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How to Increase Your Joy During the Holidays

Do you long to feel joy at the holidays, but find yourself dreading their arrival? Do you feel apprehensive about the busyness, the stress, the expectation and obligations, or the feelings of sadness or depression that may visit at this time of the year?

It doesn’t have to be this way.  You’re not sentenced to a lifetime of holiday despair no matter how long you’ve followed the same routine. If the holidays bring you more angst than excitement, you can turn it around, little by little.

In this mini-guide to holiday joy, we’ll consider:

  • Getting in touch with what brings you joy.
  • Saying “yes” to you and “no” to whatever doesn’t work for you.
  • Replacing dread, stress, and other negative emotions with joy.

And if you already love the holidays, this might make them even better.

Ready to go?

A Holiday Joy Challenge for You

It’s not that difficult to increase your joy during the holidays if you make a conscious commitment to do what brings you joy each day.  Try out this simple Holiday Joy Challenge I created to help you feel more peace, contentment, and happiness during the season.  This is the challenge in a nutshell, but also read on because you’ll learn about the art of saying “no” as well:

  • Eliminate at least one holiday downer this year.  Or more if you’re up to it, but don’t push yourself into too much or stress mode.
  • Engage in one joyful activity each day of the holiday season. Yes! One-a-day. You deserve it.  All the way till January 1st.  But of course, don’t pressure yourself.  If you miss a day here or there, it’s okay. 

4 Steps to Holiday Joy

Follow these 4 steps to create your holiday joy plan.

1. Make a Conscious Decision

If you find the holidays unnerving, make a conscious decision that you’re going to do something different this year. Make a commitment to your self.

You don’t have to change everything. You can start by eliminating one or two activities that bring you down. Ones that would make an important difference in your experience of the season.

Let’s itemize those next.

2. What Brings You Holiday Distress?

Flash through your holiday memories and see what gives you the biggest “ugh.” Be as precise as possible.

Here are a few examples, but the possibilities are countless:

  • Shopping in overcrowded stores.  Name the specific stores.
  • Baking holiday goodies.  Which ones?
  • Putting up exterior Christmas lights.
  • Getting into fights with Uncle Joe at family gatherings.
  • Writing Christmas cards.
  • Eating too much.  Too much food?  Too many sweets?

You get the idea. Make your own list of your top 3-5 triggers that spiral you into holiday angst.

Whittle your distress list to 1 or 2 actionable items that you’ll tackle this year.  Remember, people are most successful when they work with one change at a time.  Start with the first one.  When accomplished, move onto the next.

Keep the list of your 3-5 top triggers at hand in case you have space and time to address more.  But don’t pressure yourself.  Removing one source of distress will already be a significant accomplishment and brighten your holiday season.

3. What Brings You Holiday Joy?

What really makes you happy during the holidays?  What do you really need to have a good holiday?  Yes, it’s okay to have needs.

The activities or experiences you choose can be holiday related, but they don’t have to be. For example, they can be self-care techniques that help you let go of stress, nourish yourself, and bring out your best, so you can be a shining light during the holidays instead of a wretched wreck.

Here are some examples, but don’t limit yourself:

  • Singing or listening to Christmas carols.
  • Ice skating.
  • Sharing your change with the bell-ringer.
  • Volunteering to help others in need.
  • Watching your kids eyes light up when they receive a gift.
  • Celebrating the deeper meaning of the holiday.
  • Taking a nap.
  • Smiling.
  • Cracking a joke.
  • Getting a massage.
  • Playing in the snow.
  • Painting every day.

What makes you joyful? Make your own list of your top holiday joys, what you need to enjoy the holidays, and any activities that bring you joy.

Your list can be as long as you want:  10, 20 or 30 items.  Be as creative as possible, but don’t include unreachable goals that could make you feel frustrated.

Then, make a commitment to engage in one joyful activity each day of the holiday season till January 1st.  You can pencil your favorite joy ideas into your calendar on a weekly basis as a reminder, switching them up each week.


Pin both your lists in a visible place where you’ll see them every day of the holidays as a reminder of what to avoid and what to embrace.

4. Learn to Gracefully Say “No”

There’s one last hitch.

The holiday offers an abundance of temptations and invitations, usually more than any one person can handle with ease. It’s easy to get pulled into activities or experiences you don’t need or want in your already over-stretched life if you find it difficult to say no.

I used to find it nearly impossible to say “no” myself.  Writing a personal script helped me take the first step and it might help you too.  Here’s an example:

  • “Thank you for asking. I’m honored. I won’t be able to help you this time (or volunteer, contribute to your cause, work extra hours, accept your invitation, have another serving or (fill in the blank).  (Optional: Insert reason.) I appreciate your understanding.”

