Well, here we are again. When I turned on my radio last week and heard Christmas music playing, I knew that ready or not, it was the holidays.
So, I started asking my clients about how they want to spend the last six weeks of the year. Their answers were pretty standard: cooking, traveling, spending time with family, shopping, etc. It was clear they had not understood my question, so I needed to clarify what I meant.
I didn’t want to know how they expected to spend the holidays. I was curious about how they wanted to spend the holidays. What are their ingredients for a happy holiday season? How will they know that the time was well-spent? What experience do they want to have, and what do they need to do to create it?
It’s been said that the best way to predict the future is to create it, and that’s something you can do any time of year. We don’t get to choose every circumstance of our lives, but we have more control over circumstances than we may think. So today I ask you: how do you know if you are having a happy holiday?
There are a few rules for this exercise. First, you must be specific about what brings you joy during this time of year. The more detail you can put into imagining the scents, flavors, and images of the holidays, the easier it will be to find them.
Second, you must be somewhat realistic. After all, this is Florida, so if your dream is of a snowy winter wonderland, you better have the budget and vacation time for travel. You can’t bring people back from the dead, and you have to exist in this dimension. But, other than the laws of physics and constraints of your resources, have at it.
And third, it must be self-generated. That is, nothing in your perfect holiday scene can be dependent on someone else doing something. Waiting for other people to do things in order for you to be happy is just a recipe for heartache and resentment.
OK, are you ready? Here we go.
Let’s flip the calendar a couple of pages to Jan. 1. Imagine sitting on that day in your favorite place, with a wonderful feeling of contentment wrapped around you like a blanket. Life is just peachy. Gosh, that was a wonderful holiday. Now imagine someone comes to sit next to you and they ask, “how was your holiday?” And you say, “it was just wonderful,” and then begin to paint the scene. What, specifically, made it so wonderful?
When I think about this question, my mind reminisces about hearing jingle bells on the doorknobs of the house, making treasured family recipes to share with others, decorating my home like we live in the Biltmore, and smelling cinnamon, orange, and clove simmering on the stove. I like to have clinked glasses with friends and family, witnessed the magic of the season through childrens’ eyes, and indulged enough to feel fancy while still fitting into my jeans in January.
If those things have happened by Dec. 31, I feel good.
Now, there are other things that make the holidays nice, too. Children being polite and gracious to their elders, no one getting sick, family members not discussing politics, no car trouble on the way to Grandma’s, good weather, my husband buying the correct gift for me, my kids eating the fancy food I have made, the music at church being exactly the kind I like, the lines at the stores not being too long, and seeing the correct reactions to all of the gifts that I have purchased for others, to name a few. But we’ve already discussed that.
Now let’s zoom back in the calendar to the present day. You’ve just painted that picture of the events of the coming weeks that led to that feeling of contentment. Now it is time to make it happen. What do you need to do to ensure that the elements that made you feel so happy can actually take place? You’ve identified your priorities, so now schedule them.
For me, staying active is key, because I like to indulge a little without gaining weight. That means I need to stick to my exercise routine and maybe even bump it up a little to account for extra nibbles. I may even take a day off during the week when I can bake, listen to carols, make my simmer pot, and decorate my house.
When visiting my family, I enjoy sliding to the background to observe everyone as they interact together, watching the kids play with snow globes when they think the grown-ups aren’t watching.
Then, when we get the flat tire, or my kids dash off without saying thank you, and no one eats the meal I have made, it’s OK, because that’s not what I needed for a happy holiday.
What future will you create this year? You can craft it yourself, set the stage, and enjoy the show. Keep it specific, realistic, and intrinsic, and maybe even Santa will ask for your secret.
As a child of the 1980s, I spent a lot of time on my bike. I lived in a medium-sized town and didn’t think twice about getting on my bicycle and setting off for some exploring, my parents none the wiser as to my whereabouts. I never went too far and came home before the street lights came on, and everything turned out fine.
While riding along one of the main roads in town, I would from time to time see random mailboxes interspersed between businesses, nestled into the trees that lined the sidewalk. A long, narrow driveway would follow, and I would strain my eyes to look through the trees and see what was back there. A house, no doubt.
I imagined there were mansions owned by eccentric, wealthy people, and wanted to ride down the driveway to see. But I didn’t trust that I could pedal fast enough to outrun whatever lay at the end. So I just peered as far as I could, and then got back on my bicycle seat, pushed off, and kept pedaling.
When I visit now, I go running on that road. And yes, when I run past those driveways I still crane my neck to see what’s back there. Now I assume they are probably old houses that have been added on to over the decades so they ramble and stretch across a little patch of land that feels like it is miles away from civilization even though it is just a football field’s distance from a highway. Sometimes I think that when I get home I will look it up on Google Earth and see, but then I forget.
I thought about those trees last week when I was out running with my friends and commented that soon the trees in the neighborhoods would lose their dead leaves and we would be able to see more wildlife walking around in the greenspaces. At least I hoped we would. When I said it, I remembered straddling my bike as a kid, catching my breath as sweat ran down my forehead, wondering what was behind those trees.
And then I smiled to myself because I had thought of something I wanted to ask you.
I decided that I wanted to ask you if you ever notice times in your life when you can see something more clearly after something else has fallen away. Like how when dead leaves fall from trees and we can more easily see what had been concealed, perhaps we need things to die in our lives so we can see and focus on something else.
I wonder if the things that keep us from connecting with ourselves on an authentic level are like leaves on the trees of our lives. Imagine the doubts, negative thoughts, excuses, uncertainties, and wounds from past failures — all of the layers we put on ourselves for protection from vulnerability — being like leaves that hide the bare branches and trunk that we would be without them.
Imagine what would happen if they fell off.
What could you see if you let the leaves of doubt fall? What could you see if you let the leaves of negative self-talk fall? What could you see if you let the leaves of excuses fall?
You would see the most permanent part of you - your core; your trunk. Like leaves on a tree, the doubts, negative thoughts, excuses, uncertainties, and past wounds of our lives are temporary, here for a season and then ready to fall away so we can start anew.
As we approach the end of the year, I invite you to notice if there are leaves that you need to shed. Perhaps you have old habits that don’t serve a purpose anymore. Maybe you have a familiar litany of reasons why you can’t take the next step. Let those leaves fall. When you don’t want to, remind yourself: it's just for a season.
Because we all know that they’ll be back. In the spring, green shoots will emerge and become new leaves that will be shed in their own time. And between now and then will be a time for you to just be your trunk. The dead weight will have been shed and you can just be...you.
I hope that this year you let the leaves fall, and with the curiosity of a child, peer through the branches to see who you are back there. I’ll bet that someone in your life has been wondering for a long time.