How To Be Happy Through the Holidays

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, it may alight upon you.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

All of us have expectations. We expect our day to unfold in a particular way. We expect to eat something specific for lunch, we expect a meeting to go smoothly, we expect other people to behave in a certain way. Whether these expectations are positive or negative, it doesn’t matter, we are grasping for a certain picture of the way we think things "should be.”

I find myself doing this each and every holiday season. My expectations are usually hopeful:  that everything will be beautiful; that peace and love will be opening the hearts of my family and friends; that my children will somehow be grateful and thankful; that I won't be stressed; that we will all come together in friendly gatherings and share our lives over perfect, delicious meals. Many of you might laugh at this, because I’m obviously setting myself up for disappointment, right?

But what if your expectations were on the negative side? I’ve had this experience too: to expect that there will be hurt feelings and disagreements; that certain people will not get along despite the jovial season; that tension will hang in the air so thickly that the new year can’t cut through it fast enough. Does this sound like your expectations of the holiday season or a particular gathering?

Even if your expectations fall somewhere in between, you are still setting yourself up to be unhappy. Because all of these expectations fool us into a false sense of security. We really don’t know what will happen from one moment to the next. This uncertainty is not something that should be feared, but embraced. Allow things to unfold before you and be curious about each moment, with an “I wonder what will happen” perspective. Children get so much joy out of life because they don’t have all the years of experience and expectation that adults do. Try to find that inner child and imagine each experience is new - as if you were living it for the first time.

But we ARE adults. How can we let go of those expectations? After all, we are experts at expecting.

Here’s what I suggest:

1. Tell yourself ahead of time - before a gathering or event - that you are going to practice having a “clean slate” mentality, and you’re going to let go of judgements and/or expectations about people and how the event will unfold.

2. Take deep breaths. Have a mantra in your head, a phrase like “isn’t that interesting” to replace a judgmental thought, or “just this” to remind you to stay present and stop the expectations.

3. Now is the time to start a meditation practice - it can help you be more calm, centered and happy! Every day, spend 5 minutes or longer practicing deep breathing and/or reciting a mantra. Mantras are great ways to help our minds to focus and to let go of the ongoing judgmental chatter that we all have about ourselves and others. Create your own mantra - part of a poem, prayer, just a short phrase - anything will work, so long as it's positive and has meaning for you. Traditional yogic mantras can be helpful too and have beautiful meanings. A very simple one is "So Hum," which translates as “I am; I am truth and peace, they are within me.”

Good luck and Happy Holidays to you! I am expecting to be present with whatever unfolds this holiday season. Here’s to hoping that if we sit still, happiness will alight upon us, when we least expect it.

If you want to learn more about meditation in the Pittsburgh, PA area, please check out my next Meditation Workshop on Sunday, December 4.