Marriage and Family — 26 December 2009
Staying happy during the holiday season

The holiday season often evokes a range of emotions from joy to sadness, from gratitude to compassion, from generosity to practical concerns, from sharing to saving, from pleasing others to conserving one’s energy, from true pleasure to fatigue. How can you balance holiday stresses while preserving your happy and celebratory cheer?

Many people feel anticipatory happiness, excitement, nostalgia, and look forward to the joy of family gathering, good food, cherished music, gifts and a merry time for everyone. Sharing in the delight of children captivates and blesses us all.

The hosts may associate the holidays with stress, hard work, an overwhelming schedule, burdensome entertaining, mind- boggling gift decisions, money concerns, pressure about pleasing others and total exhaustion. They often get so focused on pleasing others that they may abandon themselves and may even become resentful about their under-appreciated efforts of love.

There are also individuals for whom the merry times only accentuate their hardships, estrangement or geographical distance from family. Their loneliness triggers sadness and even depression. They may recall their childhood joys but find themselves in adulthood lacking the skills, inclinations, financial means or opportunity to duplicate their fairytale youthful recollections for themselves and/or for their children.

So how can you keep yourself buoyant during the bittersweet challenges of the holiday season if you are not pleased with this year’s predicaments?

Research by Diener and Seligman about happiness found that: “The very happy people were highly social and had stronger romantic and other social relationships than less happy groups. They were more extraverted, more agreeable and less neurotic, compared with the less happy groups.” This suggests that developing strong connections to mates and others with greater ease of disposition and less defeating notions, may serve as a conduit to sustaining greater happiness.

Applying these skills during the holidays may encourage us to focus on our ongoing connection to others throughout the year. We need to make the efforts to stay in touch and be attentive to family and friends as a way of life. Keeping our bond to those we are related to and/or care about with an easy-going style helps their and our state of happiness.

The spirit of the holidays means: connecting, sharing and caring:

If you are the host,

• Lower your stress by setting your goal for an enjoyable celebration rather than a perfect event.
• Model ease and emotional comfort for your guests. It will relax you and put others at ease.
• Be attentive to each guest making him/her feel valued. This will improve everyone’s pleasure.
• Abstain from feeling victimized by your efforts – pride yourself for your caring for others.
• Give personal gifts- not lavish ones.
• Decorate tastefully not with an intent to impress your guests.
• Conserve your energy during preparations, so you can be a perky host.
• Solicit your partner’s participation. Couple teaming is empowering and cements your love.
• Make your guests feel special. As Maya Angelu said: “People will not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

If you are a guest,

• Come to participate, not to be catered to.
• Offer to help the host/s – you will feel more connected and your host/s will feel valued.
• Appreciatively comment about the setting, the food, your pleasure about being included and the host/s gracious hospitality.
• Bring something to share: food, musical instrument, gift, and mostly a caring and loving demeanor.
• Be happy and friendly- others will be drawn to you and may emulate your joy.

If you are feeling disconnected and lonely,

• Volunteer to help, serve or cheer up others.
• View your situation as temporary and plan to improve connections with others toward a happier season next year.

Use the holidays to assess how you can share your loving, caring and giving spirit with others throughout the year.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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