The holidays present special opportunities to connect with others, to contemplate spirituality, and to help other people, three factors that many studies say increase the odds that a person will feel happy. There are a couple of other factors too: chocolate, and endorphins released by exercise.
The craziness and frantic pace of preparations and shopping, parties, and hosting relatives and friends on top of the daily routine of work and home responsibilities often means Thanksgiving through New Year’s goes by in a blur and sadly, oh so sadly, the season is not enjoyed as it should be.
So I began to come up with my own ideas for putting more joy into the holidays:
1. Communicate in writing. Elf Yourself is truly a gas, but the handwritten Christmas card is timeless and special.
2. Make gifts more meaningful. Gift card? Probably a good bet for a teenage gift recipient or someone you know will prefer to choose their own gift, but if you have a special talent you can use to create gifts, put it to use.
3. Do a project with children. One year I made Danish woven heart baskets (perfect for stuffing little gifts in) out of felt, with fabric ribbons to hang them on the tree. They were easy enough for a kindergartner to weave, and we gave these keepsakes to friends, family, and teachers.
4. Get the bulk of your shopping done by December 17th (last day for on-time shipping on many sites) online and then go to the mall to admire decorations and find stocking stuffers. Find a café and order a double chocolate mocha with whipped cream (it’s okay, one won’t hurt).
5. Dare to participate in a holiday 5K run/walk. The weather is never too cold to bond with other crazy people dressed in reindeer antlers and Santa hats shivering and cursing along the route. The payoff is bragging rights and a second double chocolate mocha.
6. Give to a stranger. Buy a gift for a child in need and drop it off with Toys for Tots or a similar organization. Look for churches, shelters, or businesses that collect food for food banks or warm coats.
7. Involve your kids in helping others. Animal shelters often need blankets, towels, treats, and other supplies; or write a letter or send a gift to a soldier deployed overseas.
8. Go to at least one Christmas concert or play.
9. Bake. If there is one season that is an excuse to bake cookies and treats, this is it; the atmosphere it creates makes your home seem warmer, homier, and your neighbors and friends will be happy to help you eat them.
10. Buy yourself a gift. It doesn’t have to be much; maybe just something you wouldn’t normally buy yourself but that you see as you are shopping for others.
11. Keep up with exercise no matter what. What? Did you expect me to say maintain a healthy diet? It’s inevitable that that will be nearly impossible, but sneaking in an hour of exercise will help keep stress and weight in check.
12. Sleep. For me, less than eight hours equals Scrooge-like grumpiness. Better bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to tackle the demands of busy holiday schedules!