Give yourself the best gift of all: holidays filled with love and meaning

'Tis the season for racing through the mall, staying up late decorating the tree and spending all weekend baking cookies. But it does not have to be that way.

A simpler holiday season could be in your future. It is possible to slow things down, focus on what matters and toss aside those so-called traditions that have lost their meaning. Instead of ending up exhausted and depressed, you could wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take in all the meaningful moments that this time of the year offers.

Here are some ways to get you started.

Think happy thoughts

Join the Happiness Project and, in no time, you'll be spreading holiday cheer.

Gretchen Rubin spent a year test-driving theories on how to achieve happiness and turned the results into her bestselling book, The Happiness Project. You'll find all of the information there, but she also has a website packed with inspirational quotes, articles and advice your mother probably never gave you. Among her tips: Step away from the screens. Not just TV screens but any screen, including those little ones on cellphones. Go for a walk, listen to music, relax, get more sleep. Need more inspiration? "One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself."

To find out how to start your own Happiness Project and get daily reminders to put you on the path to joy, visit

Eat to reduce stress

This time of year it's so tempting to grab a burger and fries before heading out to the mall for holiday shopping, but don't. Instead, take a little time to eat something that will do more good than harm.

Before you get too wired on lattes and espressos, substitute green, white or black tea, which have about half the caffeine.

Whenever possible chose veggies such as broccoli, kale, chard and green beans, which have high levels of stress-relieving B-vitamins.

Munch on a handful of nuts and seeds, which contain lots of magnesium and B-vitamins.

Eat an orange, which is loaded with the immunity-booster vitamin C.

Clean up and cruise stress-free through the holidays

If the thought of a houseful of relatives for the holidays paralyzes you with anxiety, it's time to turn to the FlyLady for some serious help. This crazy website makes perfect sense once you get into the whole one-day-at-a-time approach to cleaning. In prep for the holidays, the FlyLady (along with her followers) is pretending that she's going on a holiday cruise and has to get everything ready for the departure. Never mind that there's no cruise ship in sight; once you get started you'll be that much closer to a stress-free holiday. Her theory is that most people postpone cleaning because the mere thought of decluttering is so overwhelming that they don't know where to start, so they stop themselves. She suggests that instead of tackling the whole house, focus on the kitchen sink. Once it's sparkling, move to a new task the next day and so on. Another suggestion: Give up the notion of a perfect Christmas. Instead of staying up late making sure the Christmas tree is ready for the cover of House & Garden, make a pleasant nightly ritual of putting one ornament on the tree at a time. Get the idea? For more ideas, visit

Exercise your mind

For decades, writer and editor Dorothea Brande has inspired people of all ages with, among other things, her list of mental exercises, not to be confused with mind games. These exercises can help you see challenges in a new light, which can only be a good thing this time of year.

Her book Wake Up and Live was written in 1936, but her exercises still hold true today. Try flexing your mental muscles this holiday season.

Spend one hour a day without saying anything except in answer to direct questions. But do it in a way that doesn't lead people to ask what's wrong with you.

For one day, answer yes to all reasonable requests.

Talk for 15 minutes a day without saying I, me, my or mine.

Eat less, feel better

Just say no to overeating. The holidays don't have to be all about stuffing yourself like a Thanksgiving turkey. Most people only gain about a pound during the holidays, so relax a little. You can shave off some of the calories and still savor holiday treats without a heaping helping of guilt.

Some tips:

Instead of using whole milk and butter to make mashed potatoes yummy, substitute fat-free sour cream or nonfat plain yogurt.

Stay away from cheese logs and summer sausage. A better choice would be tomato slices sprinkled with feta cheese atop whole-wheat crackers.

Apple pie lovers can skip the high-fat crust and instead opt for baked fruit stuffed with cinnamon, walnuts, cranberries and whole-grain oats.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness -- the practice of being fully aware in the moment -- is really catching on as people search for ways to cope with stress. Several studies have found that mindfulness helps people deal with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and sleep problems. One study linked mindfulness with better relationships.

Meditation is one way to reap the benefits of staying in the moment, but you don't have to sit still for 20 minutes with your legs crossed to get the benefits.

When holiday shopping gets you down, take a moment to find a quiet place and practice mindfulness.

Need help in a crunch?

When you're waiting in one of those long lines at the toy store, take a deep breath. Then notice five things you can see, five things you can hear and five things you can feel (your hair on forehead, for example) Smile. You're probably five people closer to the check-out already.

Spend time, not money, on gifts

Finding a gift for the grandma who has everything can eat up tons of time. Instead of buying something silly, turn a box or jar into a memory keeper. Write down as many memories of Grandma (or any loved one) as you can think of on pieces of paper. Get other family members involved and aim for 365 memories. Add instructions to read one piece of paper a day for a whole year of wonderful memories. Grandma will treasure it and, as a bonus, you'll get the pleasure that comes from recalling all those memories yourself.

Have some fun deciding if you are an Eeyore or Tigger

Eeyores get annoyed with Tiggers' cheery outlook; Tiggers fear that Eeyores will drag them down. Knowing who you are can help you accept others for who they are without trying to make them see life your way. Plus quizzes are just plain fun -- that is, if you are a Tigger.

If you're a Tigger, you say things like:

"Happiness is a choice."

"Look on the bright side."


"Fake it till you feel it."

If you're an Eeyore, you say things like:

"No one can be cheerful all the time."

"Thinking the glass is half-full isn't realistic, it's self deception."

If someone asks "How are you," you tell them the truth.

"Authenticity is important. No phoniness please."

Go red

Or green, or gold, or whatever colors light up your holidays. A monochromatic theme can take some of the hassles out of decking the halls. Instead of shopping around for holiday decorations, look around the house and find new ways to use old things. Fill glass vases with red food coloring, red ornaments or red marbles. Use a red tablecloth, red Christmas tree lights and other red items to carry out the theme.

Have a game night

Remember how much fun you had playing hide-and-seek as a child? You don't need a 5-year-old around the house to relive the carefree joy of childhood. Invite your adult friends over for a childhood game night. Ask everyone to bring their favorite board game and treat from when they were young. Indulging in a night of Candy Land, Nerds and jacks is sure to zap any holiday stress.

Jan Jarvis, 817-390-7664