Even when you want to feel fun and festive, it isn’t always easy to fully enjoy the holidays. The season is packed with big feelings, big expectations, and even bigger to-do lists that can leave you feeling burnt out rather than jolly. To get back in the spirit, it can really help to focus on all the tiny ways to find joy during the holidays.
Appreciating small moments of holiday joy is a way to reset your perspective, says Jessica Beachkofsky, M.D., a board-certified psychologist. “We tend to get bogged down with expectations, which can be unrealistically high, or focus too much on the negative when something doesn’t go as well as expected,” she tells Bustle. According to a recent survey commissioned by online therapy platform BetterHelp and research company Material, nearly half of Americans are worried about their mental health during the holidays. But when you remember that holiday cookies exist or take a moment to admire all the pretty decorations, it can help put things into perspective.
Even though they may seem trivial, these tiny moments have a cumulative effect that can truly change how you feel, says Kasryn Kapp, LPC, NCC, a licensed professional counselor. “The positive psychology technique of ‘savoring’ comes in handy when focusing on small joys,” she tells Bustle. “Savoring is all about tuning into the moment, noticing the little details, and the feeling of joy. This feeling of gratitude and connection heightens the small joy even more.”
Here, therapists share small, easy ways to find happiness throughout the holidays. Try a few and see if they add up to make you feel merry.
1. Pick Up Your Fave Holiday Treat.
For an instant dose of festive fun, enjoy one of your favorite drinks or desserts. “Try to find one that reminds you of a happy holiday [memory], whether it’s gingerbread cookies, mulled cider, or hot chocolate, and then take the time to savor and enjoy,” Beachkofsky says. She notes that scent is one of our strongest cues tied to memory, so one whiff is all it’ll take to get into the holiday spirit.
2. Hang A Decoration.
If your home isn’t as cheerful as it could be, do yourself a favor and decorate. “Putting up decorations is joyful in the moment and has the added effect of bringing you joy when you notice them throughout the season,” says Kapp. Think string lights, a couple of holiday-themed candles on the counter, or a few cute ornaments in the windows.
3. Go On A Stroll.
If holiday stress is getting to you, take a walk. “Stepping outside — even if it’s really cold — can help clear your mind and relieve stress,” Beachkofsky tells Bustle. You can also use this time to waltz around your neighborhood to look at decorations. “This is a simple way to appreciate the beauty of the season,” adds Heather Wilson, LCSW, LCADC, CCTP, a therapist and executive director at Epiphany Wellness.
4. Enjoy Wrapping Gifts.
Gift wrapping can be an annoying holiday chore or a joyful experience, depending on how you look at it. Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests making the most of the activity by being as present and mindful as possible while you cut the paper, fold the creases, put on tape, and tie a bow. Approach it as a crafty, merry, and even relaxing moment this season. Bonus points if you sip on wine or hot chocolate and listen to holiday tunes.
5. Get Into Gratitude Lists.
As the holidays approach, make a point to write out a few things you’re grateful for or that brought you joy throughout the day. “They can be really small, like having cozy socks or hot water in your shower,” Habash tells Bustle. Maybe it’s the snow falling outside, a nice chat you had with a friend, or the fact your dog looks cute in a sweater. “The more things you can notice and acknowledge that bring you joy and ease, the more you’ll enjoy this time of year,” she says.
6. Pay Attention To Your Senses.
Habash also recommends finding joy in the tiny in-between moments of your day by paying attention to your surroundings. Look at lawn ornaments, listen to that caroler singing on the subway, feel the fuzziness of your sweater, and smell the spices from bakeries as you walk by. Little moments like these are all ways to feel more grounded and appreciative, no matter how busy you are.
7. Give Back.
As you move through the season, look for little ways to give back to your community, says Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, a therapist and founder of Take Root Therapy. Can you drop off canned foods at a charity? Buy someone a coffee? Donate coats to a local shelter? Volunteering or donating your time or resources contributes to the greater good, Lurie says, and it’ll make you feel good, too.
8. Watch Your Go-To Holiday Movie.
Nothing tells your brain “it’s that time of year” quite like a classic holiday movie. “No matter how many times you watch films like What A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, or even Elf, there’s always a way to find something joyful about them,” Wilson says. Not only are they nostalgic, but taking time to watch a movie you know you love is also the perfect way to take a break from the holiday hustle.
9. Send A Few Holiday Cards.
There’s a lot of happiness to be found in the simple act of sending snail mail, says Jordie Smith, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “We live in the age of technology, but sending a quick note or letter to a friend will feel good for you and them,” she tells Bustle. There’s just something about physically writing on a card and dropping it in the mailbox that feels festive and fun.
10. Get Cozy.
What could bring more joy than slipping into a cozy pair of sweatpants or underneath a warm blanket on a chilly winter’s eve? According to Shrein Bahrami, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, you can get in a festive mood by leaning into the cold weather. She recommends staying inside, resting, and enjoying all the ways you can be comfy, like soaking in a hot bath and binge-watching your fave show.
11. Say Hi To A Neighbor.
To instantly feel more jolly, look for ways to chat with others as you go about your day. “Whether it’s by offering a compliment to someone in front of you in line at the grocery store or going over to pet someone’s dog, it can help you feel connected to others,” says therapist Leah Aguirre, LCSW.
It might also brighten up their day. “Many people struggle with feelings of loneliness over the holidays,” Aguirre tells Bustle, so you never know how much this tiny interaction might mean.
12. Relax For 15 Minutes.
Let go of all the holiday pressure to stay busy and instead take 15 minutes (or a whole day) to yourself. “We all have something we tell ourselves we’d do if we had more time — take a longer shower, walk to Starbucks for a morning coffee, or take time to read a new book,” says licensed therapist Kelly Neupert, LPC, who recommends using your holiday break (or any down time you have) to revel in it all. To get more out of those little periods, she suggests silencing your phone to truly ground yourself in the moment.
13. Appreciate All The Effort.
To keep a holiday twinkle in your eye, make it a point to notice all the kind and thoughtful things going on around you. As licensed therapist Taylor Gautier, LCSW, says, you can find joy by appreciating the food your friend brought to a potluck, the effort that went into designing a window display, or the colorful paper your family used to wrap a gift.
“Take a second and savor it,” she says. “This takes practice, but over time, it will teach your brain to notice the good things more often and will help shape how you experience and see life.”
14. Do Something Fun With A Friend.
Ask a friend if they’d be down to get coffee, bake cookies, go window shopping, ice skate in the park — or whatever other holiday activity you have in mind. According to therapist Kym Tolson, LCSW, making time for your friendships will have a positive impact on your well-being, and it’ll help you make the most of the season.
Jessica Beachkofsky, M.D., board-certified psychologist
Kasryn Kapp, LPC, NCC, licensed professional counselor
Heather Wilson, LCSW, LCADC, CCTP, therapist
Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Kelly Neupert, LPC, licensed therapist
Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, licensed marriage and family therapist
Jordie Smith, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Shrein Bahrami, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
Leah Aguirre, LCSW, therapist
Taylor Gautier, LCSW, therapist
Kym Tolson, LCSW, therapist