3 Inspired Tips for a Happier Holiday
Debra L. Bruce, JD, PCC.
This is a time when we come together with people we love, hoping to share smiles, laughter and warm feelings. Yet despite our best intentions, sometimes things go awry. Maybe we have so many preparations to complete that we get stressed and irritable. Maybe we want all the food, decorations and our clothes to be just right and beautiful, and we get a little rigid or persnickety when someone else has a different vision of what that would look like. Maybe someone does that thing they always do that annoys us so much. This year we can choose to react differently, opening the way to different results.
It is Christmas Eve morning and I woke from a dream of 5 guidelines for enjoying family time during the holidays. Unfortunately I only heard 3 before I woke up, but if I remember to follow these 3, I think that will be enough. I share the strategies with you, along with my interpretations, in hopes that these reminders will help you have the holiday you intend.
1. Don’t complain or criticize. Just don’t.
Complaint and criticism sets others on edge and makes them defensive. If they are the target of our complaint, they may respond in kind, and soon it turns from a happy holiday to a prickly holiday. Something may fray my nerves if I have to endure it every day for the rest of my life, but I can tolerate it for just a day or two, especially if I remember that I’m setting the atmosphere for a joyous and loving occasion. If I must speak up about something, I can turn my complaint into a request. “Why do I have to do all the work while you just sit on the couch?” turns into “I could use some help. Would you be willing to start the fire in the fireplace and put these glasses on the table?” Of course, tone of voice can turn a friendly request into a needling indictment, so watch out for that.
When we complain about the crowds, the traffic, our job, the government, a political commentator or an absent family member, the mere act of complaining sets our mind on a negative trajectory. It affects our perception. Soon we won’t notice the pretty packages or the tantalizing aromas of the delicious meal to come. We notice more and more of what we don’t like. So we can do ourselves and everyone else a favor, and set it aside for now. Let it be.
2. How important is it?
I want Christmas music and someone else wants rock & roll. The meal is delayed because Aunt Betsy is late again. An energetic child sideswipes a favorite crystal candy dish, showering the floor with Grandma’s special fudge and shards of glass. I want to have dessert and conversation in the living room by the fire, but half the group has already plopped down in front of the TV with a blaring football game on. Someone makes a snarky remark about my Christmas outfit. I can reset my rising inner thermometer by asking myself the question: How important is it? In the larger scheme of things, does this really matter? Will it still be important to me 10 days or 10 months from now? Is it really worth disturbing the peace over? Let it be.
3. What do I really want?
Someone starts up with a well-worn line of questions designed to embarrass me, get me to alter my life course, or change my political views. A teenager rolls her eyes and says “Whatever,” for the fourth time in an hour. Cousin Frank downs his third glass of Christmas cheer before lunch, chilling me with memories of past holiday fiascos. If #2 doesn’t stop my blood from simmering, this question can help me keep from making things worse. What I really want is to enjoy a little closeness with family and friends. What I really want is for them to have a good time. What I really want is for them to know that I love them. What I really want is to feel loved and appreciated. Are my actions setting the stage for what I really want? Am I communicating the messages that I really want them to take away from me? Am I trying to show my love, or am I trying to win? I may not be able to control what comes my way, but I can choose how I react to it. I can choose how I interpret it. I can choose not to go into lawyer mode about it. I can choose to respond with love and tolerance. Just for today, I can let it be.
Perhaps it is no accident that on this day I keep hearing the Beatles lyrics:
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be, let it be
Whatever your holiday tradition, I wish you peace, joy and whatever matters most to you.