Three Ways You Can be More Content and Stop Postponing Happiness During the Holidays
A seventyish woman asks if you're pinning too much on a holiday. By Jean Ann Feldeisen
Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash
I suppose it happens to everyone as they get older. You realize that Christmas or your birthday or whatever occasion used to be so important to you is really an illusion. It is just one day. Perhaps you become jaded, decide you don’t really care about it. You’d rather not get excited since it’s just going to end soon. I would like to propose an alternate way of approaching the holidays. In fact, you can use this approach every day, not just on special days.
Remembering special times Christmas was special in our home. My dad loved Christmas, and it was one time when he would allow our mother to spend extra money. We always got packages and stockings and had special foods and decorations and made a big deal of it. I spent the entire fall looking through the Sears Christmas Wish Book, checking out the dolls and games and farm sets, ogling the candy and cake pages. We were allowed to put our initials on things we wanted and one or two of them would appear under the tree at Christmas. We began making cookies and stuffing dates and rolling balls of fondant several weeks before the event.
Like many American children, we spent a lot of time counting down the days until Christmas and wishing it would come. We also spent the days after it was over in a letdown. Why did it take so long to get here and then was over so fast?
Photo courtesy of the author.
I was a child who loved the rain. It was very special to me, and I treated the event of a rain shower with near-reverence. I would make it a point to stand outside under our little square stoop-roof, my back pinned against the screen door, enraptured, and hoping it would not stop yet. When I got older I would hide out in the back seat of the car or in the screen house excited to be out in the drumming sound of it. I liked taking walks in the rain, too, and would often let myself get completely drenched, just for fun. I would think about rain, expect it when it was forecast, and feel cheated if it didn’t happen, or if the rain came after I was asleep. Rain was a big deal to me. And I remember thinking I will be happy, if only it will rain.
I remember how I longed to go to the beach, thought about it all summer until the water temperature warmed enough for our father to consider it warm enough to take us to Brigantine Beach, about 40 minutes from our home in New Jersey. Our mother didn’t drive, so dad was our only transportation, and he was often too tired after work. But he liked the beach, liked swimming and body surfing and on several occasions during the heat of July and August could be convinced to make the trip. I also remember the terrible disappointment when it came time to go home. It was hard to get three kids out of the water without a bunch of resistance, arguments, and threats of punishment and “I’m not bringing you swimming again.” It was a terrible end to such an exciting time.
As a child, I was always looking forward to the next big exciting event in my life -- my birthday and Christmas were the big ones, with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Easter coming in after that.
I also looked forward to little things, like going to the boardwalk. Our little town of Absecon was a suburb of Atlantic City and just north of all the beach communities that stampede down the south Jersey coast, from Ocean City, Sea Isle City, Strathmere, down to Wildwood and Cape May. We were closest to Atlantic City but dad preferred the “dry” town of Ocean City. He would usually take us to the Ocean City Boardwalk on Sundays when the thrilling rides and alluring stores were mostly closed. We had very little money when I was young and our family of five could walk on the boards, maybe get popcorn and free samples of fudge and be happy. I looked forward to going all summer, but always asking couldn’t we please go on rides. No, said dad usually.
Only on special occasions, when our cousins from Florida visited, or if some relative (Uncle Murray, usually)invited us, we had the opportunity to go on the rides, look in the shops and eat ice cream cones. But, after it was over there was a great letdown. Why did the good time take so long to get here and then were over so fast? Just like Christmas, the beach, the rainstorm, the birthday?
I want to be happy every day Some time ago I decided that I would forego these long periods of longing and postponing happiness to some future date. I wanted to be happy every day. Did you ever imagine that this was possible as a child waiting for the future? To think that your entire life could be like one long happy party? Sure, it will come to an end eventually, but until that time, I’m determined to make a celebration out of it.
Whatever weather Instead of waiting for a rain or snowstorm, I’ve come to love the color of the sky in winter in Maine, the brooding gray that brings up feelings of desolation and despair. In other seasons, there are other things to enjoy, sunshine and breezes and beautiful cloud formations and stars at night. Rain is just one of many pleasures.
Celebrate every day Instead of waiting for Christmas or my birthday, I celebrate every day. The first words I write in my journal every morning are Good morning Jeanie. My friend, Argy, and I exchange celebrations almost every morning with a text and picture of the sunrise outside our windows. We celebrate the first day of every month by texting Rabbit to each other, racing each other to get up first and remember it. We celebrate our friendship by having breakfast together every month. I celebrate with other people, too, in different ways.
