July 19, 2024

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You can’t force holiday cheer—but 3 habits can help you feel happier this season

2 min read

Do you ever feel like the holiday season comes with an unwritten script you struggle to follow? From buying the perfect gifts to hosting the ideal holiday party to posting that flawless family photo on Instagram, the pressure to conform to societal expectations can be especially overwhelming during the holidays. In its annual holiday mental health poll, the telehealth platform Sesame found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adult respondents reported an increase in stress levels during the holiday season.

“Many people tend to expect that this time of year flows smoothly, and yet this is not always the case,” Bryana Kappadakunnel, a licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Conscious Mommy online parenting community, tells Fortune. “Someone inevitably gets sick, something often gets canceled, and the high hopes you have for the perfect gathering may not be matched with reality. Perhaps you spent a lot of time and effort on someone’s gift, only for them to seem disinterested and for you to now feel disappointed.”

The expanded to-do list is one source of added holiday stress, but perhaps even more pernicious is the unspoken expectation of how we’re supposed to feel during the holidayshappy, grateful, connected.

The problem with this script is that we can’t control our emotions. And thinking that we’re supposed to feel a certain way can make us feel even worse when those feelings don’t naturally surface. We feel bad, and then we feel bad about feeling bad. The shame spiral of failing to experience the expected “holiday happiness” can make us feel even lonelier and less happy.

Unfortunately, we can’t just force ourselves to have holiday cheer. Trying too hard to be happy tends not to work. In fact, researchers have found that not only does trying to make ourselves feel happy not work, it can actually backfire and make us feel less happy, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as the paradox of happiness.  


Jen Zamzow

2023-12-02 05:00:00

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