By Gwenn Voelckers
“Thank you so much for thinking of me. I would love to attend but have another commitment. So sorry.”
Do you find yourself using this familiar refrain? When feeling overwhelmed with life after my divorce, my first line of defense was to say “no” to invitations and opportunities.
This was especially true during the holidays when I was alone and coping with all the decisions and choices and shopping and schlepping. Saying “no” was my way of keeping life simple and more manageable during a hectic time. I thought it would make life easier and, therefore, happier.
But it didn’t.
Experience taught me that there’s a downside to “no.” Declining invitations, deciding not to throw my annual Christmas party, and discounting the value of holiday traditions and gatherings didn’t make me any happier. In fact, the opposite happened. By not showing up I felt empty and lonelier than ever.
One of the world’s longest studies on happiness (conducted by Harvard researchers) revealed that good, close relationships are what keep people happy and healthy throughout their lives.
Saying “no” keeps us apart. Saying “yes” brings us together. And it’s the togetherness that contributes to happiness. In the end, doing the things that nurture our relationships is what lifts our spirits because it brings us closer to one another.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the December solstice, the holidays can be a real challenge if you’re newly divorced or widowed. They were for me until I took the reindeer by the horns and decided to say a resounding “YES” to life. Consider the following:
Say YES to slowing down
Better, stop what you’re doing altogether. Ask yourself what the holidays really mean to you. Rebirth? Hope? Love and connection? Generosity and goodwill? Revisit your most deeply held beliefs about the season and make a conscious decision to participate in the holiday rituals and activities that align with your values, views, and spiritual beliefs.
Say YES to being realistic
For those who live alone, some degree of loneliness can be considered normal during the holidays. It’s a good time to remember that feelings of loneliness aren’t terminal, nor are they a state of being reserved for single people.
Loneliness has very little to do with being alone. It has everything to do with your state of mind. Prayer, meditation, mindfulness and communing with nature can remind you of your intrinsic belonging to your inner self, to others, and to all of life. Embrace the felt experience of belonging to an all-encompassing universe.
Say YES to accepting and extending invitations
It’s the most wonderful time of year to meet and greet old and new friends. This is a festive time and people at holiday gatherings are typically in good moods and filled with positive energy. Say “yes” to invitations and show up for your happiness fix!
Or you be the initiator. Identify a holiday concert or event you’d like to attend and invite family and friends to join you. Take on the role of social secretary and you’ll gradually feel your holidays, social life, and social circle becoming more active and interesting.
Say YES to creating a new holiday tradition
This is especially important if you are bemoaning the loss of irretrievable traditions of a past life. Consider instituting your very own signature tradition of volunteering to help others. When you give of yourself, you reap two big rewards: First, you’ll develop connections with people who share your spirit of giving and second, you’ll nurture your soul.
Say YES to random acts of kindness
If volunteering doesn’t fit into your schedule, bake some holiday goodies for your family and friends. Leave a little something (maybe a pine-scented candle?) on a neighbor’s doorstep. When you are thinking about and doing for others, you get outside of yourself and feel less lonely — more a part of the world and of this season of giving.
Say YES to inviting people over
It will give you an incentive to decorate, if you just don’t feel motivated to do it for yourself. No need to do anything elaborate. Inviting a few friends over for brunch or to watch a holiday special on TV can brighten your day (and theirs!).
Consider including children in your planning. For years, I hosted a cookie-decorating party for my friends and their kids. The children’s silliness, curiosity and wonder added a magical (and messy!) dimension to the holidays.
Say YES to sending out holiday cards
Take this occasion to go old school and say hello by snail mail. I love getting an unexpected card from a long-lost friend, and I delight in tracking down and sending out season’s greetings to those who might be surprised to hear from me. Sure enough, good things come from reaching out to others, and I encourage you to address a few envelopes this season.
Say YES to happiness
Let go of the notion that you need to be married or in a romantic relationship to enjoy the holidays. The potential for happiness is all around you. You’ll find it in the personal connections with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, even people you meet in passing.
You have a choice. Choose to be with people rather than isolate. Choose to deepen and strengthen your ties with loved ones. Choose to appreciate what you have rather than focus on what you’re missing.
Choose to say “yes” and be happier this holiday season!
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Alone and Content, empowerment workshops for women and author of “Alone and Content,” a collection of inspiring essays for those who live alone. For information about her workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, visit www.aloneandcontent.com