With Thanksgiving and Hanukkah behind us, but Christmas, Kwanza, and New Year’s still ahead, many Americans are starting to feel, well, tired during this busy holiday season.

There is good news, though: the holidays really are the best time of the year to foster the values that matter most.

In the Keep Good Going Report,* a recent survey I helped design, more than 2,000 Americans were asked about the most important things parents can teach their children. Gratitude, kindness, compassion and manners were at the very top of the list of things that people said were “extremely important”—far outpacing the value of giving kids chores, encouraging them to play sports, and even reading to them.

Notably, a large majority of respondents (89%) indicated that society is becoming so concerned with success that we are forgetting about what is truly important, and that people are becoming more selfish (86%). Instead of getting caught up in what is going
wrong with our society this holiday season, I recommend that people use the holidays to boost their happiness—and the happiness of those around them. Here’s how:

1. Start with gratitude. Taking a moment for gratitude is likely to give you a happiness boost and improve the emotional tone of your holiday season.

  • Use the holidays as a time to give thanks for people in your life. In our family, we appreciate each other by writing on our dinner table place cards. Before a holiday meal, the kids make giant construction paper place cards for each guest, and as people arrive and mingle, we ask everyone to set aside time to write on the inside of each place card something that they love or appreciate about that person.
  • Use this season to consciously weave gratitude into your daily interactions, using the common question “How are you?” as a trigger to practice gratitude.
    Here’s what I mean. Say you run into another parent at the school winter performance. “How’s it going?” she asks. Instead of giving into the temptation to tell her how busy you are, use this common question as a prompt to reflect on something for which you are grateful, then share that thought with the other person. Or keep it to yourself, if you’re feeling shy (or don’t want to seem like you’re bragging).
  • Create a gratitude garland (see photo). Hang a ribbon in a doorway, and put a basket of colored paper squares below it, with pens and clothes pins. When guests & family members enter that room, ask them to write something they feel grateful for and hang it up!

2. Simplify. Instead of automatically going into holiday overdrive, take a moment to reflect on what is important to you, and make a plan to simplify your holidays. Here are some steps you can take to do this:

  • List holiday-related tasks that are still undone that you think you “should” do (e.g., buying gifts, sending cards, decorating the house, hosting parties, etc.).
  • Put a star next to the activities you are looking forward to doing. Put an X next to activities you wish you didn’t have to do.
  • Edit your list. Which of these activities can you get away with not doing? What can you do to simplify these tasks? Who can help? What do you want to do more of this year? Consider one thing that probably isn’t on the list: RESTING and relaxing.

3. Remember what matters. ‘Tis the season to help others, and to give our children the opportunity to experience how much better it feels to give than to receive. (It’s true! Research shows that we getting a bigger happiness boost by helping someone else than we do when we are the receiver.)

This year, establish a family tradition that gives kids a chance to give back to their community, or to help others. My kids and I are putting together “care kits” (found here:  www.bigheartedfamilies.org/create-care-kits-for-the-homeless) for the homeless people that live near where we’ll go for a big tree lighting and some ice-skating in San Francisco. What matters most are other people, and the ways that we love them. This is the most wonderful time of year for reconnecting with our friends and family, and for telling them what we appreciate most about them.

Christine Carter, Ph.D.*, is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. She is the author of “RAISING HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.” She teaches online happiness classes that help parents bring more joy into their own lives and the lives of their children, and she writes an award-winning blog for *Greater Good* (www.greatergoodparents.org). “Sign up now with promotional code ActiveKids, and get $25 off the cost of the class!”