The holidays are a time of joy, anticipation, happiness, frivolity, family fun, merriment and well, high expectations. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, or any celebratory event, we tend to get nostalgic and that inner child within all of us wants everything to be picture perfect!

The reality is that while perfection may be the goal, life happens. And those ‘fixed beliefs,’ or the beliefs we keep in our memory banks that aren’t challenged or updated, can make for unhappy and unfulfilled occasions. We all want to hear sleigh bells ringing or smell potato latkes frying in Grandma’s skillet. We want everyone to be happy and loving as they decorate the Christmas tree or light the Chanukah menorah, but it doesn’t always pan out that way.

Before you call me, Scrooge, let me just say that my intention here is to give everyone a warmly regarded permission slip to anticipate and enter holiday time in the NOW. Life is constantly changing. Can we allow ourselves to go with the flow? To become flexible and adapt to ever-changing circumstances? 

Think about someone who has lost a loved one and holiday time is fast approaching. Through the years I’ve heard people tell me that they no longer want to observe or celebrate because the holiday they shared with the one they lost now brings too much pain. At the right time, I gently urge them to walk through a new door which allows them to establish a new normal. They might want to find that perfect ornament that honors the memory of their loved one or spend holiday time visiting family they haven’t seen; helping others or putting smiles on children’s faces. 

Some people don’t have positive memories of holidays due to trauma experienced as children. They, too, might want to establish a new normal for themselves and the nuclear families they create. They may also need to face and re-frame those painful childhood memories by communicating with someone they trust. 

Here are a few tips to make the holidays more authentic: 

Look back. Take a few moments to journal about your holiday memories. What feelings do those memories evoke? Who is with you? Let yourself explore. These important recollections can support you to take an honest look at how these memories have impacted your life today.

High expectations. Do you feel you need to live up to unrealistic expectations? Can you allow yourself to discover what makes you happy, fulfills you, and not lose yourself in what I call “other esteem” or trying desperately to make others happy? Other esteem can lead to an emotional roller coaster life. Basing your wants and needs on “internal esteem” can provide a sense of contentment and true purpose.

Evolve. We change every decade and our fixed beliefs can also change. Challenge them and find what fulfills you right now.

Go within. True happiness isn’t about who spends the most or buying everything on your children’s or grandchildren’s lists. It’s about heartfelt acts of kindness that can truly touch the soul.

Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Every holiday can become a holy day no matter the life circumstance. Happy, healthy holidays, all! I’m wishing you whatever you wish for yourselves and more.

Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC# 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.

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