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Is There Such a Thing as the Perfect Holiday?

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Unwrap Holiday Happiness

Imagine …

It’s the high point of the holiday season, and inside the immaculate snow-flecked house, a happy family gathers near a roaring fireplace sipping delicious eggnog made from a 75-year-old recipe. Colored lights from a nine-foot Douglas fir flash on the surfaces of shiny gift boxes that look like they were custom-wrapped at Saks Fifth Avenue—and, as it turns out, many of them were.

The welcoming aroma of roasting turkey spreads through the house, mingling with the strains of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” And the children, decked out in gorgeous (and unwrinkled) holiday clothing, frolic and play around the long dinner table set in gold, green and red. And are those footsteps on the front porch? Yes, it’s Johnny, on leave from the Army, who after three plane delays and a whiteout blizzard has made it home just in time for the year-end festivities …

All this while you labor to create an ideal holiday of your own and fail at almost every turn.

The perfect holiday with perfect gifts, the perfect tree, the perfect dinner and, of course, lots of perfect people is just a perfect myth.

Don’t Worry, You’re Doing Just Fine

The image you have of the perfect holiday with perfect gifts, the perfect tree, the perfect dinner and, of course, lots of perfect people is just a perfect myth. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe what social tradition tells them about the last big season of the year and are convinced that all will be lost unless all is just right.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a so-called “traditional” holiday experience. The problem is it’s not a realistic expectation for most of us. Think about the scene we opened with. Have you ever known that kind of family? With rare exceptions, scenes like that happen only in TV movies, Hallmark greeting cards and carefully constructed advertisements. Chasing those scenes and expecting to make them real is, well, unrealistic.

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Chasing the idea of the perfect holiday may leave us frustrated about our reality.

Social comparison theory describes how some people determine their self-worth and usefulness by comparing themselves with others. When discussed clinically, it’s usually about comparisons with real people, such as peers, celebrities, authority figures and the like. When we socially compare our holiday experience with a holiday experience that doesn’t even exist, we invite frustration and insecurity.

If the holidays stress you out, if you do everything you can to make every inch of them perfect but never hit the mark, the solution may be as simple as thinking and operating in more natural ways. For example:

  1. Focus on your needs, and don’t spread yourself too thin with multiple commitments and responsibilities.
  2. Keep your days in control by seeing to one task at a time rather than trying to multi-task everything.
  3. Remember, it’s the thought/intention that counts, not the perfection of your holiday meal, decorations, gifts or wardrobe.
  4. Be mindful of what and how much you’re eating and drinking. Excess consumption can make you sluggish and ineffective.
  5. Take breaks from media and artificial technology to center yourself and remember all the things you’re grateful for.

Aim for the bar that’s based on the life we have now.

The Power of Gratitude

The opposite of keeping up with the Joneses and evaluating your life based on social comparisons is being glad for what you already have. Where holiday events and activities are concerned, we can learn to celebrate the power of us within the events and activities instead of trying to fashion an outer experience we’ve been told is ideal. Rather than aiming for a bar set unrealistically high, why not aim for the bar that’s based on the life we have now?

It’s virtually impossible to live with a sense of gratitude when everything we think we should be grateful for is something we don’t have. But if we embrace the good things already in our lives and the good things sure to come, we quickly discover we have plenty of reasons to be thankful and happy during the holidays—and all year long.

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Being grateful for what we do have this holiday season may have positive effects on our sleep, mental strength, immune system and more!

And finally, don’t forget that embracing an attitude of gratitude is healthy in many ways.

It can have positive effects on our:

  • Immune system and blood pressure
  • Emotions
  • Sleep
  • Mental strength
  • Levels of happiness and optimism
  • Ability to be generous and compassionate
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation

This year, give yourself a break. Learn how to be glad for what is there, right in front of you. You’ll find it’s easier than you think to get the most out of every drop of your holiday experience and realize there definitely is such a thing as the perfect holiday—as long as it’s your own.