I’ve seen it. I’m sure you have as well. Santa Claus and the reindeer are already atop a gift boutique. Big box stores have their Christmas decorations out. Suddenly, Black Friday – where you can find the “best” buys online as well as in the stores – is happening NOW.
Now? Halloween hasn’t quite happened.
It’s as if we can’t possibly wait – so we’re pushed and prodded into thinking about the holidays. What you need to buy. What you need to plan.
After a post of mine appeared on HuffPost several years ago, describing how much of the “expected” holiday pressure wasn’t going to happen at my house, I received all kinds of negative comments, most saying something akin to, “I’m glad I’m not in your family.”
Woah.. lots of harsh criticism there. As if I was being selfish, uncaring, even lazy.
What had I said? I wouldn’t be baking holiday cookies (I can’t bake to save my soul). I wasn’t going to have generic gifts tucked away to give to someone who was kind enough to bring something by for us. (The gift would have no meaning other than to help me through what might be an awkward moment – and I’d rather invite them over for a glass of wine and a real visit.) I’d do what I enjoyed doing (and I happen to be a lover of the popcorn/cranberry strands on the tree.) But exhausting myself in the process? Having a a “must” list a mile long? Nope.
Frankly I got a little mad. Why did I get labeled so harshly?
But I can hear this battle in others’ conversation. Things must be perfect. Not well. Not fun. Not heart-warming.
Perfect. And you can get stuck there – and play this year’s holiday season with the same battle plan you did last.
Destroying the battle plan …
Whatever you did last year, you must outdo. Whatever expectations you traditionally meet, all of them must be met again. If someone asks you at the last minute to help out with the school party, you don’t hesitate. You’re there. In the shower, you shudder at the thought of the next task that must be achieved superbly after the holidays are done. The next birthday. The next job review. The next vacation. It goes on and on.
There’s also comfort; maybe an undeniable solace, and even pride, that your life and that of your family seems full. You like being a giver, someone who looks out for others, and is capable of providing for them. And you do look out for them well.
But it’s the intense pressure you feel that – minute by minute – erodes any chance of letting down. Relaxing. You may not even know what to do when there’s “nothing” to do – and if I’m truthful, I still struggle with that.
So what’s the answer? How do you choose spontaneity over pressure and perfection?
You get a little mad. And you choose joy (as uncomfortable as it may seem at first…).
You destroy that old battle plan.
Discovering joy …
Because there’s something missing.
The tremendous effort, the worry that things won’t get done, the need for everything to be perfect, ultimately drowns out joy. Because joy is spontaneous. It comes from deep within and spills into the present, in a wild torrent or a warm glow. It can’t be planned or even always predicted.
Joy gives life to a moment in time.
If you’re erecting a daily facade of what you believe looks perfect, you won’t know joy because you don’t know how to be purely in the moment.
You’re always playing a role, instead of being who you are. You’ll be “the hostess,” the “son-in-law,” “Andrea’s mom,” or “Jeff’s boss.” Instead of being yourself and allowing whatever happens to happen, you’ll try to intentionally craft your persona and “joy” will only arrive as some muted version of itself, as you watch yourself play out your duties.
And that’s what the holidays – and life itself – can become. One duty after another duty after another duty.
But you can stop. You can get a little mad. You can decide you’re important – not the be all, end all.
You can breathe in the moment. You can decide to be present. You can realize that your value is not all about what you perform or accomplish.
You can trust that whatever you do — wherever you put the Christmas ornaments, whatever time you serve lunch, however you decorate the house, all of it will be imperfectly perfect.
You can stop being who you think you’re supposed to be, or what role you’re playing, and be who you are.
Joy is waiting for you.
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Originally published December 23, 2016; updated and republished on November 6, 2021.