The holiday season is an amazing time of the year. It’s a time that’s meant to be filled with love, joy, and happiness as there is so much to feel blessed about and so many things to feel grateful for. The gift of life alone is miraculous, leaving one in a state of wonder and awe when deeply considered. However, such realizations and feelings are generally far from what most of us experience this time of year. Instead of experiencing joy, most of the season is spent pushing ourselves physically, emotionally, and even chemically, as we rush to get everything done. With ever growing to-do lists, pressure at work, travel, changes in diet, and everything else associated with the holidays, we tend to experience more stress and overwhelm than in any other time of the year. That hardly leaves any time for reflection, resulting in the missed opportunity to experience all the wonderful things life has to offer.
With so much consuming us, how do cut through the madness and experience some of the blessing that constantly pervades us? How do we obtain the joy and happiness meant to come from this time of the year? While many things factor into our overall happiness, there are three things you can do that will absolutely transform your holidays, allowing you to experience not only the joy and happiness of the season, but a deeper sense of fulfillment and blessing.
Read more about how to manage holiday stress
Focus on the Now
For many of us, we spend a significant amount of time not living not in the present moment, but in the past or future. If we are not worried about something that may occur in the future, we are holding on to something that happened to us in the past. The result of this becomes a state of survival in the body, leading to an overall sense of anxiety. Not only is this state not conducive to happiness, it makes it nearly impossible to experience. Anxiety and overwhelm create more tension in the body, which leads to an even greater state of survival, resulting in a cycle that can be hard to break. Because of this, most of us do not take the time to count our blessings when we are in survival mode.
The key to breaking this cycle is the breath. Practicing meditation or yoga is great. However, simply becoming aware of your breathing can have a significant effect on your overall being. When you first become mindful of your breath, you will probably find that it is rapid, shallow, non-rhythmic, and often times, you’re holding it altogether. By bringing your awareness to your breath, it will immediately slows and becomes much deeper. This shift, resonates through your entire physiology, as your heart rate slows, your blood pressure drops, and blood is shunted from your muscles back to your vital organs bringing oxygen and nourishment with it. Just as importantly, a space opens for you to move into the present moment, and experience a greater sense of ease. It is from this space that blessings can be counted and just as importantly experienced.
Make Gratitude a Priority
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor at University of California, has shown in his groundbreaking work that people who practice gratitude, for instance keeping a gratitude journal on a weekly basis, are healthier and more optimistic. Further, these same people are more likely to make progress toward achieving personal goals, which further increases overall happiness. The reality is that stress is not real. Stress results from how we perceive and experience the world around us. By taking time everyday to keep a gratitude journal, making a list every night before bed and reviewing it each morning upon awaking, we can significantly shift the perception of our life’s events. With this, we can begin to see the blessing even in events that seem less that ideal, including times of crisis and tragedy. With a change in perception, our very physiology shifts from one of survival to one of ease, allowing greater depth, meaning, and fulfillment to flow into our lives. From this state, the true meaning of the holidays can be experienced.
While many things factor into one’s happiness, research has shown that nothing has as positive an effect on one’s overall level of happiness than helping others achieve happiness. Altruism of any sort, whether it be helping a friend, volunteering time, donating used items or money, listening to others, sharing kind words, or even a smile, all contribute to a greater state of peace and happiness in oneself. Further, the health benefits associated with helping others has been shown to rival, and even exceed those, resulting from exercise or quitting smoking. In short, the most powerful way to achieve joy and happiness is to help others achieve the same.
The holiday season can be a very stressful time of the year, and it is easy to lose the meaning associated with it. However, it can also be a time of great blessing and fulfillment. This year, make it a point bring live in the present moment, look for the blessing in all things, and send some love and kindness into the world. You will find that the more peace and joy you give, the more you will receive, allowing you to enter the new year feeling more blessing and fulfillment that ever before.
Image: Martin Morissette