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SALT LAKE CITY -- In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl noted that one thing the Nazis could not take away from their captives was their attitude. Mindfully choosing your attitude and thereby your subjective experience is one of the cornerstones of my class, Happiness 101. I pound, “You always, always, always have a choice!” Unfortunately, many people are either unaware of the unhappy choices they are making or unaware that they can make a different choice. I will use the holiday season as an example.
I have heard people complain about various aspects of the holiday season that they dislike. “Ugh! I have to go Christmas shopping.” “I hate putting up the tree.” “Christmas is so commercial and superficial!” You can almost hear them say, “Bah-humbug!” In each of these scenarios, choices are being made. The person might believe “this is just the way it is” and therefore make no effort to change their subjective experience. They might not be aware that this is an attitude they are choosing.
I have heard people complain about various aspects of the holiday season that they dislike. "Ugh! I have to go Christmas shopping." "I hate putting up the tree." "Christmas is so commercial and superficial!" You can almost hear them say, "Bah-humbug!" In each of these scenarios, choices are being made.
There are things that we as human beings have control over. The most overlooked of these is our belief system. We have beliefs about virtually everything. Once those beliefs are put into place, they are usually accepted at least subjectively as the truth. We base our decisions and experience our lives based on these “truths.” If you believe “life sucks” then that belief is going to permeate throughout your life. Likewise, if you believe “like is amazing,” that too will greatly effect your life. In the KSL article, the Eight Steps to Happiness, I offer a specific method to changing your subjective experience. This works well to change deep-rooted beliefs but also behaviors which effect our happiness daily.
Research has found that we make better decisions when we solicit feedback from others (Dan Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness). In that Christmas spirit, I asked some of my Facebook friends for suggestions on how we might turn these unhappy holiday experiences in to happy ones. Here were some of the suggestions:
To make Christmas shopping more enjoyable, Diane and Ericka suggested shopping online. Mrs. Roundy said to keep things in “perspective .... people watch, go with a trusted friend and enjoy lunch. Also, give yourself more time.” I especially liked Cat’s comment, “Instead of focusing on how 'I' feel, I try to think of others and how they might be feeling. Who are they, who are they buying gifts for, do they seem happy or harried? When I smile more and 'get out of myself' more, it's a different experience.”
For those that may sour Christmas with a belief that it is superficial, Kelly suggested that we “focus on 'the reason for the season' — give gifts of time or homemade.” Ms. Barney thought we should “Make handmade cards and write to the people you care about and tell them why you are grateful to have them in your life. You could include a 'coupon' redeemable for an act of service or spending time with them in the coming year.” Lisa said it well, “If I connect with the concepts of generosity in giving and in seeing God/joy in the faces of strangers and allow the birth of joy and light within me, I will enjoy the entire month.”
To put the joy into decorating the Christmas tree, Mrs. Potter suggested removing the step of putting on the lights by purchasing a pre-lit tree. Valerie suggested the personal touch, “We buy a new ornament for loved ones each year and make it a personal happy experience.” This would spark a walk down memory lane of Christmases past and the wonderful experiences found there. Kelly suggested adding “family, music, tradition, treats” to the decorating experience. Catalina thought outside of the Christmas box by luxuriating in a Christmas free of decorations.
If having a happy holiday season were a choice, what would you choose? Since it is a choice, I invite you to explore your attitudes and behaviors.
I especially like Catalina’s suggestion because it puts choice back into the holiday season. If we believe that we have to do something, there is often a heavy sense of obligation and possibly resentment. Reframing a “have to” into a “get to” can make a small but powerful difference. Do you really have to go Christmas shopping? No. You could choose not to participate. You may ultimately choose to do so anyway but just recognizing that you have a choice can be enough to rekindle the holiday spirit.
If having a happy holiday season were a choice, what would you choose? Since it is a choice, I invite you to explore your attitudes and behaviors. Use the Eight Steps to Happiness to become mindful of choices you might be making that lead to holiday grumpiness. Develop a robust pool of alternatives that might lead to a happier holiday. Make a new choice. If you do not like the result, you are still probably better off than you were when you started and you can always go back to your brainstorming pool to make another choice. Use this method to have a happy holiday season. But why stop there? You can choose a happy new year and a happy life. It is, of course, your choice.
Frank Clayton is a licensed professional counselor, specializing in happiness. He teaches a live class and webinar called Happiness 101 to increase happiness and lower suicide in the state of Utah.