Crowded shopping centers, eating too much of the wrong foods, spending money we don’t have on gifts people don’t want, feeling guilt, frustration, anxiety, irritation—all of these experiences can be just as much a part of the holiday season as Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas carols.So how do we experience happiness during these times, and at any time of the year when we feel overloaded?Well, first of all, happiness might not be the right word to use, especially since its root meaning comes from words that translate to “fortune” or “luck.” Winning the lottery or striking it rich may bring positive feelings, but the question is do those feelings last? And more to the point, what happens when we begin to seek happiness from sources outside of us?Rather, the emotional goal to seek, in my opinion, should be feelings of contentment and fulfillment. Accessing this state of inner calm and acceptance is at the heart of many spiritual practices, and does not engender passivity, but rather an awareness of life and all that it presents as it relates to us and our sphere of influence.Having a set of practices and strategies that foster this kind of emotional state can be critical as we cycle through the holiday season.QUIZ: Do You Add Laughter To Your Life?Try the following practices:
- Learn how to laugh. Either by watching funny movies or television, going to comedy shows, spending time with people who make you giggle or going to a laughter yoga class, you will feel better after a good, hardy guffaw—trust me.
- Be grateful. Appreciating the things we have shifts the focus on wanting more and moves us away from the gross commercialism on which this time of year tries to capitalize. Joy does not come from something gift-wrapped, poured, eaten or played with; rather it comes from understanding the gift that we bring to this world simply by being a part of it and knowing what we already have inside of us.
- Practice forgiveness. Now is as good a time as any to let go of resentment and to stop stewing over past wrongs, heartbreak, pain and anger. Improvements in physical and emotional wellbeing follow acts of forgiveness and foster empathy, compassion and altruism—the opposite of stress and depression.
- Find a form of meditative movement. This can be anything that shuts off your brain and allows you to be more mindful of the present while being active. Whether it’s swimming, running, lifting weights, spinning, being on an elliptical machine or something milder like walking, tai chi or yoga, doing this as a practice can break the patterns of physiology that are stuck on overdrive or make us feel alone and isolated.
- Breathe fuller, deeper and more evenly to produce a level of calm and reduce stress in the moment. Find ways to do this more often than not.
- Eat an anti-inflammatory diet filled with fruits and vegetables of a variety of colors, extra-virgin olive oil and omega-3 fats in the form of cold water fish like black cod, sockeye salmon and sardines, along with vegetarian sources like ground flaxseed and walnuts. Limit excessive eating of processed foods and sugar, and watch your alcohol consumption. Try to stay at 1-2 drinks a day.
- Learn about stress-beating supplements. I recommend supplementing with at least 2000 IU of vitamin D, fish oil in capsules or liquid (2-3 grams daily of EPA and DHA combined) and a good multivitamin. Above that, learn about medicinal plants that treat mood like Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) and St. John’s Wort (Hypericum performatum), as well as natural- products like SAM-e.