The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Polly Campbell Headshot

Can You Give Up the Quest for a Happy Holiday?

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Should you invite his mom and dad, even though haven't spoken since the divorce?

Which mashed potato recipe should you follow?

Paper plates or the good china? You want the ease of paper plates but your mom did give you the china...

What if Aunt Edna drinks too much, the turkey is too dry, or the cable goes out during the football game?

What if the holiday isn't perfect?

Seriously, let's all just get over it this idea that things must be ideal to be good. If you invite actual people to your holiday dinner, you can also anticipate a bit of uncertainty, chaos even. But, we certainly don't need to add more stress or drama by serving up a helping of unrealistic expectations.

Really want to make the holidays happier? Then, set the tables how you want, serve the meal when you choose, and invite whoever you feel like -- then Let. It. Be.

Stop Micro-Managing and Let it Be

Let be what will be. Let go all the judgments, expectations, and attitude. Lead with acceptance and compassion for yourself and others. Do this and the holiday will be interesting, authentic, and dare I say it, enjoyable, instead of a series contrived moments filled with disappointment when people don't measure up to your expectations, or they diss your sweet potatoes.

Many of us attempt to create a great holiday by micro-managing details and people and place settings (yes, my husband has been the victim of this strategy). We try to control every outcome so that nobody feels left out or stressed out. We strive for really good, perfect even -- instead of good enough, authentic and fun. And by doing all this we create a set of arbitrary rules and behaviors and expectations that we ourselves and our guests must live up to.

The Danger of Secret Expectations

Often, we even keep these expectations a secret -- I mean people should just know that you always pass food to the left, right? And how dare you take a bite before I sit down. And seriously, do we really need to go into a discussion about how you feel about your ex, now?

While we are imposing our secret little judgments, we talk about the importance of coming together as family and friends to share time and food and gratitude. We talk about love. And we believe, deeply and sincerely, that family is the most important thing. Just as long as that family behaves, fosters pleasant mealtime conversation, chews with its mouth closed and doesn't offer up any "liberal" views that will get the father-in-law going. At this meal, we are all going to be smiley, happy and grateful. And everyone, yes everyone is going to eat the Brussels sprouts without fuss. Darnit.

Sound fun? Of course not. Instead of enjoying the celebration, we are vigilant, constricted, making sure the husband doesn't say anything off color, checking off the Rules of Thanksgiving Comportment in our head, evaluating whether the expectations we've set for ourselves and others are being met.

Stop Trying for a Happy Holiday

This year, stop trying to make the holidays happy, stop trying to make the perfect meal, stop trying to make others get along -- heck, the only thing you should be making is your favorite recipes (and that's only if you want to). Then, be curious about whatever does show up. Be engaged, alive, grateful, open.

Three Ways to Ease Holiday Stress

1. Determine the basics and let the rest go. Decide who you are going to celebrate with and how. Pick a location and volunteer to bring mushy green bean casserole or whatever, or commit to doing the things that are most important to you and then let the rest ride. Too often we meddle, try to control, and add items we don't actually want to do, to our to do list. Don't do it. Commit to what you want, then let the rest go.

2. Accept what shows up. What if the parents fight or the turkey is too dry or grandma decides not to come? We spend our lives what-iffing, preparing for every outcome. We focus on managing situations rather than living them. This is amps up our stress. Most of what we worry about never happens anyway. So, this year, just be in the moment. Accept whatever comes. You don't have to like it or dislike it. You don't need to judge it. You don't have to do anything at all. Just observe it. Notice it. Take necessary action if it's required. But, stop predicting, planning and projecting and just be present. You're going to feel better. Plus, acceptance breeds appreciation and gratitude.

3. Act with compassion. Oddly enough, compassion is very self-serving. When you act with kindness, you will benefit in a big way, and so will crazy Aunt Edna and everyone else you share time with this season. If you can slow down long enough to extend empathy, to perhaps understand the experience of another, and to recognize that they may be stressed and difficult to deal with, but, still have this this deep need to feel valued -- just like you do -- it will help create a more peaceful, better feeling holiday. Really. We all just want to feel like we belong. We want to fit in. And the people who are the most difficult to deal with, often need our compassion the most. If you can meet each moment with compassion, even when piqued, you'll be surprised how well others behave. It's a game changer.

Try these tips and start accepting whatever shows up with compassion, curiosity, and gratitude and you might just back yourself into a joyful holiday season.