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Celebrate the good

Write down positive moments

When you’re struggling with painful feelings—during the holidays or at any time of year—there are steps you can take to soften their impact. One powerful way to do that is by taking the time to notice positive moments when they occur. Observing bright spots can have a lasting impact on your mood, even if you’re experiencing a low point in your life. And that can make the holidays brighter. Take the small step of writing down moments of joy, gratitude, or tiny victories that you want to savor—and see the difference it makes.

Jot down joyful moments

Yes, it is possible to experience moments of joy while you’re working your way through a difficult time. The key is appreciating them—even if they’re small or fleeting. Happiness is created by the frequency of positive experiences you have, not how intense they are.1 So take time to enjoy the warmth of a fire, the scent of spiced cider, a brisk walk in the crisp winter air, or a favorite holiday movie. Appreciating these moments of joy is a way to fight off “permanence,” the false belief that things won’t improve. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking hard times are here to stay, and noticing joy helps us avoid that.

Take a few minutes to write down joyful moments when you experience them. It can take some practice to focus on the positives.2 Our brains are wired to be on the lookout for negatives—when making decisions, we give more weight to the negative aspects of a choice than to the positive ones.3 But spending a few minutes writing about joyful experiences just three days in a row can improve your mood.4 And sharing positive moments with another person helps, too. Think about shooting a friend a quick text to share your positive experience: “Today’s first moment of joy: sunshine on my face.” It’ll help lift your mood even longer.5

Focus on gratitude

Another strategy for lifting your mood is to list things you’re grateful for. Counting your blessings can actually improve both health and happiness.6 And while gratitude won’t take away the challenges you’re facing, it can help you to move forward. Hard times have a way of focusing our attention on our values and priorities. They remind us what really matters and help us cherish what we may have taken for granted.

Write down a few things you are thankful for as you notice them. They can be as broad as “another day with people I love” or as specific as “having exact change at the laundromat.” Consider writing a quick note to thank someone for an act of kindness. Sending thank you notes doesn’t just make the receiver happy; it makes the sender happy, too.7

Celebrate small wins

It can be hard to give yourself credit when things aren’t going the way you want them to. And when one area of your life is off balance, it can feel like everything you do is wrong. This trap is known as “pervasiveness.” Celebrating small wins is how you avoid it.

The holidays might not be easy for you, but chances are, you’re coping with them pretty well. Did your work presentation go smoothly despite you being up all night with a sick child? That’s a victory. Maybe you successfully fulfilled your goal of getting outside for a walk today. That counts, too. Write down a few accomplishments—no matter how small—regularly. If you get into a habit of looking for small victories, you’ll see how much you’re doing well every day. That can bolster your confidence and remind you that your contributions matter.8

Be kind to yourself this holiday season. You deserve to have moments of joy. You deserve to savor the people and things for which you’re grateful. And you deserve to celebrate your victories, big and small, especially during a difficult holiday.

Endnotes

  1. Ed Diener, Ed Sandvik, and William Pavot, “Happiness is the Frequency, Not the Intensity, of Positive Versus Negative Affect,” Subjective Well-Being: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, ed. Fritz Strack, Michael Argyle, and Norbert Schwartz (New York: Pergamon, 1991).
  2. Rozin, P., & Royzman, E. B. (2001). Negativity bias, negativity dominance, and contagion. Personality and social psychology review, 5(4), 296-320.
  3. Kahneman D, Tversky A. Choices, values, and frames. American Psychologist. 1984;39:341–350.
  4. Chad M. Burton and Laura A. King, “The Health Benefits of Writing About Intensely Positive Experiences,” Journal of Research in Personality 38 (2004):150–63; Joyce E. Bono, Theresa M. Glomb, Winny Shen, et al., “Building Positive Resources: Effects of Positive Events and Positive Reflection on Work Stress and Health,” Academy of Management Journal 56 (2013): 1601–27
  5. Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228-245.
  6. Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough, “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84 (2003): 377–89.
  7. Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,”American Psychologist 60 (2005): 410– 21.
  8. Martin E. P. Seligman, Tracy A. Steen, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,”American Psychologist 60 (2005): 410– 21; Joyce E. Bono, Theresa M. Glomb, Winny Shen, et al., “Building Positive Resources: Effects of Positive Events and Positive Reflection on Work Stress and Health,” Academy of Management Journal 56 (2013): 1601– 27; Adam M. Grant and Jane E. Dutton, “Beneficiary or Benefactor: Are People More Prosocial When They Reflect on Receiving or Giving?,” Psychological Science 23 (2012): 1033–39.