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December 22, 2014 12:01 AM EST
Nataly Kogan is the co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company that combines bite-sized courses with digital tools and a community to help people learn and practice simple ways to be happier daily.

When you look at your holiday to-do list, do you start to hyperventilate or break out in hives?

I have been. For the past few weeks as my list grew–presents! trips! cards! teacher gifts for my daughter’s school! Hanukkah decorations! more presents! getting addresses to send presents!–so has my stress level. It reached a point where I started to secretly wish that we could fast-forward to January 1st and skip the entire two weeks of holidays all together.

Which is a really ridiculous thought to have during the time of year that should be about celebrating and joy–a time during which we’re all doing a lot to give our friends and family our love and some smiles, and give things that we’ve decided have to come wrapped in nice paper or look beautiful as family holiday cards.

Maybe there is a better way.

Forget fancy cards

Instead of running around buying holiday cards or spending hours choosing the best photos for your family holiday card, send heartfelt, genuine emails or texts to your friends and family. Spend more time on your words than on the kind of paper they come on.

I had the chance to interview Deepak Chopra recently and I asked him what is the simplest thing I could do to feel happier right away. He told me to email or text a friend and tell them something I appreciate about them.

Skip wrapping anything

Growing up in Russia, we didn’t really have wrapping paper. So we either didn’t wrap gifts or wrapped them in newspaper. This didn’t make getting gifts any less special.

Giving gifts makes you happier than receiving them–which is true even for kids. But not a single piece of research has ever shown that lack of wrapping paper hurts the experience for you or person receiving the gift. So skip it and feel good about saving a few trees.

Give experiences, not things

Dozens of research studies have shown that experiences make us happier than material possessions. What’s even better, we are happier when we are anticipating experiences rather than buying something.

Instead of stressing over that perfect gift you need to find for someone in your family, how about taking a day or half a day to do something fun together. You can plan it in advance, include some activities they will enjoy, and have something to look forward to.

Uncomplicate your holiday menu

I love to cook and entertain but it’s a fine line between enjoying it and falling over under the stress of doing it. If you are hosting friends or family for dinner during the holidays, it’s easy to drown in thinking about what to cook, shopping, prepping, cooking, setting the table and hundreds of other little details.

Instead, how about finding a few simpler one-pot recipes to cook so that you can spend more time with people you love instead of slaving away in the kitchen. Or consider making your dinner a potluck, but instead of feeling guilty about doing that tell your friends and family that you’d rather spend more time together.

Start with gratitude

You can do a lot to trim your holiday to-do list, but there is just a lot to get done. No escaping it. Before you dive into your day, spend a few minutes thinking about what you are grateful for, all those people you care enough about to find gifts for, the anticipation of seeing someone you miss, and having warm memories of holiday traditions.

Starting your day with gratitude will make you happier and more productive. You’ll be in better spirits and get more of your holiday to-dos done. And if you take a minute to express gratitude to someone else–perhaps with just a simple but genuine “thank you” while buying gifts–you’ll be giving someone a pretty awesome gift without having to wrap it.

Nataly Kogan is the co-founder and CEO of Happier, a digital wellness company that combines bite-sized courses with digital tools and a community to help people learn and practice simple ways to be happier daily.

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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