10 Ways to Stay Sane During the Holidays

It's notSmile! 'Tis the seasonSmile! 'Tis the season easy being upbeat-especially as the holiday season and year-end work projects are approaching hard and fast. Shorter days, longer nights, and even chillier temps can put you in a funk. Plus, your stress levels may be soaring thanks to a jam-packed to-do list. But what's sweeter than that warm feeling you get from sipping a peppermint-spiced latte on a chilly morning? These 10 small, feel-good moves offer a major mood boost. Try one-or all-to feel happier and calmer in no time.

Happiness Helper #1: Shop Smart
Money may buy happiness, but only if you spend it wisely. To get more happiness for your dollar, splurge for experiences instead of stuff. Miriam Tatzel, PhD, of Empire State College surveyed 329 shoppers and found that "experiencers"-consumers who are easygoing about spending on a great meal out or a concert, for example-are happier than those who lavish their money on material goods such as clothes or jewelry. Added bonus: Experiences allow you to spend quality time with family and friends; a new pair of shoes is a solo endeavor.

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Happiness Helper #2: Do a Good Deed
People who volunteer are likelier to be happier than those who don't-regardless of how much money they make or other socioeconomic factors. Researchers believe volunteering boosts happiness because it increases empathy, which makes you appreciate all the good stuff in your own life.
Pitching in for a regular cause in your community is ideal (such as serving food at your church's soup kitchen), but you can make a difference in other ways in mere minutes. Become an organ donor or sign up for a charity walk. For the person on your holiday gift list who has everything, consider donating money to a good cause in their name. Check out villagevolunteers.org for ideas: Just $20 buys a water filter to give Kenyan orphans clean drinking water, and $35 is enough to purchase 10 mosquito nets to help prevent malaria.

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Happiness Helper #3: Flip Through Old Photos

When you're feeling down, break out your kids' baby albums or pics from your favorite vacation.
It may actually make you feel happier than a square of Godiva chocolate would! That's what researchers at the United Kingdom's Open University found after they examined how much people's moods rose after eating a chocolate snack, sipping an alcoholic drink, watching TV, listening to music, or looking at personal photos.

The music and chocolate left most people's moods unchanged; alcohol and TV gave a slight lift (1%), but the winner by a long shot was viewing pictures, which made people feel 11% better. To keep your spirits high, try hanging one of your favorite photos at eye level in an unexpected spot, such as taped to the window in front of your kitchen sink. You'll score a quick mood boost when you're doing something mundane, such as washing dishes.

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Happiness Helper #4: Lighten Up

After just three weeks of bright-light therapy, more than 50% of the participants in a study about depression reported a better mood and sounder sleep. An hour of bright indoor light a day was as effective as antidepressants--and had no side effects. Best of all, mood continued to improve for weeks after treatment.

Happiness Helper #5: Track the Good Stuff
Every night, write down three things that went well for you that day, no matter how minor. (In fact, 39% of people say catching up with family at night is the highlight of their day, according to a Coca-Cola Global Happiness Survey.) Be descriptive and note the role you played in making each happy moment happen. You'll be increasingly mindful of how much control you have over the bright spots in your life.

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Happiness Helper #6: Go With the "Flow"
Some joyful moments seem to call for conscious reflection and dissection. At other times, we savor experiences best when we simply immerse ourselves in the present moment, without deliberate analysis or judgment.

Listen to your favorite music with headphones in a dark room. Lose yourself in a novel you just can't put down. Set aside enough time at least once a week for your favorite hobby so you can attain a level of absorption known as the "flow" state.

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Happiness Helper #7: Get a Move On

"Exercise sparks the release of feel-good endorphins, but it also satisfies something more profound: the human need to perform and excel. Exercise helps you feel like the captain of your own ship," explains Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, the author of The How of Happiness. Although any fitness activity you enjoy is good, you'll enhance its benefits even more by taking it outdoors. A recent review of 11 studies published in Environmental Science & Technology found that people who exercised outside felt more energetic and were more inclined to keep at it. This is good news, because the rewards of physical activity are cumulative: The more you exercise, the clearer your mind. So as you're figuring out your holiday calendar, schedule an ice-skating outing or a cross-country ski day. You'll feel more energized and ready to tackle your errands.

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Happiness Helper #8: Tap into Your Spiritual Side

The more frequently that people attend religious services, the more content they are, according to a study in the Journal of Economic Psychology. Faith and prayer, regardless of religion, satisfy a basic need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves.

If prayer isn't for you, try meditation or a restorative yoga class instead. New research shows that spiritual practices, such as regular mindfulness exercises, can actually change brain structure in a way that promotes a sense of well-being. So as a part of your day, set aside some time for prayer or meditation. It'll lift your spirit-literally.

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Happiness Helper #9: Pucker Up

Kissing is romantic, but it gives more than your sex life a lift. While male saliva contains testosterone, and a lingering lip lock turns out to be a reliable delivery system, smooching also floods the bloodstream with dopamine, which stimulates the same part of the brain as cocaine, for a natural high.

And if you need yet another reason to plant one on your beloved, smooch for heart health: Research shows that regular kissing reduces cholesterol in men and women alike.

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Happiness Helper #10: Sing in the Shower

The shower, with its cocoon of privacy and superlative acoustics, brings out the diva in us all. And we would be wise to let her take the steamy stage and croon away. Music therapists believe that singing boosts your mood. Bonus: singing also enhances immunity by increasing antibodies that fight sickness, according to one German study. So whether your style is Adele or Britney Spears, belt your heart out and soak in singing's mood and health benefits.

Tell us: What stresses you out the most about the holidays?


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