Does it seem like the holiday season begins earlier and earlier each year? I'm one of those people who can't wait for an excuse to put out some pumpkins and welcome fall, even if it is still 85 degrees outside. I am ready!
But more often than not, the season that I look forward to all year long seems to be done in a flash, and I feel like I've been so busy making it happen that I missed the whole thing. I hear the same sentiments from my clients, along with things like, "I just want to survive the holidays."
Them's fightin' words for me - life is too short to settle for surviving. No ma'am. We are here to experience life, not just get through it.
I could cite dozens of studies that have reported the rising numbers of Americans who are hanging on by a thread, trying to keep the plates of life spinning in a world that seems to get more and more demanding.
People who feel like they don't have a choice, because they need to pay the bills.
People who feel stuck, hopeless, and resigned to just, well, surviving.
Life is too short for me to stand by and let other people settle, either.
I can't actually solve everything, but I can help people organize their lives, so I started asking my clients about how they want to experience 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 experience the holidays. After the cooking, shopping, and family visits are done, what makes a happy holiday season for them? 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. For example, if your dream is of a snowy winter wonderland, you better have the budget and vacation time for travel to a place that manufactures snow on command. 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.
Okay, are you ready? Here we go.
Let’s flip the calendar a couple of pages to January 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 the eyes of children, and indulged enough to feel fancy while still fitting into my jeans in January. If those things have happened by December 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 my morning workouts are like my own personal reset button. 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 okay, because that’s not what I needed for a happy holiday.
So, how do you want to experience the last three months of the year? I created a Happy Healthy Holidays Guide to help you work it out - and keep track of your progress. Download it here.
And remember: keep it specific, realistic, and intrinsic, and maybe even Santa will ask for your secret.