Five Steps to Make the Holidays Better (this time!)

Thursday, December 13th, 2012, Written by jackrosenberger

So the season of winter holidays is upon us. One can usually tell by the bulk of TV ads showing cars with giant bows on top and men gifting the special woman in their life with impossibly wonderful jewelry.

The net result of this kind of advertising leaves people feeling like an utter failure if they are not giving gifts on this order of magnitude. And this is just one small example of how the commercialization of gift giving can negatively affect the “holiday spirit.”

Imagine—if you will—that you are a creature from another planet. If you were observing Western nations attempting to “do” the winter holidays… what would you see?

I imagine you would see masses of people throwing themselves into a whirl of “time honored” rituals involving food, gift gifting and spending time with family and friends. With all this energy focused on such extravagant gatherings—they are sure to be successful, right?

Instead, I think you would observe huge numbers of people extending themselves past their capacities. And when all is said and done, thankful—not for the opportunity they just had—but rather, that the whole ordeal is over.

When we look at it from this perspective, the holidays appear to be a burden we cannot wait to have lifted from us. More than that, they seem to do damage to the very relationships we claim to cherish. One has to wonder about the number of people who are disinherited, shed tears or even get divorced following the disappointing reality of the holidays, which did not living up to their expectations.

Five Ways to Better the Holidays

Despite the current unrest over the holidays, we believe there are ways to avoid disappointment this December. Thus, Rosenberger’s Five Ways to Better the Holidays. These suggestions may not be a guarantee, but I can promise they will improve your holiday experience from years previous! And if they do not give perfect results, do not call out the lawyers!

1. Adjust Your Expectations. This is perhaps the most important. Most of us will not give (or receive) a car with a bow, a huge diamond, or a proposal of marriage. First, let’s get down to the principles. What are the holidays? They are the commemoration of events past that give essential shape to our religious views of the world. Nothing more, and nothing less. If we focus on the tradition and not on the customs, then perhaps we will have a more realistic view of what to expect from the holidays.

To focus our efforts, it might be a good idea to set aside a slice of time to think about what can we expect from our families? What can we expect in terms of gifts? What can we expect in terms of our own attempts to remake A Christmas Carol? If we go into the holidays knowing, for example, that certain relatives are going to be just as annoying as they always are, then perhaps when he/she is acting predictably, we can find it within ourselves not to get discouraged, and perhaps even find it amusing. They are who they are!

2. Downsize the Demands. There is only so much time. We live busy lives. Sometimes even overwhelmed ones. Then come the holidays with their own set of demands. Perhaps we need to sit ourselves down and ask what we can reasonably expect of ourselves and others in our attempt to clean, cook, buy, wrap, etc., etc., etc.

If we want, we can pile on the requirements of the holidays so that we end up resenting their arrival. Or, if we scale back, perhaps we can actually enjoy what we are reasonably able to do, and find that those efforts are enough.

3. Stick to a Budget. There is only so much money. Some people attempt to make up for what shortcomings exist in relationships or in other areas of their lives by spending excessive amounts of money to make things “extra special.”  What that usually leaves us with is maxed-out credit cards and feelings of frustration that our “above and beyond” efforts did not lead to the results we wanted. In this case, the holidays can be an especially sad time. No amount of money can make up for what we do or do not have. It might actually profit us more to place the holidays on a budget, to own up to what we can and cannot do and to live within those constraints. Not only might it force us to dig into the holidays for what they can actually give us, this path of thinking will minimize any regret we could have in 2013!

4. Know Your Limits. This involves everything. Even people who live greatly disciplined lives, allow that very self-control to disappear during the holidays and then wonder why they feel “off.”  Whatever disciplines you have set up for yourself, be sure to maintain them during the holidays. If you go to the gym, continue going to the gym. If you drink alcohol sparingly, then continue to do so. Also, know your balance between work and trying to please all the people you’re trying to please. If the key to any kind of deep kind of happiness is balance, try to maintain it during December. At the very least, you will serve as an inspiration to others who are looking for an excuse to get off the “let’s make the holidays bigger at any cost” roller coaster.

5. Incorporate the Ideals of the Season into Your Life. Finally—even if you are the most secular of souls—it would not be a bad thing to allow yourself time to reflect on what this season means to you or what you would like it to mean to you and those around you. I am not suggesting you have to suddenly become a practitioner of a faith or religion that does not mean anything to you. This would hardly help anyone.

But, perhaps it would be helpful to spend a bit of time in meditation or contemplation (however rationally based) on what the ideals of this season are, and how we can incorporate those into our lives. Wherever they might have originated might be irrelevant if the ideals are not lived out even by those who claim to believe in the miracle stories literally. What might be most important is taking one ideal of this season and making it somehow more real in your life, just for its own sake and because it will feel good. I will not argue whether this will compete with a car topped with a big red bow. But, it will beat staggering through the holidays, wondering why you’re putting yourself through this.

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