Making Christmas Merry

Holidays have a way of magnifying everything – both negative and positive. Whatever is happy, beautiful and fun seems even more prominent when Christmas lights are twinkling and pretty packages are sitting under the tree just waiting to delight someone you love. But whatever is sad, ugly and painful can also be magnified because it doesn’t fit in to our idealized image of what Christmas should be like. As my friend, Dr. Randy Carlson of Intentional Living has often said, “Expectation minus reality equals disappointment.”

I am going out on a tinsel-covered limb and guessing that there is something about this Christmas you wish could be different. The good news is you don’t have to let your circumstances ruin your holidays. Studies have shown that circumstances only account for 10% of your happiness. That’s a surprisingly small number! But boosting your happiness quotient doesn’t just happen by itself. You must be intentional about how you THINK about your life and circumstances.

One exercise in overcoming circumstances and making Christmas merry is to maintain a Big Picture Mindset. Oftentimes it isn’t the big things that derail our happiness, but a hundred little things. Car trouble, a winter virus, failing to find the toy your child wants “more than anything” for Christmas, a fraudulent charge on your credit card, a fender bender. The list could go on forever, because life is full of those frustrating nuisances. If we keep our eyes on all the things that can – and do – go wrong, we will never be happy. But when we step back and put those things into perspective, they lose their grip on our attitudes. The Big Picture of your life probably also includes a lot of people (or even pets) who love you, having your basic needs (and many of your wants) met, opportunities to help others and many reasons to smile as you celebrate the holidays.

This leads me to the other key to happy holidays: gratitude. It’s true that many of the things that come our way aren’t what we wished for, but those often become our most powerful opportunities for growth and gratitude. Appreciate what you have, even if all the circumstances aren’t perfect.

Another 40% of our happiness is shown to come from our voluntary activities – what we choose to do every day. Volunteering for, and/or donating to causes you care about on a regular basis is guaranteed to raise your level of happiness. Activities like exercise and healthy eating are also proven to affect our sense of well-being. Read something enriching, sing holiday songs, do something meaningful and make time for activities that bring joy. None of these are new ideas, but we need to be reminded sometimes.

If you’re doing the math, you know now that Happiness is 10% circumstance and 40% voluntary activities, so what accounts for the remaining 50%? Believe it or not, the studies show that it’s genetics. Yes, that means your predisposition to being either positive or negative is woven into the fabric of your being. For all you naturally optimistic, positive people, thank you for putting the “Merry” into Christmas for everyone around you. But for the majority, before you blame your parents and ancestors for generations before them for passing on unhappy genes, I want to offer you some encouragement. The statistics come from studies of what is and do not necessarily predict what will be for you! The fact is, more than half of us have a natural “negative bias” that causes us to more easily see what is wrong than what is right. But your choice to focus on the positive things in life will have a huge impact on your happiness. And remember the voluntary activities we just talked about – the 40% factor? When coupled with a decision to choose a good attitude, they are the key to creating a better outlook on life.

Christmas is stressful and hectic for many of us, but it is also a time to reflect on the many blessings we enjoy from day to day and a time to make a little extra effort to share those blessings with others. If you expect everything to be perfect, you will most likely be disappointed. But if you choose to enjoy the things that are lovely and grow from the things that don’t go your way, you will be much more likely to have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We sincerely wish that for you!

Live, Work & Relate Well!

Dr. Todd


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