“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~Dalai Lama
We are led to believe that Christmas should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Our media driven consumer culture further reinforces this belief by idealizing the picture of a perfect family, having perfect experiences.
Holidays, and this time of year, can be especially difficult because of expectations that you should feel merry, generous and loving. Research indicates that most people compare their emotions to what they assume others are experiencing or what they are supposed to feel. We judge ourselves and then take it personal by proclaiming that we have fallen short.
What about after the holidays? The post-Christmas period can leave many of us feeling down. Back to work blues, an empty social calendar, festive weight gain, miserable weather and a dwindling bank balance can all contribute to a general feeling of melancholy.
But hold on. It needn’t be another season of stress and overwhelm.Thankfully, there are many ways to get your spirits back up after the festive period and here are 10:
Be selfless. Daniel Gilbert, author of “Stumbling on Happiness” reminds us that barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we focus on and on how we choose to interpret events. If you find that you are fixated on your mood post Christmas, it is a good idea to distract yourself by putting the focus on to others. Take some time out to do some volunteer work, or smile at a stranger. As an added bonus, smiling is contagious and helping others feel happy will also put you in a better mood. Not only will helping others distract you from your own feelings but it will help you put things into perspective.
Shift Your Perspective. Instead of focusing on the consumerist aspects of the holidays, think of what the holidays are really about. Remember what the Grinch discovered: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
Work with What You Have. As families change and grow, traditions will need to change as well. For example, instead of trying to reproduce the exact old-fashioned holiday of your childhood, create new traditions with meaning, beauty and love. Or if you are divorced, share the holidays with your ex with as much generosity and harmony as you can conjure up. It will be the best gift you give to your kids this year. If you are single or far away from your family, invite others into your home and give the words “extended family” new meaning. So, instead of focusing on Christmas traditions that you will not be able to celebrate this holiday, for whatever reason, concentrate on creating new traditions instead.
Watch what you eat. While it may be tempting to bury your sorrows with junk food, a healthy diet is actually much more effective at helping you feel good. Some mood-boosting foods to stock up on are those containing vitamin B such as whole grains, nuts and those containing Omega-3 fatty acids (which can help lift depression), such as oily fish or flaxseeds.
Exercise your funny bone. Laughter has been proven to be an extremely effective mood booster; releasing endorphins which instantly raise spirits and give a feeling of wellbeing. To help raise your spirits, watch a funny movie or read a funny book and spend a few hours exercising your laughter muscles. A sense of humor is a valuable coping skill, so try to keep yours when the roast burns and the dog knocks over the tree.
Get active. Although feeling blue is unlikely to put you in the mood to exercise, getting up and active is actually one of the best things you can do. Exercise not only releases mood boosting endorphins, but if weight gain is one of the things getting you down following Christmas it will help you to quickly shift those excess pounds.
Reach Out and Re-connect with a handwritten letter, phone call or dinner date. It is holiday card season after all, so why not use this time to truly reconnect with someone you’re missing? We may be “friends” with everyone we’ve ever known online, but browsing through carefully curated pictures online does not compare with hearing someone’s voice or catching up as you eat together. Take a social media fast and instead, connect in real time and in person.
Down Time. A certain amount of recovery time is to be expected, when all the hustle and bustle is over. Adjust your schedule accordingly and give yourself permission to have some down time, even amidst the pressure of getting things done. This will give you more energy.
Practice a random act of kindness, everyday in December. Doing good for others is associated with happiness. A great idea is to create an advent calendar of random acts of kindness: every day you uncover a kindness “task” that you have to perform on that day. For example: call someone who’s alone; hold the door open for someone; offer to help someone who looks like they’re in need of assistance, give someone a ride. There a many more ideas to be found online.
Ring in Changes. If the thought of going back to your regular routine is really getting you down, perhaps you should see this as a sign you need to make some changes. Maybe it is time to think about changing your job. Alternatively, perhaps you need to think about ditching another aspect of your lifestyle that is making you unhappy; your relationships, perhaps, or those extra pounds in weight. Look at what needs to be changed set your intent and then make a plan to tackle it in small steps. Instead of ending this year in despair, go into your new year motivated and ready to kick-start your best year yet.
Photo: I took a photo of my granddaughter and added a little magic.
Reprinted from my December 2015 Art of Life column in the Capital City Hues newspaper.