The holidays are meant to be a wonderful time of joy and merriment. Yet, for many of us, the idea of spending time with family may feel anything but joyful and merry. Some families may exude conflict, drama, and strife. Still, many members of such a family may feel obligated or even be directly coerced into attending family functions they'd rather not partake in. While our reactions of anxiety, anger, frustration, angst, or even depression may be understandable and even completely justified in some cases, our reactions certainly do not help us to have a "happy holiday." So, how do we solve these problems and make the most of our holiday season? First, it helps for us to focus in on the holiday season and what it means to us.
1. Choose your holiday spirit.
No, I'm not talking about alcohol. Although it may also be helpful to serve your guests or yourself a drink to lighten things up, I'm talking about the spirit you want to present to others. What part of our nature do we want the holidays to bring out? Do we long to be giving, loving, caring, and kind? Or, would we rather be selfish, greedy, spoiled and spiteful? It comes down to a matter of choice, or rather, a string of choices as to what sides of ourselves we see. How we want to be during this time will dictate how our holiday season will go. Don't get me wrong, we are all caught off guard and fall into some poor behavioral decisions and patterns from time to time. However, how we reflect and recover from them is ultimately what is most important. If we put into action the types of characteristics we want to be, we will renew our holiday spirit, and establish healthy and happy behavioral patterns over time.
2. Don't be concerned with how others perceive you.
Others develop judgments and impressions with what is presented or perceived. Family criticisms are often the worst. These judgments are often based on mere snippets of information or interaction. If someone sees just a segment of a puzzle or a piece of a photograph, their view of the entire picture is inaccurate. Be aware of yourself and who you are; not how you are viewed by others. It is a lot easier to handle criticisms when you realize that those views are opinion-based and not factual. It may not make it hurt any less, but take confidence in the fact that you are self-aware enough not to make the same mistake. Like the old cliché goes, "it says more about them than it does about you."
3. Accept inevitable aggravations.
There will be things no matter how much or how well you plan that will not go according to plan. A large part of that reason is because you do not have the ability to control other people. While we know that is a good thing, we would also love for others to listen to us especially if we are hosting an event.
I know I complain or get frustrated about it, even more so when we have spelled out specific directions beforehand. Still, every year we have a guest who shows up when she thinks it should start (around 6am). Is this the start to Christmas morning that my husband and I desire? No, but the moral of this story is; I know it is going to happen, so why add to the negativity? Is that the holiday spirit I want to present? No. She has a habit I know she won't change, but do I love her anyway? Yes. So isn't it better to just accept it and move on instead of getting angry, frustrated, or lashing out toward her? The answer has always been yes. Learning how to accept the aggravations that are presented to us is definitely a way to grow as a human being, and learn to live a happier way of life. It sure would be amazing to truly, "let the little things go", but in order to do so, we have to train those "muscles" first.
4. Only enter into healthy and friendly competitions.
This time of year often brings out the worst of the "keep up with the Joneses" mentality. While having a friendly game of Spoons or Jenga can be a fun and rewarding time with family, competing in other areas can drain you significantly. The repercussions of financial spending competition are obvious as increasing in debt will only increase your holiday anxiety or leave you paying it off for the remainder of the year.
By the same token, showboating can be just as detrimental and happens regularly within certain groups and families. It disregards and deliberately heightens our second holiday tip to a seeming advantage. You may ask yourself, why would anyone feel the need to do that? Or, like many of us, maybe you have been guilty of it at least a time or two. Our human ego is fragile and insecure. Many of us seek to please others whether we are conscious of it or not, and this is our downfall.
Being proud of where you work, your child's strengths, and fashions, gadgets or tools you may like are all good quality conversation topics. However, gloating about professional success, comparing children's abilities, or making yourself seem superior for being up to date on the latest trends, is where it crosses the line.
By comparing young children to one another, for instance, a whole host of detrimental self-image issues can be created for the children involved. Surely no one would attempt to make a toddler feel inferior, yet somehow parents will try to show off how much "smarter", "cuter", or "better at this or that" their own child is than someone else's child. Occasionally, that conversation is had right in front of the very same children they are comparing. Simply put, some family members will turn everything into a contest.
Those same people base their very identity around such competitions, and therefore constantly need to compete. Think about what it would be like to have an identity based on that level of fragility and insecurity; your very state of being would be flippant and entirely focused on what others think. Frankly, that would be exhausting! If you keep in mind how unhappy those people must be, you may even grow to pity them whilst avoiding their unhealthy competition.
Avoiding their competitive nature does not mean avoiding interaction with them entirely. When you give them genuine credit or compliment where credit is due, they'll often become bored with speaking with you. Sometimes a simple, polite, and genuine statement of, "I'm glad you're doing well, things are going well for you, your child is so smart, etc." is all it takes. Speaking from personal experience, I've had family members get up and walk away mid-conversation when I refused to gloat about my own personal ventures or escalate the conversation. Surprisingly, you can avoid the majority of unhealthy familial competition by simply being a nice, authentic human being.
