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 few weeks? What makes our holidays happy?
I talk with people whose holidays are not particularly happy. People tell me this time of year makes them feel stressed, sad, and depressed.
They feel pressure to do shopping they do not enjoy. There seems to be a general expectation to 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 magic each year.
The pressures we feel may be exacerbated by our experiences. As we draw closer to the end of the year there are goals we want to accomplish. It may be more challenging each year for us to accomplish what we want to do.
We may miss people no longer with us who we wish were still here. These weeks 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 Can Make Our Holidays Happier?
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 these pressures 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 almost become new holidays themselves. Our news media and our social media relentlessly emphasize our commercial lives 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 focus on 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 other 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 them happy and protect that happiness.
One thing I find is paying less attention to the expectations within me helps me find balance.
Taking a Holiday From the Holidays
One of the first steps for me toward making my holidays happy is remembering what they are all about.
We live in a time when holidays have become almost generic. Holidays are days when stores and websites 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. All our holidays become defined by their commercial aspects.
When we lose sight of the reasons behind each particular holiday its traditions become pointless.
These days are not significant because they are excuses for people to sell things to us.
I need to spend more time reading and reflecting each year. Sometimes I discover aspects of a holiday I did not know before which change how I celebrate it. There are times when my holiday exploration introduces me to new festivals I never know existed.
A contemplative approach to holidays helps me appreciate the reasons we have them. 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 them 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, and ourselves, happier when we recognize 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 an opportunity to reflect certain beliefs and our celebration is based in those beliefs.
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 websites 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.
How will we make our holidays happy this week?
Where can we find new ways to make our holidays happy today?
[Image by alliecreative]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.