Special Brain Recipe for a Merry Christmas

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Do you smile or shudder when you think of the celebrations around Christmas and New Year? Many people fear office, family, or friend’s gatherings because of past unpleasant experiences. It’s as if they prime their brain for “feel bad” vibes.

What if you tried something different this year? What if you decide to use your brain’s “feel good” power to add magic to the celebrations? Here’s a “brain recipe” for a Merry Christmas.

  1. Start with careful expectations 

If you are anticipating a painful or stressful outcome, you’ll look to the holidays with “dread.” It will make you anxious.  By contrast, if you look forward to the holidays with excitement and enthusiasm, anticipating a positive experience, you will feel “heartened” and joyful.  

Be positive, but have realistic expectations. Don’t expect that to have a happy celebration your obnoxious accountant Paul will not be his obnoxious self this year. Accept people as they are and enjoy the feeling of warmth, friendship, and family.

Also, embrace imperfection. Aiming for a “perfect” holiday is bound to disappoint you. Things will go wrong. Some gifts will not be appreciated. You will forget things. You will not have time for everything. Someone will make a mess. Some people will be late. . . . It’s not perfection what makes for a great holiday, it’s the spirit of love and connection. And that, you can provide!

2. Add a generous measure of joy and laughter

Enjoy the moment. If you see the holidays as an adventure, it will allow you to enjoy the whole range of experiences. Be open to what comes along and your enthusiasm will remain high. Life is always an experience, cherish that and you’ll enjoy the ride.

Laughter and humor can be a tonic for the brain and for relationships. It triggers the brain’s emotional and reward centers. It spurs the release of dopamine, helping the brain to process emotional responses and enhancing our experience of pleasure. It also releases serotonin, to buoy your mood and enhance connections.  Endorphins also jump into the joy ride, regulating our pain and stress and inducing euphoria. 

That’s why jokes, funny stories, cute memories of present and absent loved ones, add to the magic of Christmas. Happy thoughts and memories will cheer everybody up.  

3. Go light on stress. 

There is nothing that depletes your serotonin and dopamine (your brain’s “happy  chemical cocktail”) levels faster than stress. Therefore, include time to relax, before, during, and after the celebrations. Let go of unimportant “stuff” that will bring unnecessary stress. 

4. Be generous with forgiveness

Keep a spirit of forgiveness, both toward yourself and others. Instead of letting what others say or do (unintentionally or intentionally) tense you up, let it go. Instead of beating yourself up for what you were not able to do, enjoy what you accomplished. Instead of seeing children’s mistakes as disasters, and being mean to them, enjoy their presence and sense of wonder. 

5. Sprinkle the celebration with lots of Music

In brain scans, music lights up the brain "like a Christmas tree," says Aniruddh Patel of the  Neurosciences Institute. Music helps integrate many parts of the brain. Melody, rhythm, and harmonies elicit feelings and reactions. Old memories of childhood Christmas joy tend to be tied with Christmas music, bringing in a rush of warm feelings, even if you are not giving full attention to the music. Your celebration will sparkle more with the music of Christmas.  

6. Warm it up with heart-felt appreciation

Gratitude and thankfulness initiates a magical circle of goodwill and wellbeing. It fuels the human brain with serotonin and human relations with love. It calms the spirit and fees the soul.

Take time to express your gratitude for small and big specific things. Take time to remember things and people you appreciate from the past. Take time to embrace, to hold hands, to look deeply into loved’s eyes. Take time to smile and thank strangers that serve you and coworkers that help you. Take time to appreciate the small pleasures of nature and life.

Remember. . .

Use your brain power to expect, enjoy, relax, forgive, celebrate, and warm hearts through the holiday season. If you want more ideas about How to Keep a Jolly Spirit in the Midst of the Holiday Craze, ask for it.