Just in Time for the Holidays: 6 Steps to a Happier You
If you have ever battled depression, you know that happiness and feeling good are not to be taken for granted. If you’ve ever struggled to pull yourself out of bed, to prepare yourself to go out in the world, or to just care for your most basic needs, you understand that the days when you feel well are to be cherished.
You may even analyze the days when you feel good so you can replicate them in the future. You think about what you did, what you ate, where you went, who you were with. You think about the conversations that rejuvenated you and those that seemed to zap the life right out of you. You study these things as if doing so is your professional job. You understand that one day, perhaps one day soon, you will need to retrace your path and duplicate the very things that once brought you joy.
I know this struggle well. And I know many other people will find themselves confronting depression in their lives, especially as we enter what is considered one of the most stressful seasons: the holiday season.
Even though it is the season of giving, it’s important to focus on yourself.
While some may call it the most wonderful time of the year, many people experience melancholy moods and feelings of isolation during the holiday season. And seasonal affective disorder (literally abbreviated SAD) brought on by the cold, dark weather also has many people feeling low. Furthermore, high expectations, emotional reconnections with family, and stress around money and spending can further propel you into a depressive state where this time of joy and love can begin to feel hopeless and lonely.
Throughout my own journey to move beyond depression, I’ve discovered some thoughts, actions, and habits that bring me back to joy. These things have worked for me and I offer them to you. Of course, I must note that I am not a psychiatrist or physician, and while your journey is unique, I am hopeful that these observations will support you on your own path to a happier you this holiday season.
1. Know yourself
Even though this is the season of giving and sharing, it’s also important to spend some time focusing on yourself. I have learned that so much of our happiness journey has to do with self-reflection and self-discovery. As I take time to better know myself and then incorporate what I have learned into my everyday practice, I am undoubtedly happier. For instance, years ago, I realized that I felt at peace and calm in nature. With this knowledge, I have tried to get outdoors as much as possible, and doing so never ceases to make me smile. Through reflection, I have also learned what I dislike and the people and situations that create discomfort or anxiety, and I limit my exposure. These things keep me level and happy. Knowing myself has been the key to living a more enjoyable life.
From the moment Halloween ends, it seems we’re in a mad rush to prepare for the holidays. Between cross-country travel, Black Friday shopping, online ordering, cooking, and preparing the home for visitors, we have so much to get done, yet it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface.
I’m convinced that rest is an undervalued superpower. It is what enables us to heal and recover, yet many of us fill our lives with so many obligations that rest becomes elusive. Even when we lie down to rest, our minds are racing with the commitments we have for the following day or the things we were unable to accomplish earlier in the day, especially during this time of year. This can lead to restless nights and an inability to get deep sleep. But happy people and successful people value rest as much as they do productivity. They understand that they cannot bring their best selves to the work if they are tired, worn down, and exhausted.
Peace and happiness may not happen overnight, but it is indeed possible.
3. Embrace self-compassion
I, like many other Black women, was raised to be hyper-responsible. Somewhere over time, that sense of responsibility developed into self-critique. I have learned it is okay to let myself off the hook and to embrace self-compassion. When I make a mistake, I respond to the mistake with the grace I would extend to a close friend. This has been key to helping me recover from mistakes and live a happier life.
4. Silence your inner judge
A former running buddy and I used to speak openly about our inner judges. We decided to give them names. When my inner judge rears her head to criticize me, I talk back. I ask her to have a seat. I have learned that happiness and judgment cannot co-exist. To be happy, we must silence our inner critic. Another way I am learning to silence my inner critic is to develop as much self-love and compassion as possible. Not for the person I hope to be one day, but for the person I am today. When I practice self-love, the love I give to myself replenishes me and even helps me extend grace to others.
5. Feel your emotions
’Tis the season to overindulge. Between travel and big family meals and store deals where everything is on sale, it can be easy to engage in some retail or food therapy when you’re feeling low. When I learned to stop running from how I was feeling by overeating or indulging in other unhealthy habits, I began to feel better. I am not saying that sadness doesn’t come. It does. But I increasingly welcome it in as a visitor and sit with it until it either leaves, voluntarily or involuntarily. Happy and successful people understand that being present in their physical bodies includes being able to experience the range of emotions that comes with the human experience. Rather than running from unpleasant emotions and feelings, happy people allow themselves to experience and feel these unpleasantries. They give name to their emotions and, most importantly, they don’t judge themselves for having emotions of anger, sadness, and hurt.
For many years, my oldest child lived with his father. I was a single mother, yet I was not raising my only child. When I felt low, my friends Amanda Hoyt and Theresa Todd encouraged me to give. I began picking up my nieces and spending time with them. They consistently lifted my spirits. I also got involved with a ministry at my former church (the Potter’s House in Columbus, Ohio) where I joined a team of women who cooked and delivered food to individuals who were sick or otherwise incapacitated. I can’t fully describe the joy I got from these experiences. I was helping myself, but I was also helping others, and that alone boosted my sense of purpose and happiness. To this day, when I feel bad, I think about what I can do to help others or what I can do to help my future self. This is the perfect time of year to give of your time and yourself and find joy by being there for others.
These six things are aiding my happiness journey and I am hopeful they will support you as well. We can all find hope in knowing that finding peace and happiness may not happen overnight, but it is indeed possible.