The Expected Holiday Hustle: Honoring What We Really Want, Instead of Just Doing the “Right Thing”

It’s that time of year again: the beginning of the holiday season. The holidays can bring happiness, feelings of connection and joy at home and work.

At the same time there are many expectations around how we’re supposed to show up during this season. Holiday parties and gatherings with colleagues and family, gift exchanges with unclear parameters, and the overall expectation that amidst all of our hustle-and-bustle we’ll be happy all of the time. During this entire season!

The expectation of ongoing happiness for at least a month and a half, is not realistic—in fact, it’s a pretty tall order for ourselves to fulfill. In light of these realities, here are some things you can do to thrive, instead of just survive during this busy season.

Make a List

Make a list of the things you truly enjoy love and enjoy doing during the holidays. One thing I absolutely look forward to each year is baking holiday cookies with my mom and close friends. My mom and I have been hosting a cookie baking party since 1997! This is a tradition we both want to continue, in a paired down way due to COVID but that we already have on the calendar. Our friends that have been a part of this tradition for years agree that it doesn’t seem like the holidays without it!

What are things you enjoy doing either by yourself or with family that you truly enjoy? Take a few minutes to write these in a list of “Must Do’s This Season”.

Maybe it’s listening to holiday music while driving around to look at lights? Or perhaps it’s something as simple as putting on your favorite holiday music. My tried and true holiday go to is Charlie Brown’s Christmas by Vince Guaruldi. The day after Thanksgiving, I put that album on repeat and it instantly feels like Christmas to me. I feel the warmth, joy, and excitement-just from this one album.

Think about what you enjoy doing during the holidays that make you happy. The big things, the small things, and everything in between. This is your Must Do This Season list and the activities will be priorities for you this season, moving forward.

If you’re already busy with family obligations, work deadlines or other things that need to get done in order for your life to function smoothly, bringing these seasonal activities into your days will help ground you—and connect you back to what matters during this season, celebrating love and connection! You’ll have the energy, excitement, and clarity about what truly matters to you this season and the time to do those things with people you love and care about.

Don’t Do It All

Look at the list you’ve created, now create a list of the other things that you usually do during the holidays, but that don’t bring you joy. What are the things you feel like you “have” to do?

This might be attending holiday parties and gatherings with colleagues, family or friends. Maybe it’s having a gift exchange at your place of work that is not something you’re looking forward to doing. Or going through the motions because everyone else does this during the holidays.

These activities are ones that we often get thrown into and feel obliged to do, because we’ve done them before (sometimes for years) and they seem like a requirement. Yet, just because others may expect us to do these things, doesn’t mean we have to do them.

On the list you’ve created put a 1 next to things that you somewhat enjoy and a 2 next to the things you don’t enjoy at all. When you are planning out your days, make time for the things that are on your Must Do This Holiday Season list and then the activities that you listed as 1’s also.

Depending on your energy level you may choose to do a few of the things from your Must Do list each week or just one or two on the weekends. If there is still time in your week to do the things you somewhat enjoy (the 1’s), then pencil those in as well.

You know yourself best and what your energy level is like. Keep this in mind when you are agreeing to the things that are on each of your lists. Pay attention to your body and thoughts. If at anytime during the season you feel stressed or tired, take some time to yourself to recharge. A simple 10 minute walk, meditation, or reading a book may be the very thing you need to relax before returning to your holiday activities. Even with the best laid plans, everybody needs a break. Give yourself permission to take one.

Acknowledge the Expected

It’s likely that you’ll be expected to do some of the activities from your list of 2’s-the things you don’t enjoy at all. You may even feel obliged or obligated to go along with what everyone else is doing around your office, family gatherings and more. I’ve certainly felt this way in years past!

If you’re feeling like there are certain 2’s that you’ll be expected to do consider what it is you don’t enjoy about doing them. Perhaps you don’t enjoy the people that are there? If so, is it all the people or just a few? Is there a way you could still attend an event or two with people there that you don’t enjoy but only focus and spend time with the people you do enjoy?

Your first reaction may be that you have to spend time with all of the people in attendance, but that’s not necessarily true. It may just be your expectation of yourself that you have to spend time with everyone. Think about your expectations or yourself at these events. Is it possible that you are expecting too much of yourself in attending these events and that if you just shifted your expectations of yourself, that you could enjoy the event?

Try to find something in the activity you don’t enjoy, that sparks joy for you. If it’s not possible, think about what you need to take care of yourself during the event. Develop a plan so that your needs are being met while still respecting everyone else who may have an expectation or desire around seeing you.

One way you may want to consider is to limit the time you are at events. Stopping in for a bit, but then leaving after a set time is a great way to take care of your needs while attending an event that you truly don’t enjoy.

Be True to You

Of course, there are times when things truly aren’t possible. Life is busy and complicated!

If you find that the activities you don’t want to do during this season -while others expect them of you-are not something that will bring joy or fulfillment for you at all consider how you can make a shift and not attend those activities.

Saying no is hard to do but essential to take care of your needs and your time. Give yourself permission to say no to things this season that really don’t bring you joy.

Life is too short to be at events that don’t add value. Life is also too short to spend time with people who bring you down or sap your energy.

It’s likely that others may not understand why you aren’t attending the event or aren’t engaging in activities that you have been a part of in the past. But let them know how important it is for you to take care of yourself during this busy season, thank them for the invite, and then let them know you can’t make it.

Communicating in a kind way that you can’t make it to a holiday party or participate in a gift exchange is often enough for people to understand that you are doing something different this year, and they won’t take it personally. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself and you’ll be amazed by how much you can enjoy the holidays again!

The few moments you take today to consider what you truly love about the holidays and the activities that mean the most to you during this time will save you so much time, energy, and money as you move into the season. A little planning now will help you create a season with less stress and more love and appreciation for the people and activities that you enjoy doing during this season and into the New Year.

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