Should you give a reason for your “no”?

That can be tricky!

Some people will see a reason as an invitation to debate or refute your wishes. You don’t have to justify yourself.  Not wanting to do something is reason enough.

However, if you feel compelled to give a reason or feel it would be kind to do so, be authentic but gently unyielding. Here are some examples:

  • “I need the time to take care of my health.”
  • “My plate is full and I can’t add on another thing or I’ll truly burst at the seam.”
  • “I’m learning to live a more balanced life and want (or need) to do less.”
  • “Your Christmas cookies are so delicious, but I’m determined not to gain weight this year.  Thank you, but please share them with others.”

Now write your own script, one that feels good, kind, and real.  Once you have your script in hand, start practicing it. Get it down so you feel natural and comfortable when you speak the words.

It may not be easy to say “no” at first, but it will get easier with practice.  So don’t give up if it doesn’t work the very first time!

Remember:  Your health, well-being, sanity, stress level, and happiness may be at stake as well as your ability to be kind to others. You deserve to set healthy boundaries, especially during the holidays when the expectations and demands can be outrageous.

Let’s Put Joy Back Into the Holidays

The holidays were meant to be a joyful time – an opportunity to reconnect with others, feel more peace, and tap into the deeper meaning of each celebration.  Instead, they’ve become a frenzy of getting the best deals with way too much packed in between.

What happened to us? Let’s change it.

Please don’t put this challenge aside as a good idea for later.  The force of the holiday season is upon us.

Why not start today?

  • Eliminate at least one holiday stressor or downer this year.
  • Engage in one joyful activity each day of the holiday season till January 1st.

Do your best, have fun, and spread the joy.

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra









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  1. Hi Sandra, thanks so much for sharing these tips to have a more joyous and peaceful holiday season. Without boundaries or preferences, we tend to over-book ourselves and do things that don’t have any meaning for us. Even irritate and bring us down. Making a conscious decision is a great tip for surviving the holidays and for living life. Over the last couple of years, I’ve started making more conscious decisions in all areas of my life, including the holiday time. I ask myself if something makes sense, if I’ll enjoy it, if I have the energy to do it …etc. It’s been a life changer. Being more conscious allows us to transform holiday dread to delight:)

  2. Dear Vishnu,

    “Conscious” is the crucial word, isn’t it? I appreciate how being conscious has made such a huge difference in your life and that’s what I wish for everyone. Sure, we still have our unconscious urgings and there’s so much to understand there too. I feel a good life is about making the unconscious conscious and asking the kinds of questions you pose. Thank you, Vishnu! And happy holidays!

  3. Jean Sampson

    I don’t shop for gifts anymore (only Bill and I in the family) and I only write cards to people I keep in touch with at Christmas, so I do not have the stress that most folks have. If I do give a gift to a friend, it is usually something I painted or made. The real highlight of my Holiday season is something no one else at the art center enjoys at all—-the Holiday Festival for Kids! The first Sat in Dec, I turn my studio into Coloring Central —-3 big tables with 4-6 chairs at each table (sometimes more—and a huge variety of little Holiday coloring pages that I have made and copied over the years—-I even have pictures of menorahs and other stuff for non-Christian kids! They and their parents and grandparents LOVE it! Everyone gets to sit down, rest and even the adults love to color. I keep it open from 10-4:00 and never have an empty studio! I do have to watch the goodies because the sugar wrecks my immune system! But I have been known to eat a few Christmas cookies! I guess the main requirement for a happy season is that everyone is well and happy and I get to do my long hill walks as much as possible!

    • That’s so inspiring, Jean! I wish I could come and color with you. It doesn’t sound like the holidays bring you stress at all. How wonderful. I’m sure we will always have a few things to watch like those cookies but we don’t have to stress about it too much. I think your heart is in the right place: wanting everyone to be well and happy! Enjoy your walks

      • Jean Sampson

        You would have so much fun coloring, Sandra! And I have collected a kazillion crayons over the years so everyone get a shot a using the iridescent and metallic colors! Nobody fights over who get what crayon because there are so many! 🙂 🙂 I wish you could come and do this with me! 🙂

        • I think I would! I don’t consider myself artistic, but I did love to color as a kid. Wow, iridescent and metallic colors. Where have I been? Enjoy!!!!!

  4. Hi Sandra,

    Holiday dread? I have never heard this expression but when I look back in time, I can relate to some of the points you have raised. Most prominent amongst them is writing the cards, which was always my duty. It started as a loving time, sitting together with the address diary and writing to loved ones, it was more of a bonding activity! Don’t know when it degenerated into a chore and then the advent of mobiles sounded their death knell! Same happened to shopping…an activity full of excitement and pleasure now seems to be falling a prey to commercialism.

