The Foodie Dietitian Blog

How to Cultivate Joy and Magic During the Holidays (Mindful Monday)

The holidays can be stressful but they don’t have to be – change up your outlook and actions to cultivate joy and magic during the holidays.
The holidays can be stressful but they don't have to be - change up your outlook and actions to cultivate joy and magic during the holidays.The holidays can conjure up stress for a lot of people. Pressure to find the perfect dish, cook the perfect meal, entertain, be social, and then there’s the worry of over-indulging.

Remember when you were a kid and the holidays were such a joyful time? A time when you got to see all your cool Aunts and hang with your fun cousins, and believe in magic and endless possibilities.

At what point did that shift for you? When did the holidays go from magical to stressful?

Is there a way to go back there? To get back in touch with the magic and joy that the holidays are really all about. I think so. If you’re willing to try.

Here are a few ways to cultivate magic and joy this holiday season:

  • Practice gratitude. At Thanksgiving, we give thanks, no? Let’s not let the food and the presents and the social gatherings get in the way of the true meaning of the holidays. The true meaning of Thanksgiving is to give thanks so spend some time practicing gratitude, reflecting on what it is you’re truly thankful for this year. Share this gratitude around the Thanksgiving table with your family and friends or write in down in a journal. Recounting what you’re thankful for will help put all the craziness of the holidays into perspective so you can focus on what really matters.
  • Let the joy steep. In order to “hardwire happiness”, you need to let good experiences sink in for at least about 20 seconds or so. The next time you feel a little joy during this season, let it last, grow larger and really sink in. You can read more about Dr. Hanson’s work on Hardwiring Happiness in a previous post.
  • Lower expectations. Perhaps the biggest blocker of joy around the holidays is unrealistic expectations and really high standards. This notion that the house must be perfectly clean, the menu perfectly thoughtful and balanced, the dishes cooked to perfection, and that you find the perfect gifts for everyone. Let all of that go. What of instead of seeing the holidays through the lens of perfection, you see the holidays through the lens of love. Now the food you make will be made out of love and not to meet any standards and the gifts you buy will be from the heart.
  • Keep it playful. Channel your inner five year old. Seriously! Think back to when the holidays were magical and so much fun. Can you keep a lighthearted air this holiday season? Do you have kids? Engage in some fun holiday traditions and activities like going sledding or building gingerbread houses. No kiddos? Do those things anyways! Or, spend some time with your younger nieces, nephews, or cousins who still see the holidays through that magical lens – it just might rub off on you. Being playful around the holidays helps to take some of the stress and pressure off and allows you to enter the holidays with a light heart.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. The holidays are known as the season of giving. Can you give kindness to yourself and others to bring more joy and magic to the season? Instead of looking down as you walk through the mall, can you look up and smile at people as they walk by. When you checkout at the store, can you look salespeople in the eye and ask how they are without being on your phone while they cash you out? Can you give folks who appear aggravated a break and rather than responding with more anger respond with compassion for their experience. And most importantly, can you give kindness to yourself? Don’t beat yourself up for over indulging or not exercising. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to “do it all.” And give yourself the gift of space – carving out time for yourself to take a walk, a yoga class, a hot bath, whatever it may be. This way you can extend that kindness you gave to yourself outward to others.

I wish you and your families a joyful and magical Thanksgiving holiday. And safe journeys to those who are traveling this week.


I’m a nutrition coach and yoga teacher helping people to learn to love food again. I love cooking, taking pictures of my food and traveling around the world. Follow my blog for delicious, seasonal vegetarian recipes and simple strategies to bring more yoga and mindfulness into your life. And check out my e-book to learn how to improve your health through nutrition and yoga. Show me what deliciousness you make! Tag me @karalydonRD on Instagram.


  1. The best post I’ve seen in awhile! I love this holiday season but it’s easy to lose track of what really matters and this post really hits the nail on the head!

  2. This is lovely – thanks for sharing this almost-December Monday morning!

  3. Yes to all of these especially #2 and #4. #4 reminds me of this mantra I think I got from Big Magic “stay light on your feet.” I’m a Taurus and I tend to grind my heels into the ground. And then I get stuck there. So I’m constantly reminding myself to stay light. Enjoy your holiday!

  4. Kit Broihier

    Great post Kara! I love this!
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  5. Thank you for these reminders! Having a toddler at home and many families to visit can often seem stressful, and we end up feeling stretched too thin over the holidays. I’ll think of this post to help me change my perspective during those moments when the magic seems like it’s missing this holiday season!

  6. Great tips this Mindful Monday! I hope you enjoy the holiday season and happy Thanksgiving!

  7. What a great post – thank you so much – what a great read a the top of the holiday season.

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