Common Sense for Christmas

beyond-happy

(If you’re lucky, Santa might just bring you this book.) 

It’s nearly Advent, and the Christian readers of this blog (do I have any readers?) probably know what that means… happy new (church) year!

I don’t know about you, but for me any prospect of a fresh start is both thrilling and dangerous. It’s thrilling because this is my chance to finally live out all of my best intentions. And it’s dangerous because my “best intentions” often don’t take into account such pesky little details as, oh, reality.

I’m really hoping that this holiday season (and Year A in general) buck my usual trend.

That trend goes something like this: at first, I’m buoyed by the general excitement of a new beginning. At the beginning of a new church year, school year, or calendar year I make tons of resolutions and move forward with gusto. But all too soon, I abandon whatever it was I was theoretically so passionate about incorporating into my life. And then, as an extra-special emotional bonus, I pile on the self-shaming because I was “too lazy” to make those changes.

My spiritual life is certainly no exception to this grim pattern. Let’s take this upcoming Christmas season as a case in point. I’ve been scrolling through Pinterest, collecting images of beautiful things that the more motivated mamas are already doing. I build theoretical plans to do this art project or start that ritual… and then I guilt myself because I’m not already doing it.

I feel all this self-induced pressure to make Advent and Christmas magical and meaningful for my family. Unfortunately, all that pressure renders me too anxious to truly enjoy anything with them and I often spend the holidays as a sweating, resentful bystander… or, conversely, treating my partner and children like expendable window dressing in the display of my theoretical perfection. (“Just go away so that Mommy can create precious memories for you!” I find myself thinking. And yeah, I realize that’s not a statement that should be on any reasonable person’s radar. But there you go.)

So this year, I’m going to do a little pre-thinking. Before I get seduced into trying out a cute tradition or a truly awesome reverse advent calendar, I need to ask myself: what is it I’m actually trying to accomplish here? And what are the actual parameters of my life that I need to acknowledge while pursuing that goal? Where can I simplify? Where can I say no?

Saying no is incredibly hard for me, but also (usually) incredibly rewarding when I can manage it.

While I ponder our 2016 plans for Advent and Christmas, I’ll be consulting an invaluable resource—Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being. The author of this book, Dr. Beth Cabrera, works in positive psychology. In Beyond Happy, she puts her expertise (plus tons of her peers’ meticulous research) to work analyzing (a) why the culture of anxiety thrives and how we can say no to it, (b) how we can uncover our individual purpose, and (c) how to access that purpose in practical ways that dramatically enhance our quality of life. In covering these points, we can also (d) make a more positive impact on the world as a whole.

Self-induced pressure, you may be a familiar and longstanding companion. But I’ve got to tell you, Cabrera’s message is much more in keeping with the spirit of Advent and Christmas!

Chapter Five of Cabrera’s book is titled “Be Hopeful.” In it, she advises readers to visualize their ideal future and set specific goals that will move them in their desired direction. After completing this important initial work, Cabrera then recommends:

  • Using if-then planning to guide action.
  • Identifying several alternative strategies for achieving goals.
  • Keeping a victory log as a record of all successes.
  • Considering the efforts expended by role models to achieve success.

As I work through the steps recommended by Cabrera, I’ll be posting the seasonal-specific questions I used to guide my planning, as well as some specifics on how they shaped or shifted my perception of our family’s needs.  I’ll add link-backs to those further musings in this post.

But in the mean time, dear reader, how do you create meaningful and memorable holidays?