Be Happier This Holiday Season: Say ‘YES’

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, emotion-laden time. I thought it would make life easier and, therefore, happier.

But it didn’t.

Experience has taught me that there’s a downside to “no.” Declining invitations, deciding not to send holiday cards 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.

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 during this festive time of year.

Consider the following:

Say YES to slowing down

Better yet, stop what you’re doing altogether. Find a quiet moment to ask yourself what the holidays really mean to you. Rebirth? Hope? Generosity and goodwill? Love and connection?

Revisit your most deeply held beliefs about the season and make a conscious decision to participate in the holiday rituals, traditions and activities that align with your values, views, and spiritual underpinnings.

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 joyful 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 become 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.

I love serving as a gift-wrapping volunteer at my local book store. The tips go to a good cause and I get to chat with patrons about their purchases and delight in finding just the right book for a loved one. The entire experience warms my heart.

Say YES to random acts of kindness

If volunteering doesn’t fit into your schedule, bake some holiday goodies for your family and friends. Or 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 don’t feel motivated to deck the halls for yourself. No need to plan anything elaborate. Inviting a few friends over for brunch, to make wreaths 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 send season’s greetings by snail mail. I love getting an unexpected card from a long-lost friend and I delight in tracking down and sending holiday wishes to those who might be surprised to hear from me.

Sure enough, good things happen when you reach out to others. I encourage you to address a few envelopes this season.

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 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 (now on hiatus) and the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own” To contact Voelckers or purchase her book, visit