As the northern hemisphere reaches the apex of its tilt away from the sun, we enter the darkest time of year. As a culture, we have developed traditions that aim to keep our spirits high during this trying time. We band together with friends and family to celebrate, feast and delight in each others company. The emphasis is on spreading joy and cheer and good will to all. However, for many of us, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year. How could a tradition that is designed to improve your mood actually cause you to feel worse about life? The solution to your suffering may be a lot simpler than you imagine. Here are three helpful hints to free you from stress during the holiday season.
1. Realize that everything is you. There is no escaping this basic truth: that everywhere you go, there you are. Every situation you ever find yourself in, there’s you right in the center of it all, experiencing it. As such, every experience you can have in this life is subjective. Reality is not just a thing that’s happening- it’s a thing that’s happening to you. Therefore, if you are at a party and you are not having a good time, you ought to know that it is not the party’s fault. You really can’t blame a party for being boring because your experience of boredom is actually an experience of yourself.
The same goes for stressful situations like family gatherings. Is it really a stressful situation, or is it you that is feeling stressed? We go through life feeling like a victim of circumstance, trapped in the endless stream of life, powerless to overcome the current. Realize that you are the stillness at the center, you are the central filter through which reality is experienced. Everything that happens is essentially an experience of you. So, for goodness sake, relax and try to enjoy yourself.
2. Stop complaining. I was surprised to learn that the average person complains between 15-30 times a day. I actually thought it would be more, given that there are so many things to complain about. At any given moment, there is always going to be at least one thing wrong. Maybe it’s too hot, maybe it’s too cold? Maybe you’re hungry or maybe you ate too much and now you’re full? Are you tired? Does your back hurt? The list is endless - and don’t even get me started about the weather.
Cutting down on complaining this holiday season is a sure way to bring more peace and joy into your immediate world. First, understand that having a critical mind means that there will always be a part of you that is evaluating your experience and thinking of ways that it could be better. The problem is, we subconsciously believe that everything should be perfect, all the time. When everything is not perfect, which is often the case, it causes emotional distress. Complaining occurs when you proceed to share this emotional distress with those around you.
Like any habit, breaking out of the complaint cycle isn’t easy. It begins by paying attention to your thoughts. When you hear the inner critic speaking, pause for a second before giving voice to it. Are you about to unconsciously point out all the flaws that you notice? Ask yourself, will voicing this thought contribute to the collective joy experienced in this moment? If not, replace your original intention to complain with an expression of gratitude instead.
3. Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude feels great and makes everyone happy. When you appreciate someone, it’s an expression of truth that comes from the heart. Sharing truth from your heart always feels good, but appreciation is a win-win- it makes the recipient feel good inside and it makes you feel good as well. You both get that feeling of openness and lightness inside the chest. Showing appreciation is a great way to generate more joy this season. Unlike complaining, expressing gratitude raises the collective vibration- and keeping the vibration high is the key to maintaining long-term happiness.
By taking these three hints on board, you are much more likely to have a “happy holidays.” Remember, it’s not actually the "holiday" that needs to be happy, it’s "you" that needs to take responsibility for your own happiness. Keep in mind, at any given moment, there will always be something to complain about. At the same time, there will always be something to be thankful for. Where you choose to focus your attention is entirely up to you. Choose wisely.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.