12/23/2010 09:34 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Turn the Holidays into 'Holy' Days with These Family-Bond-Building Activities

The holiday season -- a time for family, friends, less work and more play, right? So you would think that people would be happier and more relaxed at this time, but for many it is just the opposite. It is not a time for "holy days," for true connection and contemplation, but instead a time of stress and despair. We have lost the very meaning of this time.

In fact, reports indicate that the holidays are often the time with the most heart attacks. During a 12-year period in Los Angeles one study found that there were consistently more deaths from ischemic heart disease during the winter than there were during the summer. The researchers first thought a change in weather was the cause, but in Los Angeles, the weather change is extremely minimal, and therefore they "postulated that this peak in cardiac deaths during the holidays might result from other factors, including the emotional stress of the holidays, overindulgence during the holiday season or both."

And how do we tend to deal with stress at the holidays? According to an American Psychological Association survey, 36 percent of Americans reported that they either eat food or drink alcohol to relieve their holiday stress. The most common stress they reported (61 percent) was lack of money.

So, why is this time so stressful? One reason is the hectic crowded shopping environments. The Newsletter of the American Institute of Stress investigators in one report found that "purchasing six gifts in a store was associated with an anxiety-driven doubling in heart rate from a resting 69 to a shopping 138 beats per minute, compared to purchasing the same items at home on the Internet which was associated with a steady heart rate of 65 to 67 beats per minute."

The other is family. As much as we love them, they tend to trigger our anxiety, as well, in only ways they can. Ram Dass used to say that if you think you are enlightened, go home and spend a week with your parents, then see how enlightened you are.

How many family dinners have we all attended that started out cordial and soon turned to conflict, either over financial issues or family members bringing up grievances from years ago, overtaking the dinner with negativity and name-calling?

What if, however, the holidays became "holy days," days with the focus on connection instead of consumption?

I am not sure exactly how to do this, but here is my experiment this holy day season:

  1. Play old-fashioned board games that encourage connection and collaboration.
  2. Return to silence by turning off the noise, from TVs to computers, for certain times during the day.
  3. Invite family to go outside with you, away from the TV and sports, and walk in nature.
  4. Love the people in your life for who they are, not who you think they should be.
  5. Appreciate your life situation, no matter the amount of money or number of friends you have.

If you have ideas for turning the holidays into true holy days, please share them below.

Soren Gordhamer is the author of "Wisdom 2.0" and organizer of the Wisdom 2.0 Conferences, which unites staff from technology companies such as Twitter, Google and Facebook with individuals from wisdom traditions to explore living with deeper purpose, presence and wisdom in our modern lives. More information can be found at