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Mental Health

Expert Advice: How Can I Feel More Holiday Joy?

Celebrate on your terms.


With all the stress that comes along with this time of year, it can be hard to savor the meaning of the season. To help, our experts suggest six simple tactics that will help you slow down, feel some holiday joy, and maybe even experience genuine bliss.

Meet our expert panel

  • Tama Fortner is the author of more than 50 titles including her latest, Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays.
  • Traci Smith, author of Faithful Families, has spent more than 13 years helping families find meaningful connections as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church.
  • Brenda Poinsett, author of Holiday Living: Using Year-Round Holidays to Build Faith and Family, is a teacher and family rituals expert.

Let go of comparisons.

One obstacle that makes it hard to get into the festive spirit is our tendency to compare ourselves to others. “I remember looking at a friend’s perfect holiday decor and feeling like I had to keep up,” says expert Tama Fortner. “But letting go of this pressure allowed me to reflect on whatIwanted the holidays to look like. For example, I never liked stringing lights, so I let that go, and instead, we all pile into the car with hot cocoa and tour the neighborhood lights — it’s okay to simplify.”

Pick a joyful intention.

Envision what you want this season to be about by setting an Advent intention, encourages expert Traci Smith. “Would you like to limit the number of invitations you accept to have more peace and less rush? Maybe you would like to be guided by an Advent word such as peace, joy or hope.” Consider jotting down your intention somewhere the whole family can see it.

Have fun with gratitude.

Ritualizing blissful activities can be as easy as sharing a cuppa, says Smith, who encourages what she calls a “Gratitude Café,” simply enjoying hot cocoa with friends or family and sharing little joys. “Just grab a few mugs of hot chocolate and take turns practicing gratitude while the chocolate cools,” she says. “It’s a simple way to slow down, take in the scent of the cocoa, and make it a special moment.”

Feel your feelings.

It’s impossible to experience happiness without acknowledging sadness, says Smith. “Name your grief and consider lighting a candle while saying a short prayer: ‘We remember that though there is a lot of joy this season, sometimes there is sorrow too.’” This ritual can be especially healing during the winter solstice on December 21, the shortest day of the year. “It’s a reminder that the longest night doesn’t last forever — your days will get brighter.”

Reflect on spirituality.

“Weave a few of the most memorable traditions into the season,” suggests Fortner. “For example, we sat down as a family and decided one of the things we loved best is reading Luke Chapter 2, the Christmas Story.” Other spiritual practices may be more subtle. “If you see a symbol of your faith, like a star, reflect on its symbolism — this helps traditions become intentional but not overwhelming.”

Revel in generosity.

Giving is perhaps the easiest way to lift your spirits. “Whether you bake cookies for your local firehouse or share the gift of your time with a friend, generosity lifts everyone up,” says expert Brenda Poinsett. “Even things like connecting with faraway relatives over Zoom and taking the time to ask thoughtful questions like, ‘What was your earliest holiday memory?’ help you deepen your connections and feel the joy of the season.”

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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