How do happy people stay happy during the holidays? There are many factors that influence people to adopt a happy attitude. For some people, the holidays are extremely stressful, while others find them to be a joyous time. The holidays may bring extra pressure.

Our previous experiences influence how we cope with upcoming events. For example, we learn certain behaviors based on the success or failures of past occasions. Some of us may overvalue the expressed wishes of others. The social pressure to make the holidays perfect can prove to be very problematic. For example, when hosting a gathering we don’t have to prepare meals like a master chef. Undervaluing the social pressure to meet everyone’s expectations can reduce that internal pressure to perform beyond what would normally be expected. We need to be at peace with the choices we make. Additionally, we don't need to compare ourselves to the behaviors of others and how they celebrate.

People who monitor their immediate thoughts evaluate those thoughts and therefore their behaviors. Our ability to change our thoughts allows us change our mood. We become more adept at reducing holiday stress, because we are not tied to negative attitudes or beliefs. When we focus on what is meaningful, our ability to develop more control over our stress is enhanced, and our sense of well-being increases. Our brains are marvelous at creating new neural pathways to enhance our sense of joy while diminishing our stress.

Happy people give the gift of kindness. When we are charitable to others, our brains produce oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins that increase our sense of well-being and happiness. There are many rewards our bodies experience when we are kind to others. Happiness can lower our blood pressure, alleviate stress on our organs by reducing inflammation, and lower the stress hormone cortisol. Reaching out to others who are in need, being forgiving, and showing more empathy toward others helps us to feel happy.

Yes, happiness is a state of mind. Stress will always happen, but it is how we interpret it that will determine how well we cope. Happy people do not overrespond to stress. Overresponding diminishes our ability to perform. Instead, breaking things down to smaller, more manageable units reduces stress. And, abandoning perfectionistic tendencies takes performance anxiety to a lower level.

Laughing at oneself and not taking life quite so seriously helps deal with holiday stress and also promotes well-being. Happy people are more flexible in their judgment of others and themselves. Being accepting of others can release us from the stress of high expectations and the huge disappointments that invariably follow.

The holidays bring joy and even if we find that life presents more challenges during these times, take them in stride. Remember to do the following:

1. Monitor your thoughts. Negative thoughts are bad habits. They reduce our ability to give the gift of kindness to others and increase thoughts that promote depression.

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2. Remember we are able to adapt and develop more neural pathways for happy thoughts by being more attentive to the needs of others. However, don’t respond to social pressure to meet everyone's expectations. Do what is manageable.

3. Remember there are health benefits from having happy thoughts and happy behaviors.

4. Don’t compare yourself with the Jones family. They may have more Christmas decorations, but that just means they have more to put away when the season has ended.

5. Stress will always happen no matter what time of the year it is. However, it is how we respond to stress that determines how we deal with it.

Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.

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