Washington, DC has some of the worst traffic in the nation. It is not uncommon to wait for the same light to turn from red, to green, to yellow, and back to red, without moving an inch. This paired with the fact that people in Washington like to have holiday parties in downtown DC makes for a lot of character building car rides during the holiday season. One holiday my husband and I were on our way to a holiday party and thus sitting in traffic. During the time it took to move from one block to another I had the opportunity to thoroughly study the people in the cars around us. On one side of us was a fancy Mercedes. The woman was wearing a fur coat, fancy gown, and jewels and the man was dressed in a tux. He was even more interesting to observe because he was screaming at the traffic which was – going nowhere. The woman looked both stressed and miserable and I understood why since my blood pressure went up just watching the man next to her. In the car next to us on the other side was a family joyfully singing Christmas carols; clearly tourists. I don’t remember much about them except that they looked happy even though they were just as stuck in traffic as the rest of us.

The contrast between these two family’s experiences is something I think about often during this time of year because the holidays have the unique ability to bring out the joy and Grinch in all of us. It was then I realized what control I had over my inner experience so I decided to find ways to maximize the happiness because – well, why not? Here are the two things I do to keep my attitude positive during the holidays and if you want – give them a try.

1. Each I night remind myself that I am in control of my inner experience. Then I think about things that have the power to derail my inner peace. Here they are in no particular order: 1. screaming kids 2. obnoxious people 3. long lines 4. indecisive people trying to make plans 5. being late 6. not being able to find something I need like the keys 7. traffic 8. money. In my life 1+3+5+6+7 usually combine to cause the stress-o-meter to spike into the red zone. Then I feel and picture myself remaining calm. When I wake up in the morning I do the same exercise lest I forget my planned reaction in the thick of things which has been known to happen. Again I remind myself, “I am in control of my inner experience.”

When I start my day, I know that I will be tested at every turn. In my head I hear the theme song from Mission Impossible so dealing with the stressors becomes almost like a fun game. “What new thing can the universe throw at me to derail my inner peace?” I will admit it has come up with some good ones including the time when my youngest child, a mere 6 month old, batted my piping hot coffee onto the man in front of me in line at the airport and soaked his suit. (The guy was super nice when he figured what happened and that helped me maintain my inner peace immensely!) Or when my older child, a mere three at the time, did her own holiday decorations on a friend’s wall and carpet with a black Sharpie. It is moments like these when “I’m terribly sorry” just does not seem to be enough and the internal voice gets a wee bit louder and more persistent in reminding me that “I AM IN CONTROL of my inner experience.”

2. When I feel my blood pressure going up, I look for things to be grateful for in my life. I often start with the big things such as living in a country where we have the ability to celebrate the holidays regardless of our beliefs. My beliefs come from the Christian tradition so there are many reasons to celebrate this time of the year as well. I’ll then start on more personal things like the fact that I’m grateful for my family, a job I enjoy, and a roof over my head. Finally, if I still need to keep my attitude in check, I’ll start silently thanking any thing I can think of; I find my internal music usually shifts to The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things”. I thank God, the planet, the troops, Christmas Carolers, cushioned shoe inventors, hot coffee makers, magazines, the sky for not snowing, etc… and yes, this all has the potential to happen when I’m standing in line at Walmart.

From the very beginning, the holiday’s were a time of celebration, giving, and hope. We all have the potential to harmonize our own attitudes with these founding intentions and to make this the most wonderful time of the year. I’ve found these two strategies do an amazing job of shifting my mood and keeping me in the Christmas spirit. I’d love to know what works for you!