How To Have A Merrier Christmas Season, According To A Happiness Expert

For many of us, the Christmas season is the time of year we most look forward to. We’re eager to spend time with family and take a few days off work, or decorate our homes and prepare meals for loved ones to share. But for others, this time is the most dreaded period of the entire year.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
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Per one poll on this matter, 64% of individuals with mental illness report feeling their depression worsen during the Christmas season for a variety of reasons. It’s strange that this should be the merriest time of year for all of us but rarely is for so many. We don’t have to plow through this holiday completely without hope, though. According to one happiness expert, we can have a merrier Christmas season, even if we’ve grappled with depression, anxiety, and other mental struggles in the past. Here’s how.

What Makes the Most Wonderful Time of the Year So Sad?

It may seem unthinkable to us that the holidays and the approaching New Year could be such a difficult time for us…until we experience a holiday-related hardship ourselves.

For those who have lost loved ones, including parents, spouses, siblings, or otherwise, it can be extremely rough to suffer through the holidays without these people. We’ve navigated this time of year with them for as long as we can remember, and we now have to face it alone? What could be worse than being in pain while everyone else seems to be so happy?

Even if they’re still with us, we also might be separated from our loved ones by distance or other constraints. In both of these instances, it can be very tempting to isolate ourselves altogether. If we can’t spend this special time with the people we’d really prefer to share it with, why would we want to spend it with anyone else? In actuality, this is a self-destructive coping strategy, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

64% of individuals with mental illness report feeling their depression worsen during the Christmas season.

1 in 20 Americans believe the best part of the holiday season is when it comes to an end, according to Pew Research. Many resent the religious connotations this time of year holds, as well as the overwhelming sense of materialism that’s often associated with a day like Christmas. Others still resent the season for increasing feelings of insecurity and anxiety, resulting in exacerbated manifestations of addiction or domestic violence. All that said, there is a way we can still enjoy this period rather than agonize about it in ways we might have done in years past.

Enjoy the Time for Yourself, Not Others

Arthur Brooks is a professor and speaker, and for years he’s written and researched human interaction and the ways we as humans experience emotions, even how we self-sabotage when it comes to tense times like the holidays. 

Brooks has found that, especially during this season, it’s easy and even encouraged to share our family gatherings on social media and to evaluate the posts of others, even though they’re rarely accurate. “No one posts a photo of a blowout political argument at dinner, or mentions the crippling anxiety they get from the credit-card debt they racked up buying presents,” writes Brooks.

The best way to combat these feelings of insecurity, which may mount to a larger episode of anxiety, is to stay off social media for the time being. Even if you don’t post your own family gathering, you might even have a better experience if you’re not seeing any of these types of posts at all. Not only that, but being off your phone will help you make your own memories which aren’t tainted by comparing them to others, and you can be fully present and enjoy valuable, precious time with loved ones. 

We can also prepare for the holiday by savoring the anticipation and excitement, managing our expectations of what the day will bring, and leaving work at home, according to Brooks.

What Does the Season Mean To You?

Brooks’s advice doesn’t end there, though. To garner a truly meaningful experience and really savor the season, we have to honestly consider what it means to us. 

It can be difficult to separate the commercial significance of things like Black Friday and Christmas presents from the actual holidays, but that’s exactly what we have to do. We might automatically relate preparing for Christmas with the stress of buying gifts, but this will lead to increased feelings of anxiety and stress. If these holidays have personal or religious significance to us, we’ll enjoy them all the more.

To garner a truly meaningful Christmas, we have to honestly consider what it means to us. 

It’s also true that if these holidays have little to no meaning, or even secular meaning to us, we’ll enjoy them less. One survey of over a hundred Americans from ages 18 to 80 found a clear association between personal meaning and how much the individual enjoyed the holiday. It doesn’t matter if this personal meaning is attributed to religious faith or associations like family traditions and gatherings, but it’s better to have a defined sense of significance within ourselves than to have a cynical view of them or, worse, none at all.

If we’re not religious or not connected to family traditions or plan to attend gatherings during the holiday, we’ll be tempted to isolate ourselves. We might even see it as our only option. But there are still ways to make our own holiday traditions and spend time with others, even if it’s volunteering in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter for the day. If we have no traditions or no loved ones close to us, we can always start by making our own and forming our own connections. Research shows that this will certainly set us up for success during the holiday season. 

Closing Thoughts

Many of us view days like Thanksgiving or Christmas as just two days out of the year, or days which have arbitrary meaning if they’re associated with religious faith or sentimentality. We might arrive at this conclusion given our own painful pasts, but every year is an opportunity to change. It’s possible to have a joyful and merrier holiday season, even if we’ve had poor ones more often than not. Whatever the day looks like for us is something we can build on, no matter how far away our family lives or how broke we may be that year. The beauty of the holiday season is that it’s for everyone, no matter who they may be. Its joy is limitless and it’s available for everyone to share, if only we take advantage of it.

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