How to Have a Happy Holiday


The holiday season is here, and for some of us, so is the anxiety of hosting family, rushing from party to party, and finding the perfect present for every person on your list. This time of celebration and gift-giving inspires happiness, love, and charity, but can also bring on feelings of shame and frustration if not properly navigated. In order to get the most out of your vacation days, it is important to explore your emotions and communicate your needs this season.

Many of us dread the holidays because they deliver disappointment instead of joy. A lack of gratefulness, awkward encounters with distant relatives, and too many hours at the in-laws can leave you feeling deflated and restless. One way to endure this season is to grit your teeth and shove your way through the festivities with your head down, dreading rather than savoring the season. But what if there was another way? Instead of waiting anxiously for the inevitable let-down, what if you could save yourself from disappointment?

The enemy of a happy holiday is an unmet expectation. Knowing and sharing your expectations for the holiday season begins the process of being honest with yourself and openly communicating your wants and needs. This practice does two things: it allows you to think about what might motivate your behavior, and it lets you share that part of your inner world with others. This is a valuable practice for mindful living as it encourages you to ask yourself what you want, and prepares you for attaining it.

Expectations start with awareness, continue into conversation, and arrive at action. They invite you to look inward and establish what it is you hope for in a situation; then, in sharing your expectations, you invite others to join you in achieving your goals. When expectations are clearly stated, they are more likely to be met.

Expectation conversations take practice, intention, and thought. The practice can take place anywhere, but it’s best to begin before the event. As you load up the car to head to your parents’ house for the family Christmas party, take a moment to explore your emotions.  Ask yourself what you want the day to look like. Make sure you outline what you’re expecting in terms of time, emotions, and specific events you’re hoping will happen. Validate these expectations by stating them out loud. From here, if you’re able to, have a conversation with a loved one about these expectations. When you’ve finished discussing them, explore your emotions again. Is there a particular expectation that leaves you feeling anxious? Acknowledge these emotions by allowing them to exist. Breathe deeply as you prepare for the events of the day ahead. As you talk about what you expect, you may find that some expectations are more important to you than others. Prepare yourself for the possibility that some of your expectations may not be met.

Remember that not all expectations are realistic. Many of us create expectations for how other people should act; however, you must remember that you are only able to control your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. If you find yourself creating expectations for others, challenge yourself to assess the need that it fulfills. If you’re expecting a loved one to say you make them proud, perhaps you’re tapping into a need for acceptance. This is a valid need, but it’s unlikely to be met at Christmas dinner. Focusing on realistic and attainable expectations will help limit disappointment.

Discussing expectations leads to deeper sharing and connection. When you share your needs, you connect with others in a way that allows your expectations to be possible. In sharing what you want, you’re able to actually achieve what you want, with safety and support. Understanding your motivations—the needs that drive your actions—increases self-awareness and gives you greater control over your own life. By acknowledging and pursuing healthy expectations for the holiday season, you may find yourself feeling more content more engaged this holiday season.