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Welcome to my island of sanity and serenity. I'm Sandra Pawula - writer, mindfulness teacher and advocate of ease. I help deep thinking, heart-centered people find greater ease — emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Curious? Read On!

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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