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4 Practices for Greater Joy Over the Holidays

articles Dec 01, 2022
Joy Practices

The holidays can be filled with joyful moments connecting with those we don’t often see, indulging in hearty meals, and taking pleasure in the acts of caring and giving. Unfortunately, the busyness of the holidays pulling our attention in many different directions can affect our ability to appreciate these moments.

Since the holidays can be stressful for many of us, it’s vital to implement self-care strategies and, if possible, family strategies to emerge from this time nourished and healthy. How can we improve our frame of mind and focus on what matters most? 

By intentionally being present and focusing on this season's good, we can enhance our experience of these moments and our sense of well-being. It may sound simple, but it isn’t easy.

Research from Harvard’s Mathew Killingsworth shows that almost 50% of the time, we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing, and a wandering mind is an unhappy one. 

Also, as a human species, we are prone to focus on the negative. This “negativity bias” leads us to pay more attention to the negative experiences in our life and feel negative events more intensely.  For example, painful experiences are much more memorable than pleasurable ones, and in a relationship, it typically takes five good interactions to make up for a single bad one. This can lead us to develop more critical views of ourselves and others, sensitivities towards stress, upset, and other negative experiences, and tendencies toward pessimism, regret, and resentment.

Neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson provides an illustrative metaphor for our tendency towards the negative sharing:

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones.”

But he also shares that we can counteract negativity bias with methods such as savouring positive experiences and actively cultivating a positive attitude. 

By savouring positive experiences and embracing a positive attitude, we’re not doing away with the negative but rather balancing out the scales and tilting toward the good. This can help:

  • Bring us greater happiness and boost feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions.
  • Improve how we feel about ourselves and others and strengthen our relationships
  • Reduce anxiety and depression

This holiday season, bring greater joy to your life by setting an intention to be fully present and to take in the good by using these four practices.

1. Look for the good

Actively seek out the good (including positive experiences) over the holidays. This could be unexpected compliments, small gestures of care and kindness or simply the holiday environments you may be in. Neuropsychologist Dr. Rich Hanson recommends doing this at least a half dozen times a day. There are lots of opportunities to notice good events, and you can always recognize good things about the world and yourself. Each time takes just 30 seconds or so. It’s private; no one needs to know you are taking in the good.

2. Make time for mindfulness

Disrupt the pace of the holidays with mindful moments. In the mornings or at the end of your days take a few minutes to practice mindful breathing. Research has shown that those who practice mindfulness have a more positive and less critical view towards themselves and others, and they engage higher levels of optimism than those who do not. 

3. Permit yourself to enjoy your experience 

When you’re having a pleasant holiday experience, focus on it fully. If you’re enjoying a meal, what do you taste? When listening to a favourite song, can you stay with that experience to the end? When someone wishes you well, how does that make you feel?  Because negativity bias has us pay more attention to the negative experiences in our life, we can counteract this by focusing on positive events and savouring those events to create positive memories. 

4. Practice being grateful

Carve out a few moments each day to reflect and affirm the good in the world, the gifts and benefits that you’ve received in your life, and the positive traits in others. Research into gratitude is growing rapidly and is identifying many benefits that you can begin to experience by noting three things you’re grateful for each day. 

By prioritizing time to focus on being fully present and taking in the good, you can experience greater joy over the holidays!


 Michael Apollo MHSc RP is the founder of the Mindful Society Global Institute. Prior to founding MSGI in 2014, he was the Program Director of Mindfulness at the University of Toronto. He is an educator, licensed mental health clinician and certified facilitator in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.


Wandering Mind Not a Happy Mind | Harvard Gazette

Learning to learn from positive experiences | The Journal of Positive Psychology

Negativity-bias in forming beliefs about own abilities | Scientific Reports 

Take in the Good | Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Looking Up: Mindfulness Increases Positive Judgments and Reduces Negativity Bias | Social Psychological and Personality Science

Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience| University of Michigan & Loyola University Chicago.

Gratitude Defined | Berkeley Greater Good Science Center

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