12/22/2014 04:53 pm ET Updated Feb 21, 2015

How to Release Your Holiday Expectations and Enjoy 'What Is,' No Matter What's Going on in Your Life (Or the World)!

Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Memories of my childhood Christmases are idyllic, from singing carols around a giant beautifully lit Christmas tree at church to opening awesome gifts and getting just what I'd hoped for from Santa. We would spend our Christmas days lounging, indulging in delicious food, and playing with gifts. Thanksgivings were enjoyed with my mom's extended family, complete with dressing up in our finest, Norwegian delicacies, and sitting at the kid's card table. Am I remembering everything more "perfect" than it was? I don't think so!

The holidays at this point in my life have a much different feel.

This past year, I spent my first holiday since becoming a mom without my family at Thanksgiving. What "is" this year is unconventional -- one might say gut-wrenchingly sad and strange. My extended family has lost four members to premature death, I lost a husband, and now my children come from a "broken" home. I am hardly capable of watching or reading the news any more because of the sickeningly sad world tragedies. Part of me wants to crawl into bed with the covers over my head and stay there.

But when I am really honest with myself, what "is" is still incredibly wonderful. I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams with three healthy, beautiful children, a plethora of incredible friends, and a family who loves me unconditionally. Those three things alone are worth celebrating wildly! So instead of having a holiday pity party in my bed, I'll invite my kids and we'll snuggle there eating chocolate and watching Christmas movies.

Can you carve out the time to count your blessings and create joy no matter "what is" the reality of your life?

Here are my top five tips for experiencing "what is" with joy this holiday season, no matter what you're facing!

1. Give with love and within your means.
People love gifts that are heartfelt and simple. We often over-extend ourselves financially and energetically, and nobody we love wants us to do that! A heartfelt card can mean as much as an expensive gift! The point is to show your love and appreciation for those that mean so much to you.

2. Be extra compassionate with yourself and others.
If you're feeling extra exhausted, take the night off of holiday "stuff" and have a relaxing bath and early bedtime. Take it easy on yourself so you have the energy to experience joy and be present! Most people are a little more stressed and wiped out than usual, so extend your patience and compassion to all you encounter.

3. Accept and make the best of "what is."
Sometimes we have completely unrealistic expectations of ourselves and the way we idealize that everything should be. We think our houses need to perfectly decorated, our gifts stunningly presented, lovely cards sent to hundreds, goodies baked, and so forth but then our child starts throwing up all over and we want to lose our minds! If we can just roll with it all, focus our energy on what brings us the most joy, and keep our expectations realistic... accepting what "is," then, we will have the happiest holidays ever!

4. Embrace community.
I have to admit, sometimes on the weekends I feel a little lonely without a partner (even with my three kids!). Heading to church or out to dinner with a group of friends makes me feel safe, loved, and surrounded by happiness. Humans are born to connect and I encourage you to reach out to your peeps. Create the fun if you have to and invite everyone over!

5. If conventional feels sad this year, do something completely different!
I'd been dreading my first kid-less holiday for months since separating from my husband. When I finally accepted "what is," I planned a completely non-traditional trip to Vegas with one of my best girlfriends. I have to admit, it didn't feel like Thanksgiving at all... but it sure was fun! Or, you can head out and volunteer or do something to help others! That always makes me feel better.

Wishing each of you a joy-filled, fun and restful holiday! I hope you are able to savor delicious food and enjoy precious moments with family and friends.