Long ago, on Sundays and holidays, there was a general sense of quiet and calm on the streets. Businesses were closed, and people took the time to relax and be together. Children played, teenagers cavorted, adults talked. Traffic was non-existent to light. People shared relatively simple weekend and holiday meals.
Now, we are given the message that there is a right way to do our lives and especially the holidays. We are encouraged to buy more. Even relaxation and stress reduction techniques are for sale. To help feed into a “consumption makes happiness” mindset, most stores are open 7-days a week and even on holidays. This creates a frenzy, as we try to do the right thing for ourselves and the ones we love. And for some who try to keep up with the images of the “perfect” holiday, the holidays can become “holler days” that are filled with stress.
If you are finding that this holiday season is stressful, I would like to offer you a few questions and anecdotes. Their message can be distilled down to, “What is more important? Is it more important to have an outwardly “perfect” holiday? One that is “right” according to somebody else’s standards? Or, is it better to have laughter, fun and sweet and respectful exchanges of love with friends and family?”
I bet you would choose the latter, so that you can look back and reminisce over happy memories.
The great news is that you don’t have to use up a lot of energy and resources to create a holiday of happy memories. All you need to do is create the intention to connect with those you love and offer your presence.
Years ago, I remember watching a “home town” production of the nutcracker a day after watching a professional nutcracker production. The professional one was quite a feat of human abilities. It was fantastic. Perfect in many ways. Yet, I have fonder and warmer memories of the hometown production. There was something very endearing about watching the dancers do their best, without holding themselves to expectations of perfection. I still fondly conjure images of the contagious smiles of the dancers and the guffaws of the audience during the off script performance moments. My guess is that you have similarly fond memories, as you think back to times you spent with relaxed people who didn’t hold themselves to goals of performance perfection.
The holidays can be for you what the hometown nutcracker production was for me – the fuel for fond memories.
If you, like many people that I am hearing from, are feeling stressed by shopping for gifts and feeling guilty for not buying enough, ask yourself, “Am I getting stressed out or feeling joyful as I scurry around to purchase ALL these gifts?” And, “Will the people I give the gifts to appreciate and remember them more than they would appreciate having a calm and happy version of me?”
When I watch people get stressed and feel guilty in relationship to gift buying, I remember my niece, very much loved and cherished as the first child in her generation. When she was three, after her piles of holiday gifts were unwrapped, she began to play with the boxes and wrapping paper instead of her toys. For me, it was a poignant testament to the grace and joy that comes with simple and less. You can apply the principle of simple to all aspects of the holidays. You can keep the activities you engage in, the meals you prepare, and the events that you host simple and fun.
You have a choice. If you are buying into stressful expectations for the holidays, ask yourself, “What is more important? to share happy memories or a supposedly “perfect” holiday according to some culturally or advertised norm?”
As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I wish for you to feel lovingly connected to your friends and family this holiday season.
Jessica Dancingheart is a personal and organizational consultant. Find out more at openingtopossibilities.com.