In my mid-thirties, decorating my apartment for Christmas from top to bottom was one of my inherited family traditions. My mom and her two sisters also decorated that way, so my brother referred to it as the holiday decorating gene that he didn’t get.
I hung different sizes of snowflakes from the ceiling over snowmen sledding down the snow hill I made on two different sized side-by-side bookcases. Of course, the hill was covered with a blizzard of fake snow and even more snowflakes. Every room was filled with Christmas stuff - bedding, linens, dishes, shower curtains, towels, and placemats. You name it, and if it had anything to do with Christmas, you could find it in my home. I even had an “It’s a Wonderful Life” village, at least two tall, fully decorated trees, plus outdoor porch decor. Oh, and I had a Hanukkah display too. It took between two to three days to create my festive winter wonderland.
I’ll never forget the day I spoke with a friend who was probably ten or more years older than me, and she said, “I used to go all out. I love Christmas. However, now I just don’t want to be bothered anymore.” I gasped in disbelief. How could she think decorating for Christmas was a bother? After all, it was a most magical time of year.
Fast forward a decade or so later, and you guessed it. I started to feel my friend’s “it’s too much of a bother” sentiment. It wasn’t the décor that caused my feelings to change, though.
Here's the last time I decorated a couple of years ago --
\and this was an apartment smaller than my three story townhome.
For me, there’s a nothing happier than being in the middle of a magical holiday wonderland. However, I started questioning if the wonderland was worth the three days it took me to put everything out, only to take three days to put it back up in six weeks.
I been hard to pinpoint when my feelings about decorating changed. All I know is that at some point, it started to feel more like work than fun.
It was important to recognize that my feelings about holiday decorating had changed because it’s my Practical Happiness Principle Three: Happiness Changes as You Change.
That principle applies to your holiday happiness – it will change as you change.
However, when you don’t recognize the change, you start to feel bah-humbug because you’re simply going through the motions. You may even start to feel frustrated or angry that you’re doing something you don’t enjoy anymore.
Sometimes, you may want to keep up a tradition that doesn’t excite you because it makes your family or friends happy. And that can be honorable—the type of happiness when you do something because it’s simply the right thing to do, even if it’s not your first choice. Or you may ask if the others involved in a tradition still want to participate. Sometimes the desire to do, even heartfelt traditions, changes for others too.
Your life, and the lives of those you love change. Some of those changes may impede your holly jolly. The key to more holiday happiness is to manage the changes so they don’t manage you.
Here are three Holiday Holly-Jolly Zappers to watch for so you can better manage them:
Is someone missing from your family or close friend group this year because of a death, divorce, or other estrangement?
If so, there’ll be an expected hole in your holiday normal. The first holiday season without a significant someone will feel incomplete. You can continue shared cherished traditions or maybe start new ones. And it’s also okay to shed a few holiday tears to honor and even release some of your sadness or grief.
However, a loss can be something other than a person. Sometimes you’ve lost something integral to your lifestyle – job changes, health challenges, living in a new city, or inflation limiting what you can buy.
If you experienced a significant loss, it will change your holiday experience. It doesn’t mean there won’t be any holiday happiness—it just means it will be different. And sometimes different feels uncomfortable.
Are you feeling lifeless from burnout? That place where nothing sparks your holiday joy.
Burnout is a feeling beyond being tired. It takes more than a nap, vacation, or de-plugging to restore from it.
It’s a complicated process to bounce back from burnout. Sometimes you need to try new things to rediscover what sparks joy and excitement in your soul. Sometimes you need to see things from a different angle. It can be inspiring to do something as simple as looking at your Christmas tree lights by laying under the tree and looking up.
If you’re feeling lifeless, it’s okay to say “No” sometimes or most of the time. You can skip a holiday party, order your holiday meal instead of cooking it, video call family instead of traveling, put up fewer decorations, only get the “kids” holiday gifts, or spend your weekend in your PJs.
Your holiday should reflect where you are in your life. The first step to managing burnout is to acknowledge it so you can begin restoring your spirit.
There will always be some holiday stress. If you don’t manage some of the potential manageable stressors, they will zap—take away—some of your holiday happiness.
Remember, what stresses you out one day may or may not stress you out the next.
Stress can be fluid, especially when it’s situational. For example, if you didn’t sleep well one night, everything may feel stressful the next day.
So, the best way to reduce stress is to manage known holiday stressors:
- Remember, the holidays aren’t a competition.
A year from now, no one will remember what the decorations looked like, how many were out, nor the actual gift they received.
They will remember how they felt when they spent time with you—were you present in the moment? Did you get to have a good conversation? Did you do a family tradition? They remember the experience or lack of it. Everything else is window dressings.
- Plan what you can.
Mark your calendar for traditional holiday activities—and buy needed tickets
Make sure your holiday clothes are clean
Ask for time off
Make travel plans
Schedule appointments for nails, hair, dentists, and a massage
Mail your holiday cards early
Make a list of need to buy gifts so you can sale shop–and ship if needed
Plan your holiday food gifts, menus, and party contributions so you can start food shopping
Schedule gift-wrapping time
Schedule recharge self-care time
- Allocate extra time for things.
Sometimes we list projects, like gift wrapping that can take hours, as a task like folding laundry that only takes a few minutes.
- Plan on the unexpected: guests, holiday party or meet-up invites, an extra batch or two of cookies, or someone not acting the way you expected them to.
Something unexpected will happen, it’s more manageable when you’re in a go-with-the-flow mindset.
- If something doesn’t get done, it’s okay.
It may be something that becomes a laughable moment at future holiday gatherings. Perfection is hardly ever remembered.
Every holiday can have happy moments when you let yourself experience the present.
That means you need to honor the past, yet, not long for or try to recreate it. It means you manage the holly, jolly zappers instead of letting them manage you.
Holiday happiness happens from moment to moment. Often, the small things we give and receive can unexpectantly fill our hearts with the holiday spirit: an act of kindness, a smile, a hug, a phone call, text, or sharing in a holiday tradition.
Will my desire to create a holiday winter wonderland return? Maybe, maybe not. However, when or if that change happens, I’ll embrace it. Happiness, including holiday happiness happens when we embrace our changes and how they change our happiness.
Pamela Gail Johnson is the Practical Happiness Advocate who helps workplaces engage employees, reduce burnout, and “Wow” customers.
Pamela is the Founder of the Society of Happy People, author of Practical Happiness: Four Principles to Improve Your Life, Speaker, Consultant, and Life Transition Coach.
She started the first three globally-celebrated happiness holidays that began in 1999.