For most of us, the holidays are a mixed bag. Sure, there's lots of fun stuff to look forward to (and anticipating things does make you happier), but there can also be tons of stress and anxiety along the way. This year, instead of feeling bummed out, overwhelmed or joy-challenged, follow these 10 easy tips for making the holidays happier--for everyone.

  1. Walk it off. Going to a busy shopping area? Park as far away as possible. You'll avoid the mad dash for "rockstar" parking plus you'll get some bonus exercise and fresh air.
  2. Complain less, thank more. Yep. Someone just cut you off in traffic, but think of your commute as an opportunity to practice gratitude: be thankful that you have more time to listen to your favorite tunes, feel fortunate that being cut off didn't result in a fender bender, celebrate the fact that you're lucky enough to have a car. Bonus: Research shows that being thankful helps you avoid colds, get better sleep, and have more positive energy with which to deal with difficult relatives during the holidays.
  3. Escape. 'Tis the season to be overwhelmed and overbooked. Which means you need to schedule down time like you would a party. It's not wasteful, it's necessary. A quick manicure; your favorite yoga class; an hour to read a few chapters of a book you've been meaning to finish (or start); see a movie. There are no awards for "most activities completed," but there are big rewards for catching your breath with mini-breaks--even during the holidays. Not enough time or money for a big vacation? Take a local staycation. Can't swing that? Take a nap.
  4. Spend money. Yes, money can make you happier! The trick? Spending it on someone else. Perform simple random acts of kindness by paying for someone else's coffee or giving away your umbrella on a rainy day, or skip this year's office Secret Santa in favor of organizing a Year of Giving calendar so that coat-drives and canned-food donations become the rule instead of the once-a-year-holiday-time exception.
  5. Breathe. Next time you feel yourself losing your cool, breathe. Not the short shallow breaths of the eternally stressed, but healing calming deep ones. Inhale and picture your entire body filling up with fresh, cleansing air. Exhale. Repeat. Or, take a few minutes to count your breath and clear your mind.
  6. Give up the need to be right and tell someone you were wrong. Despite their best efforts (or maybe because of?) even your closest, dearest relatives can work your last nerve. When tensions rise over the holidays, instead of giving in to the urge to fight and bicker, focus on a shared goal (rolling out the pie dough; getting a great meal on the table) or take a quick time-out to walk away and be present with your feelings. Think about what's bothering you and why, then choose to let it go--even if just for now. Extra credit to those who choose to go one step further into the realm of spiritual healing: Tell someone you were wrong or apologize for something you wish you'd done differently or hadn't said and feel your heart and soul open and fill with love.
  7. Get creative, but keep it simple. Want to show someone that you really care? Make holiday gifts personal - make them yourself. And if you're not the creative type a simple deck of "IOU" cards will do trick. Bonus: get the kids involved and have some crafty fun. Not only will you all have a blast, but you'll be leading by example. The holidays aren't about spending lots of money to show someone that you care. And, research shows that no matter what time of year, being creative makes you happier.
  8. Make a mess; leave the dishes. Sometimes a messy house is a happier house. And you know that time you ditched the vacuum and had dinner with a friend or went to bed a few minutes earlier rather than doing the dishes? You'll never regret it, so go ahead and live it up! The dust bunnies can wait.
  9. Acknowledge stress and sadness. Instead of feeling like a failure for not being 1000% happy during the holidays, accept the fact that the holidays are emotionally difficult for more people than you think. If the holidays have always been complicated for you, consider spending them with friends who make you happy or traveling to a new place you've always wanted to see. If you've suffered the loss of a relative or a relationship and are dreading the season without them, share your feelings with people you know who are in similar circumstances or find a local support group. Be sensitive to friends, co-workers, and neighbors who might be struggling and reach out to them to share some egg nog; drop off a batch of cookies; check in by text or email to let them know you're thinking of them.
  10. Eat, drink, and be merry--and mindful. For lots of people, the holidays are all about food, drink, and letting go. For others, it's all about trying to stay healthy. Be mindful of your own needs and sensitive to the needs of others: respect friends or family members who are trying hard to stay successful on a weight-loss plan; have alcohol-free options on hand for those committed to sobriety; set realistic food and exercise goals and then forgive yourself for not meeting them.