How has your holiday season unfolded? What were you most looking forward to, and has that happened? What expectations have you held for yourself, friends, family? What are you imagining will make the end to 2012 a happy one for you? What would make it your best ever?
Your image of a happy holiday season might include gatherings with friends or family, food, parties, gifts, laughter, love, locations, decorations or conversations that you desire to make your year complete. As you focus on what you most desire in this season, you set an expectation that you can control and create circumstances that depend largely on external actions and events -- like the weather, other people's feelings and actions, and serendipity. If you wait for circumstances to be "right" to have a happy holiday, you may be waiting a long time.
Think about the times in your life when you have been happiest -- maybe a wedding, graduation, promotion, birth of a child, or some other event in your life would qualify, and then try to remember how long that exact feeling of happiness lasted. When you woke up the day after graduation, what did you think about? When you achieved that big target at work, what happened next? Most people think about the next goal, next task, or next project, and dive right in. The point is that events in your life may create temporary peak moments of happiness, and yet you soon return to a baseline of emotion that is determined solely by you.
Especially during this time of year, we set expectations for how we will spend our time, how we will feel, and what will happen. And when our holiday does not turn out the way we expected, we may feel disappointment - particularly when any important aspect of our "ideal holiday image" is missing. The key to true happiness is to let go of expectations -- of others, and ourselves and focus on enjoying each moment, whatever it may bring. We each have moments of sorrow and loss, and it is important to grieve and to give those emotions their place. However, our true level of happiness is revealed in how we ultimately find good in those sad events and spring from them to learn, to appreciate what was, to rejoice in the connections we have had and those we may yet make.
When you think about how you will spend these final days before 2013, what do you want to experience? And if something is not as you hoped, how will you feel? What would it take for you to feel hopeful and energetic in spite of adverse events?
For example, if you were to lose your job this time of year, as many have done, you might be depressed or anxious, angry or afraid. And this would be normal. You might also accept what has happened and dive into networking and looking for a new job. You could even have empathy for the people left behind to do your work, or the manager who had to deliver such tough news at the holidays. Or you could see losing your job as an opportunity to find something better, something more fulfilling, and to have precious time off with family in the meantime.
Any of these reactions is understandable and you might have several of these thoughts over the course of the first day or two. If you were to focus on one set of beliefs about losing your job, which would you choose? Which would be most likely to help you find another job? Which would lead to a happy holiday season for you? Which attitude would make someone feel more inclined to hire you or help you network?
By taking responsibility for your own thoughts, beliefs and emotions, you can begin to consciously shift to an emotional state that serves your intentions. If your goal is to make this season a happy one, know that it is a choice within your grasp -- no matter what else may happen.
With that knowledge, how do you want to feel as you say farewell to 2012 and welcome 2013? What mental attitude do you need to feel that way? What do you need to tell yourself if something from your "ideal holiday" vision hasn't come to pass to keep your spirits bright? Where else in your life could you notice your strong emotions, ask yourself if those emotions are serving you at the moment, and then choose to keep them or shift your thinking to something that serves you better?
Great leaders have excellent emotional awareness, and the ability to embrace and take responsibility for their own emotions. This time of year is a great time to practice. How will you shift your emotions to serve your higher intentions?