Young family decorating Christmas tree during the holiday season.

By Lauren Ehlert, RDN, LD

Keeping spirits merry and bright may not come easily this year. It goes without saying that the holidays will be different. Nothing can replace the traditions that will be interrupted, but the season can still include joyful moments. Here are a few practical actions you can take to experience joy throughout your holiday season this year.

Take Photographs

In a current clinical trial, participants were instructed to take two photographs per day of something that made them feel a positive emotion like happiness or gratitude. They were then instructed to review these photographs later in the day, either on their own or with a friend or family member (3). 

Why it works

Rather than focusing on controlling negative emotions, this project focuses on controlling positive emotions. This is called savoring. People who savor positive moments are more likely to feel in control and experience happiness more often, and report feeling unhappy less often.

This is because savoring gives you more opportunities to experience happiness. You can savor a past, present, or future experience. For example, I might savor the experience of decorating for the holidays with my family last year. I might laugh about how silly my tree looks this year. Or, I might look forward to getting together with family to resume our decorating traditions next year.

Any of these options give me additional opportunities to feel the positive emotions I experience around the holidays (2,4). 

Practice Gratitude

Brené Brown, a renowned researcher on human behavior, states that it’s not enough to just value gratitude; we have to put it into practice. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes, “Without exception, every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice”. She compares it to yoga: if I own yoga pants, but do not practice yoga, I do not get any benefits of yoga.

Similarly, gratitude has to be expressed in writing, out loud, or in another creative form in order to reap the benefits (1). Gratitude is not something we experience when everything goes right; it is a skill that we can develop.

Why it works

People who express their gratitude are more likely to feel satisfied and happy and less likely to blame themselves for negative experiences. Similar to savoring positive experiences, practicing gratitude gives more opportunities to experience positive emotions(3).

Sit By a Window

Scenery affects mood. In a study of patients in the hospital for surgery, those whose rooms looked out over a park used less pain medication and were hospitalized for a shorter time than those whose rooms faced a brick wall (3). If I do not feel like I can enjoy being outside in the colder months of the year, I can see if I can move my desk or chair next to a window with an outdoor view and natural light.

Why it works

Nature gives us a sense of well-being. Scenery that gives us a feeling of hope or abundance can help us feel better.

No one feels happy all the time, but with these tips, it is possible to feel happy more often. Even though we may not have all the special experiences we normally look forward to having around the holidays, we can lean in to the moments we do have to experience joy.


  1. Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing. 77-78.
  2. Bryant, F. (2003). Savoring Beliefs Inventory (SBI): A scale for measuring beliefs about savouring, Journal of Mental Health, 12:2, 175-196, DOI: 10.1080/0963823031000103489
  3. Lambert, C. (2007). The science of happiness: Psychology explores humans at their best. Harvard Magazine.
  4. McKee, L. G., Algoe, S. B., Faro, A. L., O’Leary, J. L., & O’Neal, C. W. (2019). Picture This! Bringing joy into Focus and Developing Healthy Habits of Mind: Rationale, design, and implementation of a randomized control trial for young adults. Contemporary clinical trials communications, 15, 100391.