Buying into the Big Holiday Set-UpThe holidays can be stressful, but it’s mostly self-inflicted. Most of the stress comes from the expectations we unconsciously place on each other and on the holiday season. We want to think we’re smarter than this, but our commercial culture has pretty successfully conditioned us to feel that anything short of a Hallmark scene brimming with rosy cheeked children, gorgeous food, and lots of togetherness borders on holiday failure. It’s the BIG HOLIDAY SET-UP. Billions of dollars and some very creative minds went into carefully cultivating these expectations, so of course we’re seduced. But unless you’re aware that you’ve bought into it, you could be in for another holiday season highlighted by rushing around, overspending, and at the end, a secret relief that it’s over. This is no way to spend the holidays!Here’s one warning sign that you’ve bought into the BIG HOLIDAY SET-UP without realizing it: a slight feeling of dread about the upcoming holidays. You might even think this is normal. But it’s not. If you really think about it, why should the holidays be a chore?If the season feels like a chore, you’ve bought into the set-up. Take an unflinching look at your expectations about the holidays. If you’re very honest, they may look something like this: “Our family should all be together for the holidays. I should look my best for the holidays. I should be surrounded by family and friends during the holidays. I should be with someone special for the holidays. I should make homemade food like my mom did for the holidays. I should feel loved during the holidays.” You may have some variation on these themes. Are they realistic? If the expectations go unchallenged, then you might go through the season with a nagging feeling that something is missing, or you might run around trying to make the expectations come true. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. But the pressure can be enormous.
Are “Shoulds” Killing Your Holiday Joy?Each of the statements above contains the word “should”. There’s no faster way to kill joy than to use the word should. Eckhart Tolle says that joy comes from within you and flows into the activity you’re doing. When you use a “should” statement, you’re reversing the process, and assuming that if you accomplish a certain scenario, you’ll feel joy. But the joy is in the doing, and if you’re rushed and multitasking while you make your homemade pies, then you’re missing the joy. If you’re doggedly trolling the bars looking for a cute date for the company Christmas party, then you’re missing the joy of meeting people. The joy is in the process, not the outcome. You may feel relieved and proud that you made the pies, but joyful? You’re probably already on to the next task. If you don’t feel joy during the holidays, you’re probably too focused on your expectations, and not open to the joy of the moment.Of course, not everything is a “should”. There are lots of things you want to do! It can come as a shock when something you really want to do mysteriously morphs into the status of chore. Example: hosting the Thanksgiving dinner is something you really want to do. You’re enjoying the process: the creativity, the cooking, the careful attention to each detail. Then your sister (who was in charge of the wine) shows up late with a case of 2 Buck Chuck. Your mom drinks too much champagne. Your cousin brings her Jack Russell terrier. And gradually, without even realizing it, the responsibility of dinner, which you heartily welcomed a little while ago, feels like a burden. And you’re a victim. We call this resentment, and it usually comes when you have unfulfilled expectations about others, usually without realizing it.Resentment is sneaky, and even you start to wonder how the dinner took this decidedly unjoyful turn, when you went to so much trouble to make everything perfect. How COULD they! Your resentment is not your sister’s problem, or your mom’s, or your cousin’s. It’s really your problem because you had the unrealistic expectation that everyone would “behave”. The cure: be on guard for any sign of resentment and the moment you recognize it, remind yourself that you chose to host Thanksgiving dinner, and that you can’t control what other people do. Even if you felt you “had” to host dinner, you still chose it. You could have said no. As soon as you wholeheartedly own this choice, your resentment will magically disappear. It will probably re-appear at a weak moment (don’t drink too much), and then you’ll have to remind yourself again, and again, and again.Have a Blast this Holiday Season by Letting Go of ExpectationsIf you can let go of expectations, you can have a blast this holiday season. Is your extended family a pain in the neck? Well I’m not surprised, because extended family is a great idea in theory, but then you have all those messy personalities who don’t always go with the program. Meaning the program you’ve set up in your head! So let go of the expectation that they’ll act appropriately and let them muddle through the holiday dinner while you tell jokes or play with somebody’s baby. Everyone knows that if the hostess is having a good time, the guests will have a good time. So relax and enjoy yourself and everyone else will too.
Let go for a minute of how our culture defines holiday “success” and let your mind wander to what really brings you joy. You might enjoy hunkering down with your crotchety old neighbor and playing cards with no Christmas tree in sight. You’ve never seen this on a holiday commercial, but who cares? This may be something you really enjoy. You might enjoy spontaneously heading downtown at night with your dog to walk around and look at the lights and decorations. You might enjoy popping into a church or temple and having a quiet moment.My daughter and I, who never watch TV, like to leave it on the Christmas Carol channel all day and evening till my husband pleads for mercy. We like to make a long Christmas list and traipse through the stores buying small gifts for friends and relatives, most of whom we rarely see and who don’t buy us anything. We decorate a few cookies if we get around to it. We each buy one holiday dress to wear to the Nutcracker (if we get around to it), to Christmas dinner, and to a Christmas service. And we sit in traffic for hours every Thanksgiving and Christmas to visit relatives who rarely get along. We don’t expect them to get along. It’s a big treat if they do!How do you let go of holiday expectations that are killing your joy? Don’t expect your kids to come for Christmas; don’t expect your hair to look great; don’t expect to go to a wonderful holiday party; don’t expect to meet a great guy; don’t expect your husband to buy you a truly thoughtful gift, and don’t expect guests to behave during Thanksgiving dinner! It’s very freeing! I can feel the joy already. Happy Holidays!
Ann Wycoff, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in San Diego, California. She is founder of Safe and Sound Nannies, a full service agency. She also provides nanny hiring consultation to families in all cities who would like to user her professional advice and hiring tools. She has been screening and placing nannies since l998.For more information on how to find, screen and keep a great nanny, visit Dr. Wycoff’s full service agency website at web: safeandsoundnannies .com.