Mindfulness During the Holiday Season

a statue of Siddhartha wearing a Santa hat

The holiday season is a time that offers us an opportunity to explore activities that are rooted in tradition and societal expectations to create connection with those most important to us.

However, much of the season is fraught with feelings of being overwhelmed and rushed.

The Stress of Giving Gifts

When we take a step back, we might realize much of the hullabaloo involves pressure we place on ourselves. A main way we do this is through gift-giving.

We spend countless hours searching for the right gift. We do this hoping that the perfect gift will create that connection with others we might find it difficult to cultivate in other ways, or worse, out of a sense of obligation.

When we consider this from a mindfulness perspective, it may shed light on why we are so willing to spend money, time, and energy, often in short supply at this time of year, to meet a perceived expectation for the holiday season.

The sad part is when we meet this expectation, we are often left feeling stressed and feeling empty.

So, how about approaching the holiday and gift-giving a little more mindfully this year?

The Psychology of Gift-Giving

Science shows we receive a slight mood lift from giving gifts.

Gift-giving provides a burst of excitement; unfortunately, it’s usually short-lived. This is because oxytocin is released and its effects on the body don't last long.

However, if we consider the three components of mindfulness we’ve focused on in other blog articles:

  • Paying Attention
  • With Intention
  • Without Judgment

… we may decide to approach our engagement with our family and friends and gift-giving from a new perspective. One that engages creativity, meaning, and intention.

This will encourage a longer-lasting and more impactful experience that provides a true connection.

Engaging the creative parts of the brain to find the gift we think would bring joy to the recipient has been shown in studies to increase feelings of connection and altruism. It also leads to other cognitive benefits such as improved cognitive performance and improved connectivity in the brain.

More than that, when we choose to engage in gift-giving from a place of values, we increase our own self-worth. Ironically, gift-giving to others with a focus on providing a joyful experience for them allows us to be more authentically ourselves.

When we give gifts mindfully in this manner, we make meaningful connections authentically, which increases self-worth and builds stronger relationships.  

How to Give Gifts Mindfully

To get started on mindful gift-giving, try this:  

  • First review your values and the values you hold in the relationships in your life.
  • Next, find something that nurtures the relationship rather than provides a “thing.” Perhaps an experience together such as a community concert or a creative event.
  • Maybe volunteer at a charity or organization that is meaningful to both you and you family/friend/co-worker for an afternoon. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Remember this quote:

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.
Kahlil Gibran

Click to See Our Sources

Balconi, M., Fronda, G. "The “gift effect” on functional brain connectivity. Inter-brain synchronization when prosocial behavior is in action." Sci Rep 10, 5394 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62421-0


Alyson Phelan

Alyson Phelan founded Present Moment Mindfulness and Yoga to transform lives.

She teaches science-based mindfulness solutions to individuals and organizations. She holds various degrees and certifications that support her work in the community to help build practical, accessible, and sustainable methods that work. She is a Certified Yoga Teacher, Certified Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher, and Trauma Responsive Care Certified. Visit her blog or try an online class.