I enjoy stormy days, sunny days, the day after Christmas, the quiet days alone, the busy days with hardly time to think, lots of people around, lots of work to do, or times when there is plenty of time to putter or read. It is all good.
Sadness is part of it That doesn’t mean that I’m not sad some of the time. When my mother died in July, I knew I was looking at a big miserable pile of sadness in front of me. I take it a bit at a time. In between sad thoughts of her sickness and death, I think of all the conversations with family and friends who called to console us. The cards and flowers and little gifts and remembrances. The silly things we found and times we recalled as we looked through her pictures and letters and diaries.
Sometimes I find myself wanting to call her but realize I can’t. I want to show her, send her, buy her, ask her… but I can’t. I get stopped right in my tracks, have to reroute, change that plan. It’s very frustrating and futile. I put my mom’s picture on the wallpaper of my phone and I change it every week or so. Every time I pick up the phone, I say “Hi mom.” Sometimes that makes me cry, for a second.
And gladness But many other things make me glad to be alive. So many parts of my life are going well. There are lots of things I enjoy doing. I continue writing, reading, studying poetry, and trying to improve my work. I keep seeing clients and trying to listen and be helpful. I make new friends, reconnect with old ones. I enjoy new interests, skills, and pleasures. The other parts of my life keep spreading out in all directions. I suspect the sadness will never leave me, just become less of a focus.
I have a few simple guidelines for you to consider Do these three things and I predict you will find yourself becoming more and more content with whatever celebration is coming up in your life.
Don’t whoop yourself up over one special day or event Yes, I am sort of saying don’t be so damned happy about Christmas (or whatever holiday is special to you). Don’t plan everything around one or two days. Don’t postpone your enjoyment. Enjoy the process— the individual days of this season, the building excitement, the quiet, the snow, the decorations, the cookie baking, or gift-giving. Enjoy all the little parts of it but don’t plan to be uproariously happy on one perfectly achieved day. This is often the setup for a letdown. As a mature person, you already know that some parts of your celebration will likely be good and some not so good. Plan some nice times the day after and the day after that as well. Twelve days or more. Appreciate the end of the holidays as we move into the next season.
Allow the holidays to be a quiet pleasure in your heart. A time to spread love as far as your reach extends. Don’t plan to be uproariously happy on one perfectly achieved day.
Find things to enjoy right now, all the time This is another way of saying: practice mindfulness. Accept whatever is happening right now and be ok with it. Pay attention to your senses. Listen for sounds, smell smells, see whatever there is to enjoy in every moment of your life. Be aware that some of the best moments are when you are alone sipping tea, or watching the dogs chasing a frisbee, or noticing the smiles of people you pass going into the post office. If you don’t pay attention you miss these little things. Even the unpleasant parts of life often hold beautiful moments. Don’t miss any of them.
Enjoy the people you are with (despite the ones you are missing) You know that song, If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. In some instances, it’s good advice. In my case, since my mother has died, I have sort of adopted my aunt and uncle as surrogate parents. I have taken to sending them cards and calling them much more frequently. It helps me and hopefully them, too. Also, instead of calling my mother every night, I have been talking to my sister and brother much more frequently. We are all lonely and missing mom and it helps.
There has been so much loss in the last year, and many families are suffering. In my family alone, I have lost my mother, an aunt, an uncle, two cousins, and a few inlaws. So many people have lost even more. On top of that, some families are plagued by estrangement and distancing, due to political or racial, or gender differences. It is all very unsettling and difficult to manage. I suggest that the antidote to depression about all of our losses is to make an effort to improve relationships with the people who are in our life now. If you need to, find new friends. Look up long-lost relatives.
If you don’t know a new inlaw or friend very well, try to learn their story. Ask questions, open up a little and share your own story. Allow yourself to become a little vulnerable. Try to see where you might take this relationship. When your family or friends get together, take the opportunity to enjoy each other- share stories, pictures, memories, play games. Actively engage with each other for as much of the time as you can, knowing that your time together is limited.
You might even want to find some new friends. It can be easy if you enjoy the little things, not expecting too much, just glad to spend time together. Allow the holidays to be a quiet pleasure in your heart. A time to spread love as far as your reach extends.