For those of us who are both afflicted and blessed by the tendency to feel deeply about people and things, we may find ourselves very conflicted about the flurry of expectations for us to spend money and experience joy for the "holidays." And while some might choose to and be able to get by on recipes for happiness, some of us may just be -- well, you could say stubborn, or stuck, or perhaps ready for our own smaller revolution. This would be shifting to where we actually value our sensitivities and in a manner of speaking shop for them, or on their behalf.
In a conversation just recently in my own therapy practice, a woman told me during a session that she was barking to all who asked her about her holiday shopping that she hated the holidays, wasn't shopping for them, didn't believe in them. She told me she couldn't wait for January 1 when a new year could begin. It became clear that it wasn't Christmas she hated but the expectation that she be happy; she was lonely and feeling invaded by the questions. She felt people were pushing their shows of happiness in her face. As we spoke about the little girl in her and her memories of good holidays in the past, I wondered out loud what it would be like to go shopping for her inner child.
Hmm, what a concept and what exactly would it look like, or feel like, besides the whimsy of opening up a new page of living, of changing it all up? What would it be like to "do" holidays more authentically, with a sense of enough safety in the realm of feelings to become playful, impish, comical when everyone else is so serious about their merry-go-round. It would need to include an ease with beginning to feel comfortable and not being oh so politically correct.
What if we can begin to acknowledge that many people are unhappy because there is a false set of expectations producing stress instead of fostering belonging and comfort? At the same time, this is a season that for many of us evokes a yearning to connect, a sense of magic from songs or stories, religious or not, that cling to us and urge on the little kid in us whether we asked for it or not. What if there could be ways for those of us without predictable story lines to be accepted without being diagnosed, pathologized, or "rehabilitated"? If we could invent our own styles and options, perhaps we would find there are many people waiting to join us; waiting for company in the land outside the stores, outside the shopping lists and without expectation for a cheery disposition.
The happiness cult/hype/propaganda/psychology can be terribly oppressive for people who are engaged in experiencing the layers of complex human experience and don't want to be stopped by a command signal to smile. For people wounded by early childhood, by situations of misfortune in life, who wish to be understood and yearn for approval, these expectations are dangerous in that they lead to a sense of failure and inadequacy. Interestingly, when people are depressed or sad, sometimes the most acute problem is their "depression" about being depressed; this sense of failure can be most damaging.
It is unfortunate that sensitivity has been given a bad rap when we may be needing it most, in a world that has become too toughened and too cold. When the happiness bandwagon comes our way, if we aren't "feeling" it, we shouldnt have to feel like losers.
What if we consider the idea that our inner life is just as important as the smiles on our faces or the gifts we give and receive? What if we start yet another movement, one that restores the importance of truth, reflection, caring, mending and sharing? There are at present all too few places, outside of 12-step meetings, family reunions, religious institutions, country clubs or political groups or sports places for us to drop in and share in activity or conversations.
What if being home for the holidays means being able to be at home within ourselves regardless of whether or not we are in sync with the behavioral fashions of the moment?
Remember today's madness becomes tomorrow's normal. And even if it doesn't become normal, maybe that's part of the point. The freedom to be is not wrapped in paper, but rather is often about unwrapping the boxes of forced happiness that have been foisted upon us. It can be seriously fun. Seriously.
Follow Carol Smaldino on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CarolSmaldino