Self Improvement

How to Make the Holidays Happier When You’re Feeling Sad


Two years ago, I woke up alone on Christmas morning and last year, woke up at my boyfriend’s mom’s house–everyone in matching Christmas pajamas. Proof that one lonely Christmas doesn’t mean a lifetime of lonely Christmases. This year’s feeling tough after what the sad news I received last weekend, but I’m determined to celebrate the holidays regardless.

It often seems as if almost everyone on instagram is living in a holiday episode of Gilmore Girls or Full House and when your situation is less than ideal, it can feel very isolating. So if you’re struggling this season, know that you are not alone. There are ways to make your own memories and enjoy the holidays, even when things aren’t exactly ideal.

Here are some things that have helped me make the holidays a little happier when I’m feeling sad.

The one thing that always makes me feel good (and like I’m doing something worthwhile) is to do something kind for someone else. So in the spirit of Christmas, I can’t think of a better time to share a little love and kindness with someone who needs it. It’s not much, but when I’m out and see someone who needs food, I’ll buy them a warm meal. And my boyfriend’s mom and I are putting together bags of essentials (gloves, snacks, money for food, socks) for people in need in Chicago.

Treat yourself
Plan a trip, book a massage, order your favorite take-out, or cook a nice dinner and watch a favorite movie. Do something you know you’ll enjoy. I happened to have a trip scheduled a few days after Jen passed away and decided not to cancel it even though I didn’t feel up to traveling. There have been lots of sad moments mixed with happy ones but in the end, am so glad I took this trip.

Make plans
The year I spent Christmas Eve on my own at home, I found a few friends I could visit with for a few hours Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas Eve day. A quick call or face time with a friend or family member who isn’t nearby can help a lot, too. 

Do something festive
If you’re feeling up for a little holiday cheer, watch a favorite Christmas movie, listen to some holiday tunes, pour yourself a little cider or cocoa, and bake yourself a batch of cookies. Not up for something festive? Try watching While You Were Sleeping. Lucy goes from spending the holidays alone to spending them with a new family. It’s happy but not perfect, and happens to be one of my favorites.

Start something new
Not into the idea of anything Christmassy? Pick up a new book or finally start Six Feet Under, Game of Thrones, or House of Cards. Nothing like a funeral home, war, or politics to distract you from the holidays. Feeling especially motivated? Try organizing your closet.

Get through it
Whether you’re spending the holidays among difficult family members or alone in your apartment, just accept that this is where you’re at right now. Remember that things can be different next year.

Think of the positive
You can’t let a few days change the way you look at your life, so use this time to reflect on the good in your life. Reflect on what you’ve accomplished this year and make a list of things you’re hopeful for in the new year, too. Your life may not feel perfect, but that’s how it goes, and surely you can find a silver lining or two.

Have you ever spent the hoildays alone or has family drama made the holidays feel a bit less cheery? Would love to hear yoru stories and advice in the comments below. 

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  • One of my good friends is going through a really rough time right now and it’s all hit right at the holidays. I keep thinking what a terrible time of year for bad things to happen, so I really appreciate this list.

    • So sorry to hear about your friend, Kellie. Hope this list helps her and that you’re able to be there for her during this tough time. I know I’ve always appreciated my friends welcoming me to spend the holidays with them when things were less than ideal.

  • Emily D

    Family drama has always been an issue – especially around the holidays – and this year it’s the worst it’s ever been. It’s so bad that I won’t be seeing most of my extended family on Christmas for the first time in my life. It can be difficult to talk about this because while everyone else is broadcasting their perfect families on social media during the holidays, mine is a complete mess. The whole situation is upsetting my mom the most so I’ve been trying to think of ways to make Christmas special in spite of it all. Love your ideas and may use some of them to start new Christmas traditions.

    I hope you’re able to find some joy and peace this holiday season; my thoughts are with you. xo

    • I’m so sorry things have been difficult with your family lately. Hopefully some of these ideas will help make things fun and special for you and your mom. Let me know how it goes! Happy holidays. x

  • Jessica

    Thank you for this, Danielle. I spent part of Christmas alone last year as well, and ended up realizing that the reality wasn’t nearly as bad as my anticipation of it had been. I did several of the things you mention here (including watching While You Were Sleeping), and it really did make a tangible difference in how I felt about the holidays. This year I’m able to visit my family out of state and think I’m even more grateful for the upcoming trip because I wasn’t able to be with them last year. I always appreciate your willingness to acknowledge that no one’s life is as perfect or beautiful as it may appear on the outside. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas with your boyfriend and his family, and that you’re able to find peace and comfort as you grieve and heal.

  • Rachel Rosenblatt

    I so needed this post today! It’s been a rough couple months and I wasn’t looking forward to the holidays at all…my family is small and not super close and I’m struggling with being single. I read your post today and as luck would have it I got a text a couple hours later from a friend inviting me to spend Christmas Day with her family, which means the world to me. Honestly so much of your content is so relatable, and I can see all the real life struggles you’ve dealt with beyond the pretty and curated moments. Thank you for sharing so much of your life with us!

  • Love this! Christmas, and the whole holiday season really, is a big love-hate relationship. Outwardly, there is no other time of year draped in more happiness and joy, but when you aren’t feeling happy or joyful it just seems like another social media facade. My parents got divorced about 2 years ago and so after a horrible first Christmas where everyone just pretended to be happy, my sister and I decided to just spend last Christmas together, just the 2 of us. And it truly was perfect. I don’t feel like I have any advice other than just do what makes you most happy and cry if you want to. Am I sad I don’t have a family to celebrate with? Absolutely. But giving to charity, buying myself a special gift, looking forward to seeing my sister (who lives on the other side of the country), and making a special christmas eve dinner puts me into a great mood.

  • Loved this post, Danielle! Thank you for always being honest with us and sharing your highs and lows. I think it’s so important to honor the season of life we are in. 🙂

  • Meagan Hamblen

    Another one I’d add is managing expectations if you are seeing family or trying to plan around them! My parents are divorced and even though I am married with my own 4 children now, I still feel so much pressure to see everyone and do everything – somehow I feel like I always end up in tears by December 24 trying to please everyone else. I think we trick ourselves into thinking we’ll plan better or manage our time better or family will be better together the following year, and it never is. But we always forget and think it will be picture perfect like other families! I still haven’t figured out how to just enjoy the time with my immediate family in our home, but I’m working on it. Like another commenter, my favorite family member is my sister and I am always happy we at least have each other. Why are the holidays the best but also the worst?!

  • Jess Kulas

    I’m spending my first Christmas alone this year and have really been struggling with it. This post came at the perfect time and inspired me to look at it differently 🙂

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