Why and How to Have A Happy Holiday Season

Stressed man is shopping gifts for christmas with red santa hat angry and distressed

According to Psychology Today, 45% of Americans “dread the festive season” that will start next week. Although the CDC has debunked the myth that suicides increase during this time of year, almost everyone can agree that the holidays sometimes serve as a “tipping point” for stress. What is billed as “the most wonderful time of the year” is often experienced as feelings of inadequacy and general exhaustion.

Therapists like to help clients develop change in their lives, and one way we do that is to encourage them to be tuned into “why” they do things, not just “how” to accomplish them. My guess is that everyone reading this has a holiday to-do list mapped out, either on paper or in your mind. This kind of list represents “how” we can supposedly infuse the coming weeks with happiness. However, knowing “how” to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that our “why” is healthy. “Why” represents our motivation. Think about your holiday to-do list and see if it matches the spirit of what you value at this time of year. Chances are that your “why” and your “how” are incongruent, and incongruence between our values and our behaviors creates stress in our lives. It is hard to salvage happiness from motivation based in fear of negative consequences. For example, if your reason for making home baked gifts for every neighbor in a six-block radius is that the process brings you joy, then stick with it! However, if you’re making those treats because you’ve just always done it, or because everyone else in the neighborhood does and you feel the need to keep up, take a deep breath and give yourself permission to replace that tradition with something that brings you happiness and fulfillment, and that ensures you are connecting with those you love in meaningful ways.

We’re all familiar with the tale of that reformed holiday hater, Ebenezer Scrooge, whose story ends with the idea that: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused!” Let’s reframe that sentiment and acknowledge that when we are so focused on “how” to get everything done for the holidays, we may be sacrificing our “why” for celebrating at this time of year in the first place.


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