Part one in a three-part series on Enjoying the Holidays.
Ah, the holidays. While some of us look forward to festivities with friends and family, others are wary (and weary) at this time of year. This season can set us up to become emotionally overcharged – the perfect opportunity for an Emotional Detective to put in some overtime.
Why are the holidays such an emotionally precarious time of year? How can you stay on course during this tricky season? The next three posts will explore how to be happier during this holiday season. Today’s post focuses on primitive holiday pleasures and pitfalls; next week will focus on social aspects of the holidays; and the third and final one will focus on your reasoned plans and resolutions for the future.
It’s not just the caramels and figgy pudding that are sticky during this season
Residue From the Past
As adults we may enter the holidays with unconscious expectations stuck inside us from our early years, often without our knowing it. Holiday expectations may come from our childhood -- a time when we each lived more as a primitive creature. As children, simple things like shiny packages and candy could bring instant and nearly total happiness.
Back then we lived almost entirely in the moment, with few worries about the future.
As adults, however, the small, visceral pleasures from the past are not as potent as the constant human search for growth, connection and meaning (however obscured). Current difficulties may cast shadows on our capacity to enjoy simple pleasures. Though many of us strive to live in the moment, that is easier said than done. After all, planning for the future is one of the hallmarks of adulthood and informed reason.
Opportunities for more sensuous, primitive holiday joy often contain hidden costs for adults. I am not necessarily speaking of monetary costs -- although there are plenty of those -- but of other costs that may be less obvious. For example:
- Large meals and plentiful sweets can act as lures to induce unhealthy excess, prompting guilt and/or weight gain that costs more than these sensual pleasures are worth.
- Gift-giving takes time, thought, and real effort to truly satisfy the giver, much less the recipient … while avoiding the risk of overspending. Even giving time and energy generously to others, while highly rewarding, requires planning and can be exhausting.
- Festive events and seasonal activities place extra demands that may overload an already packed schedule. Just being with people more than usual can be tiring. Physical and mental fatigue make it harder to actually have fun, resist temptations, and avoid emotional traps.
So how do you recapture or create new primitive pleasures in the holidays and avoid the pitfalls that have marred past holidays?
Get more primitive pleasure from your holidays by managing your expectations, planning ahead, and being willing to break traditions that no longer suit you.
Accept that you are may gain weight, be tired, and feel over-stimulated during this season. Alternately, you may feel lonely and left out of fun festivities, missing primitive pleasures and solace from times past.
Take time to reflect on what has made you happy, sad or frustrated in past years.
Consider which of your physical needs is most important to honor during this season. Which pleasures do you want to prioritize, and which problems do you most want to try to avoid? Plan time and make room to honor your priorities.
If overeating is a problem, think about the foods you really love and want to savor. Don’t give yourself a total pass on eating (that’s the road to regret), but save room for foods you really love by eating more lightly and healthfully the rest of day. Alternately, if you are missing special treats from your childhood, think about making them for yourself and those you love.
If being tired is a big problem for you, avoid beginning your day too early or ending it too late. Especially try to avoid doing both of those for several days in a row, even if someone else gets disappointed. Try exercising more and eating less before the holidays, instead of waiting to get into shape afterwards.
As you enter the holiday season, make decisions that work for you and your family.
If you are hosting a holiday event, consider limiting excess by substituting more healthy foods or offering smaller portions. Delicious food is wonderful, overindulgance is a problem.
If family time is looming too large, skip some events. Consider lunch, but not dinner. Propose a movie to avoid constant interaction. Suggest a family walk, hike, or game instead of sitting around. Shared experiences provide something to discuss later. Take time to be alone if you need it, even if others may not approve.
While visiting my family over Thanksgiving, I went to a yoga class by myself for the first time ever. It felt weird to do something by myself, but it also felt surprisingly good to take care of myself in this primal way.
In another "radical" move, I am not serving turkey at Christmas this year, breaking a culinary traditon honored by my family since I was a child. My kids and husband don't love turkey as I do; so this year I am making Coq au Vin instead!