A Simple Cure for Holiday Overwhelm

by Amy on December 14, 2010

Peace is more than just a feeling. It’s the mental and physical frequency where you’ll find all your real power.—Martha Beck

Here are a few items on my holiday to do list:

• Buy Christmas presents
• Wrap presents
• Take kids to see Santa
• Order, write and send Christmas cards
• Put up Christmas lights
• Decorate house
• Go get Christmas tree
• Decorate Christmas tree
• Buy ingredients for Christmas cookies
• Bake Christmas cookies
• Plan Christmas dinner
• Prepare handmade gifts for family

I wouldn’t say I’m a scrooge. I love doing all of these things. I want to do these things. It’s just… Well, thinking about all of it makes me crazy, moody, bossy and yes, even a little bitchy. I admit it – every December I feel complete and utter overwhelm.

This isn’t a piece about simplicity during the holidays. If you want to read about that try this excellent article by Terry DeMeo.

This is about gratitude.

I know many of you are familiar with the research on gratitude. Sonja Lyubomirsky, for example, summarizes the benefits of being grateful in The How of Happiness:

“People who are consistently grateful have been found to be relatively happier, more energetic, and more hopeful and to report experiencing more frequent positive emotions. They also tend to be more helpful and empathetic, more spiritual and religious, more forgiving, and less materialistic than others who are less predisposed to gratefulness. Furthermore, the more a person is inluced to gratitude, the less likely the less likely he or she is to be depressed, lonely, envious, or neurotic.”

As the research would have it, the key to happiness is gratitude. It seems so damn obvious, but I recently realized I’ve been doing it all wrong.

You see, some time between thanksgiving turkey when, like every other year, I reflexively inventoried all the things to be grateful for and dressing my kids to see Santa, I learned how to practice real, live, non-bogus gratitude. Actual gratitude, that is. Not theoretical gratitude.

What’s the difference between actual gratitude and theoretical gratitude?

Actual gratitude is a verb – you feel it. It’s delicious. It makes your heart sing. It makes you want to break out into spontaneous song and dance. You begin baking cookies for everyone you know.

Theoretical gratitude is a noun. It’s an inventory you do in your head. “These are all the things I should be grateful for…

So this season, if, like me, you are inclined to feel extreme overwhelm at the thought of all there is to do during the holidays, I recommend one simple little cure. Actual gratitude. Get out of your head and into your heart. Really dive in and enjoy everything you have to be grateful for until it literally makes you stop everything you’re doing and smile.

Once your heart is singing with gratitude, stop and notice what happens next. I bet you don’t even notice that you forgot to prepare homemade lemon strawberry jelly for your sister.

May your holiday be filled with love, light and GRATITUDE.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Terry DeMeo December 22, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Beautiful post, Amy. I love the idea of letting your heart fill with gratitude so completely that it stops you in your tracks. Purposefully and gratefully savoring your busy times is key.


reSPACEd December 28, 2010 at 3:02 pm

This post really made me stop and think. I like how you differentiate between actual gratitude and theoretical gratitude.

Of course, this post also got my organizing brain going, thinking that the more stuff you have in your house and your schedule, the harder it is to be grateful for it all. You don’t realize the truly valuable stuff you have because it’s so obscured by all the clutter (physical or mental). Eliminating the excess might be a really great path to cultivating gratitude. What do you think?


Amy December 28, 2010 at 5:49 pm

I totally agree. It’s like a kid who gets so many Christmas presents on Christmas morning – he can’t enjoy each one. And I love how you differentiate between physical and mental clutter.


Mary October 20, 2011 at 11:38 pm

You have put my thoughts into a way I can now understand them.

Many times I tell people to be grateful (more good stuff seems to happen too) and then they write out a list of what they are grateful for but seem indifferent.

It’s all about the feeling.

I’m grateful to have stumbled upon your blog. I really mean that. I get really cranky at Christmas because I feel like it’s forced upon me but I’m going to think up all the good things I like about Christmas.


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