Brighter Holidays-Turning Expectations into Acceptance
The holidays are upon
us! (Well, the holidays are almost always
“upon us” as we celebrate something nearly every month of the year.) But the HOLIDAYS, the WINTER HOLIDAYS, the
SUPER-FAMILY-GATHERING, FOOD AND PRESENTS HOLIDAYS are almost here. When they initially announced their approach,
we likely experienced the happy, almost “jingly” feelings of excitement, cheer
and anticipation. However, as these
holidays truly arrive, our positive emotions are sometimes stolen by the “Affect
Grinches” of anxiety, sadness and tension.
Why is this? How can festivities and revelry leave us
stressed out and sad? The answer is
captured in two words: Wishes and Expectations. We wish for family gatherings filled with peace and harmony, during
which everyone is polite, loving, and 100% supportive of everything everyone
says and does now, and has said and done historically. We wish for dinners as delicious and perfect
as those we see on TV. We wish for easy
travel, with no kids fighting, no traffic snarls, and definitely no breakdowns.
We wish. We wish. We wish. And these wishes then become expectations and “musts.” So when we arrive an hour late (after a
four-hour drive) at the house of a not-often-seen relative, in a car filled
with crying children and smashed pumpkin pies, and find that this relative is
still the “challenging” person he or she always has been, our expectations are cruelly
unmet. Negative emotions are now taking
off with the happy holiday. So does this
mean we should not have wishes for the season? Can we hold on to our hopes without making them expectations? Can we
avoid experiencing “holiday let downs?” The answer is “Yes,” if we embrace a singular powerful mindset: Acceptance.
discussed in counseling literature, is not “approval” of a difficult situation. And it is not putting our heads down, or
“rolling over” in submission. Instead, it
is finding inner strength and understanding that sometimes life’s events and
others’ actions are not what we hope for, and may not change. Acceptance is knowing that we have the right,
the power, and the ability go on and enjoy ourselves, even if moments of “uh
oh,” arrive. We can function fully and
appreciate what is positive, here and now.
So how can we grab
holiday acceptance and hug it tightly? First, let’s identify what our wishes are for the season. Write them down. Type them in the “notes” app on our smart
phones. Rank them on “importance.” And then think more about them. Why are these wishes so meaningful? How could the holidays be happy even if some
of these wishes didn’t come true? Through
this processing exercise, we will understand our hopes more fully and possibly
distance them a bit from our core selves, making acceptance more possible if
they are not fulfilled.
Next, we can guide
ourselves to a calmer center and place of acceptance through meditation. “Meditation?” Yes, meditation. This does not
require bringing a yoga mat to the family holiday party and assuming the lotus
position in a candle-lit room for an hour-long session of ancient
chanting. It can be as simple as finding
a short (even five-minute) guided meditation at the start of the holiday
season, and moving to a quiet spot a couple of times each day (perhaps even a
walk outdoors) to shift our focus back to a peaceful place within. Once there, we can let the holidays flow
around us and just exist with all the season brings.
And finally, we
can allow ourselves a sense of humor and creativity about past holiday wishes
vs. realities. We can create games,
write silly rhyming poems, sing songs about holiday hopes and what might happen
instead. This (like identifying and
prioritizing wishes) can give us some distance, a different perspective, and
heck, a good time too.
So with the WINTER
HOLIDAYS upon us, know that we can have long lists of wishes, but that these do
not need to become expectations or “musts.” If the holidays happen differently than we
hope, we can still truly enjoy the season. We just need a mindset of acceptance.
Chris Corrigan Mendez, M.Ed., LPC, NCC / ©2013