As a society, we would function much better if we recognized everyone's strengths for what they are. Everyone has something they do better than another person and vice versa. Making one superior to another will achieve nothing, so recognize and appreciate the talents everyone has been given and we'll all be much healthier and happier for it.
5. Know your limits ahead of time, and stick to them.
Does it stress you out to be around certain people? Do you get grouchy, angry, or upset just being in the same room as someone? In order to maintain our holiday spirit, we must at first acknowledge our own limitations. Establishing boundaries with family is an incredibly difficult thing sometimes, but it pays off in the long run for our sanity's sake. If you choose to leave a family event early, the worst they can say about it is that you didn't stay very long. Whereas, if you leave after you're already irritated, you're more inclined to say something you'll regret OR use more of your own personal time later to recuperate. Not all of us have a ton of personal time, so you have to choose where you're willing to let it cost you.
Speaking of costs, know your financial spending limits as well. Some family members can go overboard, and expect you to do the same. Don't fall into this same pattern of behavior. Remember, it isn't a contest. Draw up a budget that is reasonable for you, and don't get caught up into that comparison game we talked about earlier. Not everyone may believe that "it is the thought that counts" with gifts. However, that is on them, and not you. If you chose to spend money on or time making a thoughtful gift for that person, it counts no matter how small. If they complain, know that you were still in the right for thinking of them and feel free to change your gift list recipients next year. This brings me to my next tip.
6. Rethink your gifting; give gifts that give back.
If you have an unappreciative gift recipient or someone who bad mouths your gift, either remove them from your gift list next year or choose an option that gives back. Is there a cause you get excited about? Is there a specific agency that will match your purchase for a donation to it? This year, I was excited to find out that a local jewelry store was offering a special promotion on a pair of earrings. They matched the purchase price of that specific pair with an equivalent donation to the local food pantry. Even if my gift recipient finds some fault in them, I'll feel good about my purchase because it provided a portion of meals to the local food pantry. My brother-in-law had another idea; instead of giving gifts to his family members, he gives gifts to nursing home residents in his family members' names. There are plenty of options out there beyond just traditional gifting methods and it doesn't take a lengthy amount of work to find them. You don’t have to save this gifting method solely for the picky gift recipients on your list, others may get just as excited as you that you were able to support a cause you or they care about. Let the season of true giving reign, and give back to those who need it.
7. Stay insulated; not isolated.
If possible, surround yourself with people you want to spend time around. If someone is a positive influence in your life, take special care of that person. Recognize and appreciate the supports that you do have. Make it a point to have them over or visit them if you can. Sometimes a phone call or a simple greeting card with a heartfelt message can make all the difference. The stress of the holidays can make many of us isolationists. Sometimes we focus more on the chaos and strife that is caused or those that cause it, and we can forget to reflect on our most meaningful and significant people. Maybe your extended family drives you insane, but maybe your friends somehow make up for it. Maybe you have a local community or religious organization that truly lifts your spirits. Whatever you do, take time to reflect and focus on true positivity during this time. Focus on whom and what bring peace to your heart and soul, and you'll feel a lot more loved and insulated from whatever storm external life may brew.
8. You don't have to know someone to care about them.
While you're taking time to reflect on the individuals in your life who care about you, turn the statement around. One of the revelations I had this year after being new to a previously well-established group is that you don't have to truly know someone to care about them. I've received cards from people I've spoken with only a few times, and I find myself somehow wanting to talk with them more. I'm a typical socially awkward introvert. I joke that I have negative charisma points, yet I've found people who love and accept me for who I am. In turn, I've found it in my heart to care for others that I barely know or haven't even met. I'm sending out cards and heartfelt letters to such individuals. I'm showing up to places I would have otherwise never gone. It's a shocking revelation. Has it ever actually cost us to care about others? Sure, sometimes it costs us time and sometimes it costs us money, but when we truly take the time to consider and love one another purely as human beings don't our souls feel better? Caring about fellow humans and taking time away from ourselves is somehow its own reward.
This holiday season, keep what matters in mind. Extending love, care, patience, and understanding to others is one way to start, not just throughout the holiday season, but the whole year round. We all have hope and happiness open and available to us; we only need to reach out and grasp it. The power of mindset and gentleness of heart and spirit will only yield brighter things. So, to all who are present, to all who are struggling, and to all who are striving for better, I wish you a happy, healthful, and hopeful holiday season both now and in the years to come! May blessings, good tidings, peace, and joy abound in your lives and in the lives of all you touch. Happy holidays!