Dr. Romance on How to Have Happier Holidays

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Dr. Romance writes:
 
No matter what you observe (Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Solstice or Christmas), this is a celebratory time of year. For some it’s a joy, but for others it’s a nightmare and pressure to spend too much, eat too much, and socialize in ways you don’t like. If your holiday expectations are out of line with what you can really accomplish, you’ll be stressed.
 
Holidays can be the best of times and the worst of times. Holiday rituals, thoughtfully done, can be a source of bonding and strength.  
 
De-Stress the Holiday
 
To de-stress the holidays, get intentional about them. Happier holidays require three things: 1) lighten up on expectations, 2) ask for help, and 3) understand what other people are thinking. 
 
To lighten up expectations, understand that this is your real life, not a picture-book experience. Family or friends may squabble, food may not turn out perfect, and gifts may not go over as well as people hope. A sense of humor will help lighten up the whole thing. Think of yourself as a holiday trouble- shooter, rather than a designer of perfect scenarios. Find out what’s really important to yourself, your guests and your family, and pare your celebration down to the important things. Focus less on spending money or decorating, and more on spending time with those you love.
 
Ask for help by getting other people engaged in the happenings, and sharing the work. You’ll find that a lot of camaraderie comes out of working together, and a lot of the holiday fun will happen behind the scenes as you work with others to get ready. Your family and friends will feel more a part of the celebration if they actually create part of it.
 
Understand what people are thinking by talking of events in advance with your spouse, your children, or other members of your family and friends. Ask them what they like most, and least, and what they hope will happen. If you know the “hidden agendas,” you’ll be less surprised when they show up. 
 
How to Let Go of Small Problems
No matter how well you plan, little things can go wrong. Don’t let them spoil the whole day. Just let them go, using the following steps: 
 

  1. Perspective: Put it in perspective—will it be important an hour from now—fifteen minutes from now? Most little things won’t be.
  2. Self-understanding: If someone or something upsets you, don’t exacerbate the problem by getting on your own case for reacting. It’s normal to have emotional reactions, but you don’t have to let them show or act on them. 
  3. Rise above: If someone upset you or was rude, give a little prayer of thanks that it wasn’t worse, say a blessing for your friend (who probably needs it) and you’ll feel better.
  4. Benefit of the doubt:  If someone hurt your feelings, acknowledge that your feelings are hurt, and consider that the other person is probably just clumsy, not intentionally hurtful. The world is full of emotional klutzes who don’t realize the impact of their words and actions, and they create more problems for themselves than for you. 
  5. Consider the source:  A relative or neighbor who is truly nasty may repeatedly hurt your feelings. Consider what must be going on inside that person’s head, and be grateful that you’re not hearing that. Even the meanest people are far nastier to themselves than they are to others. That person is trying to relieve his or her pain by inflicting some on you.
  6. Give an Adult time out:  If someone repeatedly hurts abuses, or disrespects you, the best way to handle it is with an adult time out. 


 
Adult Time Out
If someone behaves badly in your presence, giving that adult a “time out” is a powerful and subtle way of fixing the problem. Simply become very distant and polite around the person who is not treating you well. No personal talk and interaction, no joking, no emotion. Be very polite, so no one can accuse you of being unpleasant, mean or rude.
 
There is no need to explain what you are doing: the problem person will get the message from your behavior—which is much more effective. If you’ve never tried this, you’ll be amazed at how effective becoming polite and pleasant but distant can be. The other person’s behavior will immediately become more subdued and even more thoughtful around you.
 
Eventually, that person may ask you what’s wrong, or why you’ve changed, and at that point (and only at that point) you have an opportunity to tell him/her what the problem behavior is, and why you don’t like it. Learning to put obnoxious people in time out right at the beginning of unpleasant behavior can make it unnecessary to use tougher tactics at all. And if the person’s behavior doesn’t change, you can leave him or her in “time out” and you’ll be protected from the unpleasantness.
 
7. Detach from difficult family: Learn to treat difficult family members the way you’d treat a member of someone else’s family—with whom you’d not react to obnoxious things, but just politely ignore what they’re doing or saying, and maintain a pleasant demeanor.
 
Add Meaning
Once you’ve made your holiday easier and less stressful, you have room to add more meaning. 
 
Encourage family members to talk about what’s meaningful to them, or their favorite holiday memories. If your holiday is Christmas, for example, invite each person at your celebration to choose or bring favorite ornament for the tree, and ask them to tell why it’s meaningful to them. Spend a moment after Christmas dinner asking most senior family member present to share his or her memories of Christmas past. Gather around the tree and read a favorite inspiring story, or read a few pages of a longer work, like Dickens a Christmas Carol, or O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi aloud every night leading up to Christmas. 
 
Whatever you are celebrating this time of year, I wish you a season full of love and warmth. 
 
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