Did you know that trying to ignore our feelings makes them worse?Did you know that 40% of happiness is a result of intentionally choosing what we do each day? And did you know that the rest of the time our actions are done while we’re on autopilot?
And here we are at the start of the holiday season. It’s the perfect time to talk about inspired living. Just from the statistics I quoted above, you get the picture that most of what we do doesn’t allow for much creativity or novelty. It’s sad but true that we rarely think intentionally about how we respond to what’s going on around us. And when that’s the standard operating procedure, it’s as though we’re driving a car but the steering wheel doesn’t work and neither do the brakes, so we careen into whatever our car is pointed towards and disaster happens. This is especially true during the holidays.
But imagine what it would be like if your holidays were an event that you consciously chose to be a part of. If, instead of dreading the holidays, you actually looked forward to them. And then, imagine even further to what it would be like if you were immune (or close to it) from the emotional triggers that make family gatherings a potential war zone.
Well, you don’t have to imagine what that would be like because I’m going to share three optimal conditions that you can set up so you can enjoy the holiday season.
So here’s Secret Number One: Let go of all your expectations about the holidays - whether family members will get along, how the meal will turn out, the kind of conversation around the table. You know deep down that you’re not in control and events will go however they do, but you don’t have to be dependent on other people or external results to make you happy. Byron Katie has a famous line: “life happens for you, not to you” which means that you can use whatever happens as an opportunity to learn or grow from it. Here’s an example: over the weekend I had a dinner party, and mid meal, as everyone was enjoying the food and the setting, which by the way, I took special care to make beautiful by using the white lace tablecloth, the good china and the special silver, one of my cats slipped into the dining room, circled the table and jumped on a friend’s lap. Before you know it he jumped right onto the middle of the table. She tried to pull him off, but of course his claws went into the tablecloth and as she pulled, so did he and her glass of red wine spilled onto that white lace tablecloth. There was a collective gasp as the stain grew bigger and bigger followed by a moment of everyone trying to minimize the damage. But in the midst of it I heard someone say to the person whose glass it was, so what, don’t worry about it, it’s only wine. And I heard that as if it was being said directly to me. Right: so what? Carry on. And that’s what we all did. It was a lovely evening. And PS: the stain came out of the tablecloth. Disaster averted, both emotionally and practically.
Secret Number Two: Make the effort to be really aware of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. If you’re always cooking or preparing or serving the food for the family get together, or setting the table or cleaning the house, give your full attention to each moment. It’s got to get done anyway, so why leave yourself out? If you want to increase your happiness quotient, remind yourself why you’re doing that particular job and how you will feel when you’ve done it beautifully or artistically or deliciously. And be open to finding new ways to do what’s normally considered routine. Let some light into what you’re doing and inject some fun into it. Dance a little, sing a little, whatever it takes.
Secret Number Three: Cultivate good feelings and discard the rest. You can’t control anyone else’s behavior but you can be a beacon of good will and equanimity and kindness. This doesn’t mean you should ignore or suppress difficult feelings that can often arise during the holidays, whether you’re with family or alone. Instead, give yourself a plan for how to react when negative feelings come up. Try this radical experiment: Decide to stay present and nonreactive for the 90 seconds that the body takes to process the cascade of chemical reactions that go with strong emotions. After that, let the remnants of those feelings dissolve into the good feelings you’ve chosen to feel. You don’t have to go into the history or the drama of the backstory - that’s the old way. Choose to make the present more important than the past. And if you’re interested in having an inspired holiday, dwelling on the past is not the way to do it. Inspiration is much more apt to show up when you’re living in the here and now, open to whatever’s next, intentional, receptive and ready to play.
I'd love to hear how you handle the holidays - please share your comments below!