Ah, the holidays. Everywhere you go, you face cookies, candy, booze, snacks, and treats of every kind. While this creates a festive atmosphere, it can also lead to a lot of anxiety and/or guilt in those of us trying to resist temptation.

As you think about how to handle holiday temptations, your strategy may depend on whether you’re a moderator or an abstainer when trying to resist temptation.


You’re a moderator if you:
– find that occasional indulgence heightens your pleasure and strengthens your resolve.
– get panicky at the thought of “never” getting or doing something.

You’re an abstainer if you:
– have trouble stopping something once you’ve started.
– aren’t tempted by things that you’ve decided are off-limits. (Of course, in the case of things like nicotine and alcohol, abstention is necessary.)

I’m an abstainer, without a doubt. Like Samuel Johnson, who declined an offer of wine by saying, “Abstinence is as easy to me as temperance would be difficult,” I find it much easier to give things up altogether than to indulge in moderation.

For me, no gingerbread cookies, no problem; one cookie and I spend the rest of the day thinking about when and why I should get more cookies. It’s so, so, so much easier for me to abstain than to try to be moderate. You wouldn’t believe what I’m abstaining from these days! A lot.

If you’re a moderator, however, that strategy wouldn’t work for you. You’d probably be better off thinking, “I can have two cookies,” and focusing on enjoying them. You can really revel in whatever it is that you’re permitting yourself, and by putting a limit on your consumption, you may find yourself enjoying it more.

So, to apply the moderator/abstainer model to yourself when facing holiday temptations, try this:

1. Decide if you’re a moderator or an abstainer.

2. Decide what temptation you’d like to resist and to what degree.

3. Don’t indulge on the fly. If you want to indulge, plan ahead. This helps you feel in control and also to decide where you’ll get the most bang for your temptation buck.

4. As you approach your tempting situation, imagine yourself living up to your rule. Imagine yourself skipping the cookies, or imagine yourself taking just two cookies. Think about how pleased you’ll be that you stuck to your guidelines for yourself.

5. Anticipate situations that might make it hard to stick to your rule and have a plan to deal with it. “If X happens, then I will do Y.”

6. For moderators: it’s one thing to indulge on the day of a holiday or at a single meal. It’s another thing to indulge during the holiday season. It’s a holiDAY.

7. Remember the argument of the growing heap, or as I like to call it, the “does one coin make a person rich?” question. Of course, one cookie is no big deal. That’s absolutely true. But be very wary of that argument.

Either strategy can help us resist temptation. As with so many aspects of the pursuit of happiness, the secret is to know yourself.

Also, it can seem friendly to urge people to break their diets, to indulge in an extra glass of wine, or to treat themselves in some way. “I can’t believe you’re not going to try this dessert; I made it myself!” “Just one won’t hurt!” “This is a party. Live a little!” But the kind thing to do, in almost every situation, is to try to help people stick to their resolutions. Of course, bullying them if you think they’re over-indulging isn’t kind, either.

How about you? Do you recognize yourself as an abstainer or a moderator? Have you found any good strategies for coping with holiday temptation?


  • I always find a lot to think about on fellow Positively Positive contributor Seth Godin’s blog.
  • Want to see a copy of my Resolutions Chart to help you think about your own happiness project? Request one here.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Happiness Project—an account of the year she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier—and the recently released Happier at Home. On her popular blog, The Happiness Project, she reports on her daily adventures in the pursuit of happiness. For more doses of happiness and other happenings, follow Gretchen on Facebook and Twitter.

*Photo by Seabamirum.