The holidays can bring out the worst in us. Deepak Chopra has several simple and effective tips for focusing on the positives.
Two weeks ago, I offered suggestions on how to have an inspiring holiday season . Thinking about it later, I realized that there's an even bigger opportunity this time of year. If you could use this whole month to find a basis for true happiness, wouldn't that be the greatest blessing of all?
Charles Dickens showed the way when he took Scrooge's "Bah! Humbug!" and refused to settle for that simple expression of disgust. Instead, he looked deeper and found out the specific reasons that turned a young man's joy and hope into an old man's bitterness and regret. A Christmas Carol isn't just the story of how one man learned to love Christmas—it's about how he found the key to happiness all year.
One of the main keys to happiness all year is to detoxify your life. So let's start at the most basic level. Sit down and ask yourself, "What aspects of the holidays are spoilers?" Here's a list of things that bring people down over Christmas and Hanukkah:
Too many crowds
Being around people you don't really like
Eating and drinking too much
Backsliding into old bad habits
Being forced out of your comfortable routine
Pretending to be in a holiday mood when you aren't
Feeling lonely and/or unappreciated
Spending too much money
As you can see, most of these things aren't specific to the holidays; they are magnified versions of what brings us down at any time of the year. Being magnified, they look harder to deal with. But if you turn the situation around, when you magnify something under a microscope, it becomes clearer and easier to understand.
In this case, everything on the list calls for a new attitude and a different way of behaving. Too many crowds and hectic shopping? Don't take the attitude that you are stressed, pressured and victimized. Separate the toxic part of shopping and choose only the nontoxic part. The nontoxic part is giving. You don't have to shop till you drop in order to give. Buy your presents online. Sit and think in advance of just the right present, and don't buy a thing until your choice makes you happy. Pay more attention to the person who will receive your gift, and make it your aim to truly see what would make them happy when you give it to them.
Any item on the list can be detoxified. Backsliding into old bad habits? The toxins here is lack of control, a sense of guilt, feeling that you let yourself down and being weak in the face of temptation. What to do? Write down your worst temptation—overeating, drinking to excess, being rude or confrontational—and carry the list with you. Keep away from the top three things on your list. The easiest way to avoid temptation is to stay away from it. If you find yourself in a tempting situation, take a brief time-out. Walk away and look at your list, which will remind you to be conscious of your weaker impulses. A little awareness goes a long way.
If you apply yourself, you will find that awareness is both a great protector and a great healer. All the items on the list bring us down because we forget to be conscious; we don't practice sensible prevention. It's easy to prevent overspending if you leave the house with no credit cards and only $50 in your wallet. If you find something expensive that you just have to buy, it won't hurt to go back home for the money instead of instantly, and impulsively, pulling out your credit card. On the way home, you may find that your hot impulse cools off considerably.
But there's a deeper aspect to removing the toxic elements in any situation. Your natural state is one of joy, peace and spontaneous fulfillment. When you are not experiencing this state, some contamination is present in body or mind. Contamination can be the result of toxic emotions, habits and relationships as well as toxic substances.
What makes a person choose to contaminate happiness with any toxin, whether it's junk food or an abusive partner, a stressful job or unwholesome emotions? All such choices are rooted first in the mind as the result of conditioning. Housebreaking a puppy is a kind of conditioning, but so is raising a child. Just as the puppy learns a new way of behaving that becomes automatic and ingrained, the way you were raised has shaped your behavior and attitudes. If you could look closely enough into the brain, you'd also see neural pathways that fix every behavior in place
This is the real reason change is hard. Toxic behavior and attitudes have been programmed into you. Old conditioning is powerful. It makes us do things we know are not right for us. The solution to toxicity in your life lies at the level where the mind has lost its natural state. Conditioning begins very early in life. The first symptoms are toxic emotions like anger, anxiety, guilt and shame. As one grows up, this beginning leads to poor self-esteem, toxic relationships and lifestyle imbalances.
The good news is that any pattern of behavior can be changed. You don't have to settle for old programming. You are the programmer now, not people from your past. In order to detoxify your life completely, you need to learn how to reverse this entire range of conditioning. Scrooge's turnaround took only one night, which is a fantasy. Yet you can begin your turnaround today. In my latest book, The Ultimate Happiness Prescription , the chapter on detoxification outlines seven steps for immediately bringing your life to a nontoxic state:
1. De-clutter your surroundings.
2. If you buy something, give something away.
3. Spend money to help the environment, returning a fraction of nature's gifts to you.
4. Do something that's not for profit.
5. Be generous.
6. Be lavish in your giving, particularly with intangibles.
7. Nourish your body instead of defiling it.
These are only the beginning to a lifelong commitment to leading a life that is as full of joy and peace as nature intended. What better time to begin than in this season of peace and joy?