Maximizing Enjoyment & Minimizing Stress This Holiday Season

It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Perhaps that means today you are stumbling around your house, stunned from the amount of calories you consumed at the annual holiday feast. Or perhaps you are cleaning up from hosting family and friends in your home, and still smiling from the good times shared over your table. Or perhaps you are simply grateful. Grateful it’s all over.

I know this might be an awkward topic to discuss, but I hate not talking about something just because it might be an uncomfortable discussion. When we allow that to happen, we become a slave to our fears and we let other people’s bad behavior (and our own) to dictate our emotions, our schedules, and….our holidays. 

With the holidays comes the inevitable: family drama. Family that stresses you out. Family that stresses your family out. Family that you only see around this time of year because, after all, they’re family.

Hollywood makes movies about it. Friends make jokes about it. And we all know it exists, yet no one actually talks about it. (And no, griping about your family drama during the car ride doesn’t count as “talking” about it.) We all acknowledge that there is some truth to the ridiculous Griswald family drama in the famous National Lampoon movies, yet we never admit that we experience similar dread when it comes to interacting with our family at the holidays. What’s more, we never say we’ve had enough, and we are going to do something about it.

For about 360 days out of the year, we spend our days with people of our choosing. We share our lives with those who build us up, love us, and know us best. And we, in return, do the same for them. We spend casuals weekends together. We share over home-cooked meals or fun nights out. We laugh and cry together. We learn each others’ likes and dislikes, hurts and hopes. And, most importantly, we never stop working on these relationships. We spend time, energy, and effort to go deeper, love harder and get closer.

Yet more often than not, we work really hard on our personal relationships (ie our spouse, our kids, and our friends), but we check all effort at the door when we go around extended family because, after all, they are family no matter what so they just have to accept us as we are.

We show up for obligatory holiday dinners and parties, put in our time while sharing as little of ourselves with the group as possible, then leave at the first chance we get, grumbling about each and every person there on the drive home.

Ahh… Now that’s how I want to spend my holidays!

I know it doesn’t have to be this way, though, and I’m ready to break the tradition of grumbling and obligation. Here’s how:

1. Treat your friends like family –  Why do we kick our friends to the curb at the holidays? These are the people that stood by us, laughed with us and loved with us throughout the year, so shouldn’t they be a part of our holiday gatherings?

2. Treat your family like friends – Conversely, why do we only spend time with our family at the holidays? If family is truly important to you, then make time to be with them all year long. Work on the relationships like you work on your friendships.

3. Make your holiday gatherings representative of who you really are, who you really love and loves you, and who you are actually close to. Maybe it’s a combination of friends and family. Maybe it’s just friends. Maybe it’s just family. Maybe it changes from year to year. But whoever it is, make it people that contribute to the spirit of the season.

4. Be the person you want to spend time with. We all complain about people. It’s ugly, but it’s true. But what is truly unfortunate, is when we complain about others without ever being reflective of our own shortcomings and our own contribution to family drama. If you go to family gatherings – whether it’s because you feel obligated or because you truly want to be there – be nice! Be you! Be the type of person you’d want to spend time with!

I know this doesn’t apply for everyone, but I think sometimes the reason why we dread spending time with our family at the holidays is because they really don’t know us. And yes, that can be partially their fault. But if that is something that really bothers you, then why not reach out…the other 11 months of the year? When was the last time you invited and extended member over, not because they “are family,” but because you want to get to know them better and grow the relationship?

So what is the secret to maximizing your enjoyment while minimizing stress this season? Well, it’s not easy, but it is rather simple — treat your friends like family, and your family like friends. Work just as hard on your family relationships as you do on your friendships, and make sure your friends know just how important they are to you.

Bloodline might be a fact, but that fact isn’t a reason to not try. It also isn’t an obligation. This life is short, and the holidays are special, so spend them with the people that show they love you all year long.

This holiday season, let’s work a little harder at expressing the love, peace and joy that truly makes this time of year so special.

We celebrated yesterday with a “Friends-giving.” Here are some photos from the day:

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