For most of us, the holidays are a joyful time, overflowing with opportunities to express our love and appreciation for each other and to gather with friends and family. According to the American Psychological Association, most people love this time of year and report increased levels of happiness, love, energy, and connectedness.1

We also report increased levels of stress from a lack of time and money and the challenges of family gatherings.

With a little attention and curiosity, you can find ways to enjoy the extra energy and sense of community of the holidays, while reducing the tension they create in your life. The secret? Staying connected.

Create Time for Connection

Making time to authentically connect with others while also prioritizing quality time with yourself creates a supportive cycle of inward and outward engagement that is critical to deepening the bonds that sustain happiness.

Psychiatrist Dr. Dan Siegel says relationships are the most important contributor to our well-being.2 “The more we connect with others and embrace the reality of our interconnected nature, the more we’ll live with meaning, compassion, equanimity, and purpose.”

To truly connect with others requires compassionate communication, which begins with “[becoming] aware of your own feelings in your own body…if you can perceive your interior, you have more capacity for empathy,” says Dr. Siegel.

There are many ways to connect to yourself and explore your interior self, including self-care practices like exercise, yoga, and meditation—solo pursuits that research indicates are also linked to happier, more satisfying relationships.3

If you’re extra busy, find ways to steal small moments for yourself whenever you can. Look up and watch the snowflakes swirling overhead; pop your earbuds in and listen to a favorite song; or spend a minute petting your cat or dog. In these little pockets of stillness, bring your full attention to the present—feel the crisp winter air, move your body to the music, take time to really look into the eyes of your pet.

Prepare for Difficult People

Other people make the holidays wonderful, and our relationships can also be a source of pain and frustration. Office politics can be exacerbated when people’s patience runs thin due to stress and work, or family holiday gatherings sometimes require navigating a minefield of potential hurts and slights.

What to do? Experiment with lowering your expectations. Instead of counting on the perfect office party or ideal family gathering, expect challenges and prepare for them. Plan to make yourself available for the people you really want to spend time with—or expand your options and engage with someone you don’t know very well. You can also plan to limit the time you spend at a particular event; set a timer on your phone and make a graceful exit.

“Holidays increase the stress of relationship,” Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks remind us.4 “Remember that you and your well-being are the priority. If you nurture yourself and create pro-active agreements about when and how much closeness you’ll share with the extended family, you’ll find that you don’t drain your good will so quickly.”

Choose Trust Over Battles

If someone tries to start a contentious conversation about politics or your love life, challenge yourself not to take the bait. Take a breath and notice your own need to be right or express an opinion; get curious to see if you can listen and not react. Actively listening to another person without your own agenda creates an opportunity to build trust.

Our long-term connections rely on what Dr. John Gottman calls “sliding door moments,”5 everyday interactions and conversations that offer the opportunity to connect. If you continually turn away from someone in these moments, trust erodes. If you turn toward them, you deepen the relationship.

And if a conversation turns toxic or you need to regroup, simply find a way to take a moment to yourself: Go to the bathroom, leave the room to refill your drink, start washing the dishes, step out to your car and call a friend for support, take the dog for a walk, or go play with the kids if there are any around.

The key to enhancing holiday happiness starts with opting for healthy connections. That means getting skillful in our relating. Prioritizing self-care, developing empathy, and actively listening to others creates enjoyable, meaningful opportunities—during the holiday season and all year long.

Did you know?

The creation of 1440 Multiversity stems from a belief in the power of authentic relationship and the desire to have a space where people can come together to learn valuable life skills.

  1. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf
  2. http://www.drdansiegel.com/blog/2013/12/17/relationship-science-and-being-human/
  3. http://www.bgracebullock.com/single-post/2016/05/31/Mindfulness-Enhances-Relationship-Satisfaction-New-MetaAnalysis-Reports-1
  4. http://artoflove.evolvingwisdom.com/how-to-deal-with-relationship-stresses-during-the-holidays/
  5. https://www.gottman.com/blog/what-makes-love-last-sliding-door-moments/