    May be the dread catches up when we have had enough of holiday season? Are we jaded? Too content and laid back? Banished excitement out of our lives? But I didn’t do it consciously! The exuberance of youth seems to have passed! Am I so old? Not really, I tell myself! Any suggestions to challenge this laid back spirit?

    • Dear Balroop,

      I just made that expression up based on one person I know and the sense that I get from so many that the holidays stress them out. I love the motivation you began with when writing cards felt like a loving time. Maybe getting back to your original motivation and then selecting the activities that connect to that motivation would help you feel that excited, loving spirit again. I know this may be more challenging when you done the same things so many times now. But I wish you the very best in reconnect with the sense of spirit you’ve felt before or a new one that’s waiting to emerge.

  5. Hi Sandra,
    This is a great & helpful post & I plan to share it on my inspiration blog Pages From Joan at
    Having two children that married in 2014, and knowing many other young marrieds, one hardship is sharing the holidays with both parents and in-laws. A friend of mine encouraged me to be flexible & recognize that hi days can be celebrated on another day besides that “exact date” on the calendar.

    • Thank you, Joan! Yes, that’s a complex situation for young married people. I think you completely right, we can enjoy the goodness of being together whatever day it is. Thanks for that reminder.

  6. Sandra,

    What a wonderful reminder of how to truly celebrate the season. For me, my fondest memory is when the six of us (my wife and four children) are watching “Christmas Vacation” while eating and drinking our favorite Christmas treats – the sense of warmth and joy is amazing.

    I accept the challenge to keep the holiday’s meaningful!


    • That sounds so cozy, Alex! I haven’t heard of that movie before. I’ll definitely check it out. My husband and I enjoy watching movies and often we would go to the movies on Christmas Day. I’m sure you will have a meaningful holiday. That’s just who you are!

  7. I’ve *loved* and enjoyed the holidays ever since I can remember Sandra. Tho’ of course coming from the jolly old UK we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but I have adopted it into my life because the sentiment to be thankful appeals to me. 🙂

    I tap into the energy of Thanksgiving running into Christmas (my most favourite holiday of all) and always get uplifted and energized and filled with more love.

    However, I am aware that this isn’t true for many, so I think your suggestions are brilliant. One small step at a time can change the whole experience.

    You’ve reminded me to cherish the times I have powerful feelings of meaning and love and be thankful whenever and wherever they arise. Love Elle.

    • Dear Elle,

      I’m so happy you love the holidays and have even adopted Thanksgiving! I think you have the key to the holidays and to everyday of our life: meaning and love. If that’s our intention, goodness will come. Thanks for underlining those important values.

  8. I don’t dread it, but I so dislike the holiday season with a capital “D,” I dislike all the commercialism, the expectations that come with the season ( the joy and warmth that you speak of), the busy-ness, all the bad-for-you food everywhere you turn, the financial burden, the waste, all of it.

    I do say “no” to most, do not decorate, send cards or bake any more, and have reduced the gift giving down to a bare minimum – mostly things I make or local goods. I STILL am glad when it’s behind me for another year. I don’t believe in the whole “baby in a manger” story and there is no deeper meaning for me that is specific to the time from the end of November to the end of December. We can and should appreciate and spend time with family all year long and cultivate feelings of gratitude and peace.

    Sorry to be a downer and call me Scrooge, but I would prefer not to participate at all. The season marks my brother’s sickness and death on New Year’s Eve twenty years ago. While I do feel that I have healed from that, it just taints the whole season even more for me.

    • Dear Debbie,

      I completely understand. My participation in the holidays is minimal. I only share gifts with one sibling because I want to honor its importance to her. I don’t bake or decorate! And, I’m not keen on the commercialism either.

      I appreciate its a sensitive time for you due to your brother’s death. You two had such a special connection and I know that love will always be there in some form for you.

  9. Hi Sandra, This is a lovely reminder to find your own version of holiday joy. It is easy to get sucked into the pressure of the holiday season, but I decided long ago to keep things simple. It has worked for me and our family. We have a few traditions, one is also watching Christmas Vacation and we all get a few laughs. I love and appreciate being with family and friends during the holidays. Your post has put me into the right frame of mind for the holiday season. Thank you!

    • Hi Cathy,

      I so love how you see this: as finding our own version of holiday joy. That’s what matters, isn’t it! Otherwise, it’s fake.

      I like to keep it simple too. I haven’t seen that movie, but with two recommendations in these comments, I’ll probably end up watching it for Christmas! I enjoy connecting with friends and family too, although my family lives many miles away. We usually partake of a meal with friends and appreciate the special community we have.

