feel more positive by belting out your favorite holiday tunes solo or harmonizing with a Spotify playlist. Singing releases chemicals that ease tension and lift your spirits, according to research.
Borrow someone's joy
“Notice other people's upbeat emotions and ‘catch’ them,” suggests sociologist Christine Carter, PhD, who is also a senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. When you pay attention to another's cheer, you'll mirror it, a phenomenon called “vicarious joy.”
Search for the silver lining
Try to reframe thoughts so they're positive rather than stressful. If you're feeling slammed (“I still have 23 more gifts to buy!”), see the bright side (“I'm lucky to have so many people I love in my life”).
Socialize wisely
On days you're feeling ho-hum in a season of ho-ho-ho, consider reaching out to friends on Snapchat instead of Facebook or other forms of social media. According to a new University of Michigan study, it can bring you more joy, possibly because you'll view it like a good old face-to-face convo.