Remember when holidays were the happiest time of the year? When all you had to do was write (and re-write!) your Christmas list or wonder what treat the fourth night of Hanukkah would bring? Maybe you lay under the Christmas tree and looked up at the lights or got to stay up late to ring in the New Year.
For many of us, all that original holiday joy has been buried under a giant list of “shoulds” and “have tos”: I have to cook amazing holiday meals, I need to have the perfect Martha Stewart Christmas Tree, I have to send a witty and individualized holiday letter, I should deliver holiday cookies to everyone I know and I need to find a perfect gift for 20+ people. (All while continuing to take care of the work and family obligations we have every other month of the year, by the way).
We get SO busy doing all these “shoulds” that we miss the opportunity to really soak in the good stuff and savor this joyful time with loved ones.
How can you re-capture the simpler joy of the holidays? First of all, figure out the things that authentically make you happy in December. Make a list of all the things that you truly look forward to (or would look forward to if you had the time to focus on it!). Then schedule enough time for these big rocks that you can slow down and really enjoy them.
So what about all that other stuff that fills up your holiday season? How can you clear out time to really savor the parts you love? Here are some ideas:
Ditch the “shoulds.” Got a holiday tradition that brings you nothing but stress? Don’t do it. Are your neighbors really going to run you out of town if you don’t put up lights? Do each of your officemates really need a rum cake? Let it go. Don’t get pulled into something you don’t enjoy just because you have always done it that way or other people expect you to. These are YOUR holidays. Own them. (Sound scary? Start small with 1-2 things to cut this year, and commit to what you’ll eliminate next year.)
Enlarge the part that makes you happy and minimize the rest. Is gathering with friends and loved ones really important to you, but the meal planning and cooking stresses you out? Change it up. Co-host with someone who likes to cook but needs a house like yours to pull it off. Make it a potluck. Order take-out. Meet at a restaurant or roller rink or somewhere else unexpected and fun. Get creative with ways to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t.
Change the timeline. Who says the things you love (or even feel obliged to do) around the holidays have to happen in December? My wife loves to send out a creative and snarky holiday card. But she rarely gets it done by Christmas. We routinely send out New Years or MLK Day, or even spring solstice cards. Love to bake cookies? Do it for Valentine’s Day instead. Is finding that right gift fun when you have time for it? Focus on birthdays and skip December.
Just Say No. If an event doesn’t sound *more* fun than something on your favorites list, just say no. An invitation is not an obligation. Our friends don’t want us to go to something we won’t enjoy. We throw a kooky New Year’s Eve party and, every year, some of our best friends say no. Welcoming the new year with just their family makes them happy. Or if your friends always invite people that push your buttons, give it a pass this year and enjoy a night savoring something that gives you joy.
Limiting your activities to those things that you really love can make all the difference in enjoying your holidays. And it will give you time to slow down and really savor the best parts. And don’t forget that happiness is infectious – as you reduce your holiday stress and increase your happiness, your friends and loved ones will become happier too. And what better gift can you give during the holidays?
Tune in next week for tips on making gift-giving a joyful experience, not a dreaded, stress-filled chore.Eric Karpinski The Happiness Coach