  10. Sandra, Thanks for this awesome article. I’m so supportive of your Holiday Joy Challenge! Two things we do in my family to make the holidays more joyful: one is that instead of gifts, we plan a day of fun experiences for my family. We call this the “holiday hoopla.” We’ve done carnivals, variety shows, spoofs of Survivor, and a murder mystery dinner. It is a great way to create long-lasting family memories and have fun together. Plus, my son loves planning it.

    Also, I encourage folks to participate in The *New* Black Friday — instead of shopping lists, I encourage people to make Love Lists. They are free to make and are amazing full-of-love gifts!

    Thanks for spreading the joy!!!! 🙂

    • That sounds like so much fun, Sherry! How super-creative. I’m keen on new version of Black Friday that focus on what’s really important. One of my friends has created a “Craft Friday.” Let’s turn around all that commercialism. Thanks for sharing your traditions with us.

  11. This year, rather than shop for mindless gifts to fulfill someone’s wish list, I’ve committed to making a pile of “shelter shoeboxes” for a local charity, in honour of the women in my life – a box filled with winter essentials and a few goodies for women who don’t have the freedom or means to shop for themselves.

    Another thing that brings me joy is synchronicity. One of my FB friends posted this challenge mere seconds after I’d reposted the recording for a holiday webinar I gave last year. While the content is almost identical, I love that we’ve each given it our own flavour. I also love to see that there are others out there spreading the message of enjoying holidays with ease!

    • Dear Cathy,

      What a wonderful way to create a meaningful holiday season. I’m sure those who receive your shelter shoes boxes will really appreciate them. Thanks for adding this idea to the list of all that is possible for a new, different, and meaningful season.

      I love synchronicity too. It’s amazing how often it happens once you start seeing it.

  12. Hi Sandra,

    There were a few years when I wanted to skip Christmas all together. My ex left me during the holidays (okay, he left, came back, then I kicked him out – it was a very stressful holiday that year) and the following year I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yeah. Christmas wasn’t high on my list. After I finished cancer treatment, I opted out of Christmas and took my girls on a trip.

    That was many moons ago. We each have a choice on how we handle the holidays. We can say no to all the extra parties or fund raisers, or Yankee swaps or school bake sales. And we can say no without an explanation. One thing I learned is that no is a complete sentence. And mostly it means ‘not right now.” I had a few holiday seasons where I was all about no. No parties, no extra doing stuff, no gift giving, no bake sales. Saying no really helped me learn how to say yes to what I was willing to take on during the extra busy season.


    • Dear Peggy,

      You’ve really been through so much. I see the strength and courage you’ve developed as a result. Saying “no” to what doesn’t work is really saying “yes” to you. Thanks for being such a shining example that this is indeed possible and brings us back to peace and sanity. I always value your input so much! Thank you.

  13. Hi Sandra!

    I admit that I’m like a little kid at Christmas – my husband accuses me of liking it more than my kids! But it stresses me out nonetheless. I love your tips and I’m going to take the Challenge!!

    It strikes me that this is actually a template you can use for banishing stress and increasing joy no matter what the season!


    • I’m glad you’re like a little kid at Christmas, Jessica! How nice that you find joy there and now you can take a few steps towards diminishing the stress. Yeah! Yes, this is a good template for tackling stress and raising joy whatever the season. Thanks for pointing that out!

  14. I usually eat too much (especially sweets) and I hate to go to the city in December and I dislike buying presents. I solved that problem some years ago with my mom being the only person I give presents too. Now it is just the eating that I have to get a hand on.

    • Wonderful that you’ve made such progress, Corinna. It’s inspiring to see that we can take control and shift our holiday experience to one that works better for us.

      I understand how sweets can really be a challenge. I hope you can find a good balance with them!

  15. Oh my gosh girl!! It’s almost Christmas! Where did THAT come from so fast?

    Thanks for the advice and reminders. We used to overdo it and try to fit everything/everyone in… It wasn’t fun! These days I focus on my family and what it will take to create the best memories ever. It includes the people that have been an important connection ongoing. We want to strengthen the ones we already have.

    We do try to give back to people that are in need. I think that’s very important.

    On my list is making sugar and gingerbread cookies with my kids (now only my daughter likes it) I cut out a ton of the other baking.

    It is all about balance and picking and choosing what fits YOU and your family. Thanks for this reminder sweetie! Much needed 🙂

    • Yes, it’s hard to believe Christmas is right around the corner. I started getting Black Friday notes in my email box weeks ago.

      I love how you chose your family as the main focus, Melissa. That’s another way to go, to chose in a people-centered way. I hope you and your family have a lovely holiday and I’m in for the sugar cookies too. 🙂

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