Practices From the Inside Out: Are Our Holidays Happy?

Practices From the Inside Out: Are Our Holidays Happy? November 24, 2018

Are Our Holidays Happy?

Happy Holidays! How often have we already heard someone wish us happy holidays, and how often will we during the next month? Will it make our holidays happy?

I talk with quite a few people whose holidays are not especially happy. People tell me this time of year makes them feel stressed, sad, and depressed.

They feel pressure to do the shopping they do not enjoy. There seems to be a general expectation we will make our holidays “perfect.” We expect ourselves to buy the perfect gifts for the people in our lives. Our own expectations are heavily reinforced by global advertising campaigns.

Some of us find ways to resist the pressure of advertising to spend money and purchase things. We still seem to experience the weight of our own expectations.

For some of us the pressure of our holidays is about having the right experiences. There are people who expect themselves to decorate in more elaborate ways each year. We might expect ourselves to be the life of every holiday party. Some of us want to take the perfect trip to get away and avoid the pressure of the holidays. There may be holiday traditions we feel we must continue. We may expect ourselves to recapture some level of holiday magic each year.

The pressures we feel may be exacerbated by the holidays. As we draw closer to the end of the year there are goals we want to accomplish. Holidays make it harder for us to finish what we want to do.

We may miss people no longer with us who we wish were still here. Holidays can be times of loneliness or regret for us. It is a challenge to see so many images of people together when we feel alone.

What Could Make Our Holidays Happy?

There are things we do, ways we behave, which drain the happiness from our holidays. I do not believe there is anything inherently unhappy about the days themselves.

Some of the pressures of our holidays are difficult to avoid. The apparently constant demands for us to spend more and more money do not help. The ideas of “Black Friday” and Cyber Monday” have become almost new holidays themselves. Our news media and our social media emphasize our commercial lives relentlessly without restraint.

One way I try to make my holidays happy, or at least happier, is finding a healthy balance. We cannot escape all this talk about the financial aspects of the holidays. I find it helpful to make sure I consider the other aspects of my life as well.

An aspect of life which, ironically, often gets ignored at this time of year is spiritual life. There just seem to be so many things we want to accomplish and we feel so much stress. It is easy for us to forget or neglect our spiritual practices.

It is important for me to balance the pressure of all the expectations with practices which help me find a center. I need to take time to listen to sacred stillness and to reflect so I can let go of all the pressure and stress. It seems to grow in importance as holiday pressures try to squeeze it out.

The holidays are not inherently unhappy. Our expectations push us and we feel pressured and stressed. We need to find practical steps we can take to make our holidays happy and protect that happiness.

One thing I find is the less attention I pay to the expectations within me helps me find balance.

How Can We Make Our Holidays Happy Experiences?

One of the first steps for me toward making my holidays happy is understanding what they are about.

Many of us live in a time when holidays have become more generic. Holidays are days when stores or online services offer special deals or days when we do not work. The specific meanings of each holiday, the reasons it is a holiday, are almost lost. More and more of our holidays become defined by their commercial aspects.

When we lose sight of the reasons behind a particular holiday its traditions become pointless.

I need to spend time reading and reflecting about holidays each year. Sometimes I discover aspects of a holiday I did not know before which change how I celebrate them. There are times when my holiday exploration introduces me to new holidays and festivals I never know existed.

A contemplative approach to holidays helps me appreciate the reasons they are holidays. Spiritual life often shows me something from another tradition which helps me celebrate a holiday in a new way.

As we come into closer touch with the meaning behind our holidays we celebrate in ways which make holidays happy. It is the meaning, the reasons underneath each holiday we are actually celebrating.

When Are Our Holidays Happy?

I believe we make our holidays happy when we understand why we are celebrating and put our insights into practice.

Our happiness grows from putting our understanding into practice, from acting consistently with our beliefs. Each holiday is a holiday to reflect certain reasons and our celebration is based in those reasons.

I also believe we do not need to allow our calendars to tell us which days are holidays and which are not. It is important for us to celebrate days even when no government or calendar company tells us to celebrate.

Our holidays are not limited to days when stores or online services offer deals or days when we do not work. Any day can be a holiday for us.

We may choose to treat each day as a holiday and find ways to make all our holidays happy.

It is possible to make our everyday holidays happy when we understand the significance of each one. We put our insights into practice and celebrate each day we experience for its own sake.

When will we make our holidays happy this week?

How can we find new ways to make our holidays happy today?

[Image by johnjones]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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