The holidays can be a stressful time of year, so we asked Gretchen Rubin, founder of The Happiness Project, to offer some of her top tips for making the holidays happier.
Q: Do you think that the holidays are a happy time for most people?
A: It’s so hard to generalize. For some people, they’re very happy. For other people, they go into them knowing that it’s going to be a particularly challenging time. For a lot of people, they expect them to be happy and then they’re very frustrated when they’re not.
Q: It is interesting how the holidays have transitioned from a completely blissful time when I was a child to a time I still love but find to be quite a bit of work.
A: That’s part of it. You have to make sure you don’t keep loading things on to your holiday until it becomes unmanageable. On Halloween this year, I got to the point where I didn’t want any more things to happen. We do a picture every year that I get framed for me, my in-laws and my parents. And then I have Halloween decorations and the stress of figuring out costumes. And then we were making a Halloween house, and we had a breakfast where I cut toast into the shape of a witch. And then there’s trick or treating. I was like, that’s enough.
Q: It sounds fun.
A: It is! Each thing is fun – but if you have enough things, none of it is fun. You have to think about what’s going to make things more manageable so you can actually enjoy yourself.
Q: As with so many things in life, don’t over commit?
A: Right. Think about what works for you now and don’t get trapped into this idea of what you should do. For me, having a tree at Christmas was a big deal. But we live in New York City and it’s hard to have a tree, and we go to my parents’ house for Christmas, and my husband’s Jewish so he doesn’t have any sentimental attachment to it. But for years it was hard for me to say that a whole live full-grown tree was not working for us. Now, we get little tabletop trees that we decorate. It took me a while to realize that it’s still Christmas without the six-foot tree, but it made my life a lot easier.
Q: Do you think women find the holidays uniquely challenging in any way?
A: In many cases, women take more responsibility for the things that go on – which can mean a lot of work and a lot of pressure.
Q: Any tips for making the holidays a happier time?
A: Get enough sleep. Any time you’re traveling or you’re with children or you’re staying up late because you’re seeing people you’re excited to see, you’re away from your usual schedule and it’s easy to not get enough sleep, which can really affect your mood.
Think about your drinking. I gave up alcohol – not because I was an alcoholic but because it wasn’t making me happy and it made me belligerent. There are a lot of people for whom alcohol doesn’t bring out their best side. You might associate it with the holidays, but if it makes you say mean things or more prone to conflict, or brings you down, consider that.
Think about what makes YOU happy. It’s easy to think about what’s fun for everyone else, but you need to make sure that you do things that are actually fun for you. Would it be fun for you to stay home and read while everyone else goes to a movie? Would it be fun to go for a run? You can’t be too selfish about it, but you have to make time for yourself.
Be both respectful and flexible when it comes to traditions. If you’re a person who believes strongly in tradition, sometimes you have to understand that it’s not as important to everyone; don’t drive yourself crazy if things aren’t perfect. On the other hand, some people don’t realize how important tradition is to others – that they really appreciate it if you show up or dress a certain way or participate. It’s like, out of love can you just change your clothes? We all have to ask how we can play our part to create the most harmony.
Practice gratitude. If you’re having anger or resentment, take a moment to think about what you’re grateful for. It crowds out the bad feelings. If your mother is driving you crazy, think about how much she’s trying to help. It sounds Pollyanna-ish, but if you remind yourself of all the things you have to be happy about, it can put you in touch with the true spirit of the holidays.