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The holidays are full of pressures to be glad even if you don’t feel that way. People talk about “holiday cheer,” “finding the silver lining,” and “looking on the bright side,” all of which are fine when we feel those things but can actually add to feelings of loneliness and depression when we don’t. There is also a certain kind of “holiday tyranny” in which we are encouraged to hide how we’re actually feeling, for the “sake of the holidays.”
We are meant to feel what we feel when we feel it, then let it go. Most people don’t know how they’re feeling or that it’s okay to feel it. We are not taught how to have or hold multiple feelings simultaneously, so many people choose one and cling to it. That one feeling might be described as happy or sad, but it’s not a true reflection of our complexities as humans, and results in our feelings not flowing. Instead they get stuck or other feelings are left untended.
For example, you might feel happy to see your mom at Christmas, sad that she’s physically declining, angry that your sister isn’t doing more, and worried about the future. If you fixate on just one of those feelings, it will not be as productive or helpful. Instead, it would be much more effective to feel all that you feel; respond lovingly to yourself, your mother, and your sister; and create good systems for your family and self-care practices too.
Practical Gladness means living in the “messy middle” of all your feelings and finding your “glad ground” underneath. From this glad ground place, you can be aware of and hold all your feelings, notice ways to respond instead of react, and transform what’s possible to transform.
When we find our glad ground in the middle, it is possible to enjoy the holidays truly, authentically, and with grace and wisdom. Here are some practical ways you can experience more gladness this holiday season.
1. Create a new self-care plan. Think of what you need in order to feel good during the holidays, and provide it for yourself. Some of these things might be:
* Eating special foods that you know you will enjoy
* Calling a friend to share how you’re really feeling — not how you think you should be
* Practicing ways to experience less stress, like going for a walk or attending a yoga class
* Writing lists of things that nourish you, and doing those things
2. Adjust and lower your expectations, or better yet — have none. Notice how your expectations bring suffering when they aren’t met. For example, if you feel ignored or overworked at holiday times, take yourself out for champagne and ignore some things you “should be” doing. Change your expectations about what you or others “should be” doing or acting like, and practice allowing how it actually is. Focus on what’s good and working.
3. Educate others in the best ways to support you. Become clear about what actually feels supportive to you, and ask for others to contribute. For example, if you typically care for others and wish others would or could care for you, figure out what they could contribute to you that would be easy and fun. You might ask a friend to meet you for tea and laughter in the midst of a busy shopping or cleaning day, or sit with you while you wrap gifts or write cards.
4. Experiment with new traditions and rituals for the holidays. Do things differently. We all tend to repeat and become habituated. For example, “We always have our meal at _______.” Some of my greatest holiday experiences have taken place at the movies, while miniature golfing, or while serving food at a shelter, instead of trying to participate in rituals or traditions that no longer represent who I am.
5. Allow yourself to experience your holidays imperfectly. Revise your ideas of perfection and increase your capacity for spontaneous joy. For example, if you get tense and feel pressured about preparing a meal, buying gifts, sending cards, or trying to do it all, try:
* Doing less and feeling good about it — refuse to be a prisoner of others’ expectations
* Doing parts of things — fix the dessert, ask others to bring the other things
* Doing tiny amounts — consider attending a holiday party for five to fifteen minutes with no explanation about why you’re not staying
* Asking others to help and then not trying to control or manage “how they do it”
6. Practice transforming what hurts into what helps. Find the places that aren’t working and speak up about them. For example, instead of sitting there judging how bored or dissatisfied you are feeling, you might ask a group of people in your home to talk about different subjects like what they’re loving in this moment.
* If you’re cooking and get crabby, let others know so they can help you!
* If you hate shopping, ask others to create experiences or adventures for each other instead of buying gifts.
* If you keep complaining about the holidays, see if you can put your complaints on paper and resolve to have new experiences.
* If you feel ungrateful, find someone to listen to who is facing challenges that you’re not.
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SARK is a bestselling author and artist, with sixteen titles in print and well over two million books sold, including the national bestsellers Succulent Wild Woman, Bodacious Book of Succulence, Eat Mangoes Naked, Prosperity Pie, and Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper. Her newest book is Glad No Matter What. She is also the founder and Creative Fountain of Planet SARK, a thriving business that creates innovative products and services to support empowered living. SARK lives and creates gladly in San Francisco, California.
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Based on the book Glad No Matter What © 2010 by SARK. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.