I look forward to the holidays with childlike glee. As soon as the Texas heat drops below 80 degrees, I sneak a few Christmas carols onto my playlist; the tree goes up right after Thanksgiving. But by mid-December, I've gone into survival mode, and I'm not feeling much holiday joy. Why? Because when I'm scrambling to string up lights or send out another 50 cards—that is, when I'm worrying about the outside world's perceptions—I forget to be present in my own home for my husband and our two amazing kids.

Oprah has said that what we all want most in life is to be seen, and I couldn't agree more. A joyful home is one in which people feel seen and appreciated. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking the holidays are about giving and receiving presents or attending parties, but it's really small, quiet acts of gratitude that cultivate connection. Gratitude creates joy—not vice versa. So this year I'm going to give thanks every chance I get for that special group of folks who keep loving me and seeing me.

The Dare

Manage expectations. With your family, write down a few things you all hope will happen this holiday season. If you agree that being together is your number one priority, you're less likely to feel mortified when your home doesn't look like a Pottery Barn catalog.

Be specific. I'm planning to use cute felt Advent calendars to leave little notes for my husband and kids in the days leading up to Christmas: "Thank you for always putting gas in my car"; or "I love that you help with the dishes without being asked." Telling someone exactly why you're grateful is always better than just writing, "You're awesome."

Make gratitude a practice in your home. When the level of joy is low in our house, it's often because the gratitude jar in our kitchen is empty. Holiday or not, we keep a Mason jar on the counter for "gratitude drops" or little notes of thanks. Write (or read) one for a quick hit of joy.

Brené Brown, PhD, the author of Daring Greatly, researches vulnerability, shame, and courage at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

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