Three Secrets to Holiday Happiness

By Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Many years ago my friends and I found ourselves facing a holiday season with no money and no family. Too broke to travel home, we decided to get creative. A twisted, puny, discarded shrub, stuck in a coffee can wrapped in aluminum foil became our Christmas tree. We took needle and thread to popcorn and cranberries to make a garland decoration. Aluminum foil stars hung from the mutilated branches and a Barbie doll with aluminum foil wings topped our masterpiece. Agreeing on a $5 gift limit forced us to abandon the mall for the five and ten cent store.We wrapped our treasures in comics from the newspaper and enjoyed Christmas morning with hot cider and Bisquick biscuits. I received a red plastic squirt gun, a plastic toy train, and a balsa wood airplane (assembly required). Soon the squirt gun battle sent us running about the place squealing and laughing. Later while eating our homemade vegetarian chili dinner, we played board games and worked on a puzzle purchased at the Goodwill. This remains one of my happiest holiday memories and illustrates the first secret to holiday happiness. Use your imagination.

Les Brown said, “Live out of your imagination instead of out of your memory.” (Thank you Suzan Tusson for that quote.) Memories of holiday times can create high expectations and high anxiety for many people. Dr.Sonia Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, says it’s a myth that we can only be happy if our circumstances are ideal. You might feel you can’t have a happy holiday season if you don’t have a job, money, spouse, or family. Dr. Lyubomirsky found that we carry the elements for happiness within us no matter what life situation we find ourselves in.  If you can’t afford the traditional holiday extravaganza with all the trimmings, make up a new tradition. Studies show trying something new increases our happiness. The second secret to holiday happiness, variety, heightens our senses, stimulates the imagination and provides a spark of adventure. One year a relative brought kites to our holiday gathering. Soon relatives both young and old assembled the paper kites with string, skipped outside, and launched the colorful creations into the sky.

One Thanksgiving I was sick with the flu. Home alone with the television, I felt a bit sorry for myself. Later that day I heard a knock at the door. Dragging my sick self off the couch I opened the door and was greeted by a smiling face and a home cooked meal. That simple act of kindness boosted my mood and probably my immune system too. That brings us to the third secret to holiday happiness. Acts of kindness boost the happiness levels of the giver as much as the receiver. Write a letter of gratitude to someone. Tell that person how much they mean to you, or how much their acts of kindness mean to you. Wrap the letter in a ribbon and deliver it by hand. Give a homemade scrapbook filled with old photos of happy events. Include handwritten captions describing the fun. Offer to help a neighbor shovel snow off the drive, or prune their rosebushes. With imagination, the spice of variety and the warmth of human kindness you’re certain to enjoy a happy holiday season. I’m interested in hearing about your happy holiday stories.