Keeping the Joy in the Holiday Season

While the holidays can evoke thoughts of happiness and joy, sharing and caring, the preparation can also bring negative emotions, such as frustration, worry, and even fear at the never ending list of things to do. Some of the basic tenets of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) may help in escaping the overwhelming crush of what has become the norm for many of us during the holidays.

ACT is a behavioral therapy that focuses on taking action that is guided by our values, or the things that are really important to us. It encourages acceptance of what is out of our personal control, and taking action “mindfully”, or in an open, fully engaged state. These basic principles can be applied to what we choose to do and include in our holiday season so that we get the most from these experiences.

Assessing what’s most important to us about the holidays is the first step. Whether it’s attending religious services, finding the perfect gift, spending time with friends and family, enjoying food, or creating traditions, try to identify why the things on your list are meaningful to you. Questions to help guide you include:

When have I felt happiest or most fulfilled during the holidays?
What was I doing and who was I with?
What need or desire was fulfilled?
What other factors contributed to my feelings?

Once you’ve determined what you value the most about the holidays, check to see how much of your time is actually spent working toward, or experiencing these things. Identify areas where your actions are not consistent with your personal values, and give yourself permission to let some of these things go.

There are parts of the holidays that are unpleasant for most of us, such as long lineups, and traffic. Accepting these things as a reality of the holiday season and actively searching for ways to incorporate our values into these tasks can help take the frustration out of them. For example, if helping others is important to you, you can let a frazzled looking parent in front of you in a lineup, or assist someone in finding the correct size in a busy store. If staying connected with friends and family is something you value, you can use the time sitting in traffic to call (handsfree) and speak with those you care about.

Finally, practice mindful action in whatever you may be participating in over the holidays. Mindfulness requires us to be in the moment, fully experiencing whatever it is that we’re doing. This is hard for most people, and requires practice, but it is something that can be practiced no matter what we’re doing. To begin being mindful, try paying attention to each one of your senses while performing an activity. For example, if you’re cooking, notice the feel of the food in your hands, the smells that surround you, and the sounds made by the dishes you’re using to fully immerse yourself in the experience. Mindfulness, when practiced regularly, can help us feel more centered, and reduce the likelihood of getting so caught up in worries or concerns that we’ve missed the good parts of the holidays that we were looking forward to.


Hayes, S.C., Strosahl, K.D. & Wilson, K.G. (1999). Acceptance and commitment therapy: An experiential approach to behavior change. United States: Guilford Press.

Harris, R. (2009). Act made simple: An easy-to-read primer in acceptance and commitment therapy. United States: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.