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Does the sound of sleigh bells make your nerves jangle? For some, the stress of shopping for presents, and too many ho-ho-hos at holiday parties makes for anything but “Happy Holidays.” During this season of giving, it's often the small gifts and everyday gestures of kindness that matter most. Here are 7 ways to help you find your holiday spirit:

1. Social Media Gratitude

Jenni Santi, author of The Giving Way to Happiness, suggests sending a social media message of gratitude to a friend, relative or colleague you haven’t spoken to in a long time. “It does not have to be elaborate or dramatic,” Santi says. “It could simply be, ‘I just remembered the time you helped fix my flat tire. Thank you so much for that and I hope you are doing well!’” You may be surprised at how something that takes so little effort can both give joy to someone else and brighten your day.

According to Emma Seppala, author of The Happiness Track, our brain has a tendency to focus on the negative, even though research shows that we have three times more positive experiences than negative. “By cultivating gratitude, we actually become more realistic because we pay attention to all the things that are going right instead of wrong,” says Seppala, Science Director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.  

2. Give the Gift of Time

“Stop worrying about getting the perfect presents and how you are going to afford them and, instead, make plans with people you care about. Invite them over for dinner and a walk in the snow, or go to a local holiday play. It could be the start of a nice tradition and the memories will last longer than a physical present,” says Jennifer Iacovelli, author of Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Everyday.  

3. Help the Helpers

Thank workers at your favorite charity, whether it is a local soup kitchen where you volunteer, or a large national organization whose work you admire. According to Santi, a box of homemade cookies or even a holiday card signed by members of your church can go a long way to show your appreciation. And, this gesture of gratitude will help you to form a closer connection with a charity close to your heart. Iacovelli suggests enlisting your kids to choose a box of donuts for your neighborhood firehouse and then delivering them on Christmas morning.

4. Right-size Your Commitments

More social engagements doesn’t necessarily mean more fun. “You’ll save money and stress by reducing your obligations and expectations,” says organizing strategist Donna Smallin author of Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness. Ask family members: If you could go to only three holiday events, which would they be? Think about activities from holidays past. What activities refresh your spirit? What activities could you do without? Smallin suggests choosing a manageable number of events and activities and give yourself the gift of some downtime to simply sit around the fire and drink cocoa. 

5. The 30-30-30 Gift

Instead of sending your nieces and nephews gift cards, Santi suggests giving the gift of money to children on one condition: they are to spend it in three parts: 1/3 of the money on a present for themselves; 1/3 to put into their savings; and 1/3 to give away to charity. “Ask them to tell you to whom they would like to give the money — it could be to an animal shelter, a homeless person, a charity online. “You'll not only give the child a lesson on saving up, but also be able to teach them the value of generosity,” says Santi, “and share with them the enjoyment of choosing their own beneficiary.”

6. Babysit for a Single Mother

If there's a single mom in your life, offer to babysit for her so she can do some Christmas shopping or just have time to herself. “This small gesture will be much appreciated,” says Iacovelli, who is a single mom herself. “Plus, you can do something fun like bake cookies or make Christmas cards for Mom with the kids!”

7. Declutter

Tis the season of giving, and what better time is there to declutter your basement or the entire house? “Someone, somewhere can really use what's just taking up valuable space in your home,” says Smallin, “and that's something you can feel good about.” And be sure to keep a list of what you donate and get a receipt for tax purposes.

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