Tis the season of giving, the time to make memories with the people we love. But the degree of pressure to produce perfect dinners and parties and presents is a prescription can leave us more overwhelmed than overjoyed. We can get so caught up in the momentum that we lose the moment. With economic tensions adding to everyone’s worries, now is the best of times to let go of the search for “hot” toys or crazy cool technology to amaze and surprise our loved ones, and look instead for ways to create experiences that make enduring, positive memories with them. Here are five building blocks of experiences that form a child’s ideas about what it means to be happy.
- It’s not what we give, it’show.In the end, what we – and our kids – recall about family holiday time is how it felt to be there. “Busy busy busy.” “Overworked.” “Stretched in a million different directions.” “Resentful.” “Exhausted.” These are the words participants at a professional workplace “Healthier Holidays” seminar used to describe what they remember about their parents’ state of mind over the holidays as they were growing up. As hard-working parents who found themselves trapped in a similar cycle of externally-driven obligation and stress in the name of making their children happy, this exercise helped to reframe and let go of some misery-inducing, ingrained patterns of thinking.
- Be there.Consciously choosing where to dedicate our attention requires a combination of knowing our values and our limits. Honoring our own limits saves our energy for fun-with-family-and-friends and enhances our ability to fully engage with what is happening when everyone is together.
- Shop local and handmade. The East Ends Arts Council on Long Island sponsors a Holiday Gift Market from November 29 through December 23 in which all the gifts – including handmade ornaments, original crafts, home goods, jewelry – are locally made. (The opening reception is Friday December 2, 5-8 p.m.) This connection to the creative process and to creative people is missing with commercially-manufactured items, the money goes back into our own communities rather than a factory in some other country, and these gifts – created by our neighbors – may come with a story to tell about how they were made.
- Tell stories – and choose them consciously. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge is transformed by a review of his life story and the experiences that shaped his choices. We can all benefit from reviewing both the positive and the painful experiences that shaped our own view of what it means to be happy and crafting the stories we share with impressionable minds to focus on the blessing, the lesson, and the love. And since there are so many film versions of A Christmas Carol – from the classic starring Alistair Sims to Bill Murray’s Scrooged – watch and discuss all of them over the month of December.
- Attend live music and theater performances. Make a date to see Theater Three’s annual full-cast version of Scrooges’ journey which runs from – just one of the many taking place on Long Island. Or check out David Houston’s rendition of Charles Dickens himself in a re-creation of the show that launched Dickens’ acting career in 1867, Sunday December 4 at Brecknock Hall in Greenport, NY.
When we let go of unnecessary pressures to perform or produce in ways that overextend emotional – and financial – resources and focus on creating positive emotional experiences, we pass on the immeasurable – and unreturnable – gift of being present. And that’s what puts the “happy” in happy holidays.