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Clearly, my daughter thinks the way to be more joyful is to sing Christmas carols every chance she gets.

Or perhaps I should say Christmas carol. She only knows one.

The truth is, as much as I love the big picture of my life, my daughter will tell you I sometimes get a little … serious. And for someone who’s already pretty busy doing what she wants to do, the holidays can be a distraction I’m not always as grateful for as I should be.

But you know, that Christmas carol eventually won me over. Joy is contagious. And so I’d like to pass some along to you, just without the singing.

Here’s what I’m doing to bring more joy into my life, now and hopefully year round.

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In 2010, a chance encounter with Leo Babauta saved me from a terrible mistake.

I’d recently had a minimalism epiphany after our family moved for the second time in 3 years.

As I unpacked box after box, I saw how our stuff was driving decisions we never consciously made. We mostly bought little things–a new fry pan one month, a toy for our young daughter another–but we also rarely threw things away. Over time, our stuff had become a burden (at least to me).

The way I saw it, it was a vicious cycle. The more stuff we needed to store, the more furniture we needed to hold it all. The more furniture we had, the bigger house we felt we needed. And then you had to spend all that time cleaning…

It was driving me crazy and I wanted to make a big change … right now.

My zeal backfired. My three-year-old felt under attack and protectively guarded every toy. My husband, who is sweetly nostalgic, couldn’t bear to part with his softball mitt from his childhood. “What if she plays softball one day?” he bemoaned.

The more I tried to convince them that they needed to change, the more they resisted me. In fact, the more they resented me.

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The choices seem small and insignificant, but they plague you.

Should you take a long walk outside or answer your email? Should you watch a movie or work on the book idea you’ve been talking about for years? And when are you going to finally enroll in that Spanish immersion class?

Every day you feel pulled in different directions, torn between the things you want to do and the things you feel you have to. And that tension, quite frankly, is wearing you out.

Instead of making a decision, night after night you allow yourself succumb to the things you think will make you feel less stressed. You watch TV. You splurge on burgers and a milkshake. You skim your email, read celebrity gossip, or play video games until it’s way past your bedtime.

Just before you drift off to sleep, you realize: I’m never going to get that day back. And I wasted it.

String enough days like that together, and you start feeling helplessness. You feel sick inside, like you’ve failed a final exam.

Leo Babauta, one of my favorite writers and thinkers, recently encouraged people to imagine how they would spend their time if they started with a blank slate. That’s a good question, but I find there’s often another problem you have to solve first.

You have to get to root of the expectations that are draining you.