THE BLOG
12/14/2010 08:50 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

7 Simple Practices to Really Enjoy the Holidays

With the holidays upon us, is it possible to really make it a season of good cheer? How can we stay grounded and present and truly let ourselves feel the holiday spirit? Though the next gadget or experience may bring fleeting pleasure, genuine happiness is about how we feel inside.

To really enjoy the holidays, it's helpful to understand that true well-being is directly related to how contracted or open your mind feels. Contraction means stress. Openness allows you and others to feel your care and love. For true well-being, try these simple practices that will keep you connected to healthy mind states and help you really enjoy the holidays:

  1. Set your intention to enjoy the holidays as much as you can.
  2. By making the conscious decision to open yourself to true well-being and happiness, you'll be more likely not to miss those uplifting moments and even begin to have your radar out for them. According to neuroscientist Dan Siegel, by setting your intention, you "prime" your brain to be ready to achieve your desired goal.

  3. Be really present for any moments of well-being when they're here.
  4. Don't just know that you're feeling good. Let your awareness savor how the experience of well-being registers in your body and mind for 15 to 30 seconds. Brain research has shown that you are creating deeper grooves for happiness when you do this.

  5. Reduce your stress.
  6. If you're feeling overwhelmed, remember to take a few breaths. Take a break and enjoy a cup of tea or a hot bath. Try some yoga or exercise, or get out of the doing mode for a little while and let yourself just relax. Disengage the clutch of activity and connect with the moment in a restful way. Neuroscience shows that when you're multitasking, it's virtually impossible to feel happy.

  7. Practice gratitude.
  8. Don't take your good fortune for granted. Consciously reflect on all the blessings in your life each day. Express your appreciation directly to loved ones and friends when you're with them. You'll both feel the joy of loving connection. In one study, people who considered themselves severely depressed were asked to write down three good things that happened each day for 15 days. At the end of the experiment, 94 percent of these subjects had a decrease in depression, and 92 percent said their happiness increased.

  9. Take good care of yourself.
  10. Get in touch with what will support your well-being right now. You might ask yourself the question, "What do I need to thrive [or feel well-being] in this moment?" It might mean taking some space to nourish your spirit, like going for a walk or being in nature. Practice talking kindly to yourself. You'll be less stressed, and everyone around you will reap the benefits if you do.

  11. Practice generosity.
  12. Research shows that an altruistic act lights up the same pleasure centers in the brain as food and sex! Whenever you feel the impulse to be generous, act on it. As you do, notice the expansive feelings in your body and mind. Without expecting anything in return, notice how it good feels inside when you see someone happy because of your sincere generosity. It can be as simple and profound as being fully present for a friend, sharing the gift of your caring and attention. When you walk your dog, let yourself enjoy that generous act. When you open the door for someone, feel the wholesomeness of the impulse. Anytime you do something that contributes to the well-being of another, let yourself feel the joy of generosity. And be sure to include yourself as the recipient of your own generosity practice.

  13. Remember to play and have fun.

Remember what it was like when you were a kid during the holidays? Let yourself experience that again. Be around kids if you can. Tune in to and take delight in their enthusiasm. Singing and dancing are excellent ways to get out of your head and open to joy. David Elkind, says in his book "The Power of Play": "Decades of research have shown that play is crucial to physical, intellectual, and social emotional development at all ages."

Remember that the more you can stay connected to your own happiness, the more you become a reminder for others to get in touch with their own well-being, too. We all benefit when you can awaken the joy within you.

Happy holidays!

James Baraz has been teaching the online "Awakening Joy" course since 2003. To learn more about the upcoming 2011 course, visit Awakeningjoy.info.