A greeting and sentiment that is used so often at this time of year ... for many of us though the holidays are far from happy! We whip ourselves into a frenzy trying to create Hallmark moments of harmonious families, exquisitely wrapping presents to match every wishlist and serving up gourmet feasts timed to perfection. That work-life balance that we are barely clinging to throughout the year becomes heavily laden with new expectations and less sleep and we run around trying to make sure everything is picture perfect, although if we're being truly honest we often don't have a real grasp on what would actually make the picture perfect.
Even those who don't mark any of the winter festivals and those prepped by Halloween still get caught up in the anxiety of the season. The malls are frantic, the grocery stores are hectic, the parking lots are overflowing, the crockpot is constantly bubbling yet another new dish in readiness for the next potluck. Inevitably the wear and tear slowly begins to show, flustered shoppers who are lost in their own distracting thoughts start rolling their eyes and snapping at checkout staff for not scanning fast enough, in turn staff inadvertently pass the angst to the next person they serve and so it goes ...
We put so much time and mental energy into the holidays that we could be forgiven for feeling like we've pulled off the event of a lifetime yet when we check in with friends and colleagues in the new year and ask "how were the holidays?" We are met with subdued responses "Oh you know, quiet"', "The usual", "Yeah, it was nice", nothing that reflects the level of preparation and stress we put into it. The reality is that it cannot possibly live up to the hype we have created, so maybe it's time to take a step backwards and ask ourselves and each other what would actually make the holidays happy for us on an individual level. Getting in touch with your own wants and needs over the holiday period is vital in order to get through the season unscathed. We should all be glad to make small compromises to accommodate the different traditions and practices that our friends and family have at this time of year but at what point do our compromises begin to work against us and become self-sacrifice? There is a vast chasm between that which we enjoy and that which we endure and we owe it to ourselves to work towards a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do. Often the expectations and pressures are self-created and it is only by acknowleding that we have been caught up in the commercialised, Hallmark driven whirlwind that we can begin to untangle ourselves from the mess.
Identify your own personal image of a truly enjoyable holiday season, follow it up with a long look at the reality of your current life situation. Find a place somewhere between the two where you can be content and truly present for the small, seemingly insignificant but ultimately cherished moments that feed into our own sense of contentment. Our ideas, beliefs and desires change over time, if we were to feel the same way at age 80 as we did at age 18 then we haven't fully lived and learned from our experiences. We tend to disregard this around the holidays and attach ourselves to expectations that were placed upon us in our youth. We succumb to expectations around the places we have to be and the people we have to see. Very little attention is paid to the places we want to be and the people we want to see and that is where we really put the happy in our holidays.
Being true to yourself does not disrespect others, your worth is not measured by the dollar amount of the gifts you give or by the number of courses you serve at dinner, nor by the uncharitable opinions of your extended family members. Advocate for yourself and be honest about what you really want this year. Be mindful of how you spend your time and be present with the people you choose to share it with. Then, maybe for the first time in a long time, you can experience a genuinely Happy Holiday!