I admit it – I’m a sucker for the holidays. I watch many, many Christmas movies, the more predictable and sappy the better (my husband smiles, rolls his eyes, and says, “Let me guess – by the end, somebody will have understood the true meaning of Christmas.”) I love to decorate the tree, find or make just the perfect gift for people I love, and hope for snow. I even like wrapping presents.
At the same time, I’m often irritated by many aspects of the holiday season. Yesterday, for instance, I had an appointment with someone at 30 Rock, the NBCU headquarters building in NYC, and it was brutal wading through the zillions of holiday shoppers (many of them disoriented tourists) milling around Rockefeller plaza. And if I see one more TV commercial for mindless, brightly colored, instantly-breakable plastic toys…
It seems that my conflicted relationship with the holidays is widely shared. I just read a great post at FiveThirtyEightLife that reflects on some interesting research about how Americans experience the holidays. As you might suspect, a big majority of us feel happier than usual around the holidays, and we most enjoying spending time with those we love. What we don’t much like is shopping, and everything associated with it. Only 1% of us say shopping is our favorite holiday activity, and the three things we most dislike about the holidays are all purchase-related: commercialism/materialism, financial worries, and shopping in crowds. The research shows that we are both more joyful and more stressed around the holidays.
So, how can you make your holidays more of what you want and like…and less of what you don’t want and don’t like? Here are five practical suggestion you can start doing right now. Happy holidays…
1. Drop one thing: I was listening to a client describe his holiday “time off” to me today, and it sounded exhausting. The parties, the travel, the rushing around…I got tired just listening to him. If you’re the sort of person for whom a lot of activity is rejuvenating – great.
Go for it. But if the thought of what you have planned over the next few weeks makes your bones ache, pick out one activity or commitment you can remove from the list – and remove it. Even creating a few more hours of downtime over the holiday break can make a big difference.
2. Ask for help: During the holidays, I’ve noticed there often seems to be an especially unequal division of labor in families. One or two people in every family (most often, sadly, the moms) get saddled with most of the holiday-related tasks, freeing everyone else to enjoy themselves. If you’re that person, I encourage you to spread the work around.
Remember, it’s not your responsibility to be Santa’s only helper: getting others to pitch in (I’m thinking about your kids, here) will help them better understand what it means that this is the season of giving. And if you can ask for their help in a nice vs. naughty kind of way, so much the better. Which leads us to the next suggestion…
3. Request vs. complain: Complaints are never a great way to get people to behave differently, and they’re particularly jarring and unhelpful around the holidays. Sprinkle some elf-dust on your complaints and turn them into requests before they come out of your mouth.
Here’s what that looks like: a complaint says “I don’t like this”; a request says “I’d like this instead.” So, instead of “You never help me prepare for our New Year’s Eve party,” (a complaint), try “I’d love it if we could work together to get the house ready for the New Year’s Eve party” (a request). Ho-ho-ho.
4. Look for the good stuff: We all have a choice about where we focus our attention…but we too often make a choice that doesn’t serve us. Last Sunday I went to a Messiah sing-in at a concert hall in a nearby town. There was lots of great stuff to focus on: gorgeous, timeless music; a good local orchestra and chorus; very good and enthusiastic soloists; the hall was packed with folks of all ages, happily singing together and enjoying each others’ company.
However, during the break I overheard two older women enumerating all the things they didn’t like: hall too warm, seats too hard, coffee (a fundraising activity) too expensive…etc., etc. I don’t believe they were seeing any of the good stuff – although it was all around them. When you get upset about something during the holidays, shift your focus (and your experience) by disciplining yourself to acknowledge all the lovely things that are also happening. They’re there.
5. Give yourself a gift: Giving feels wonderful, and focusing on the joy and power of the impulse to give of ourselves is one of the real beauties of this season. Remember that it’s good to be as kind to yourself as you are to others.
One important way to do this: don’t beat yourself up mentally when you fall short of your own holiday merry-ness standards. If for instance, you’re feeling a little Grinchy one day, and find yourself thinking uncharitable thoughts about your aunt Josephine who just will not stop talking…don’t make it worse by then chastising yourself for feeling that way; cut yourself some slack.
If you can say to yourself (repeatedly) throughout the holidays, This is a time for me to unwind and enjoy: I don’t have to be perfect – or perfectly happy, you’ll have a much less stressful holiday season.
Here’s hoping that using these ideas will help make your holidays a lot of more of what you want them to be…