For most of us, thoughts of the holidays bring a mixture of memories and expectations. Times when we gathered with our dear ones in a warm house full with sweet smells and open hearts. Hopes and plans to make this year’s holidays full of love, care and peace. What makes the holidays so special is they are a time of gathering together with those near and dear to our hearts but often far from our daily lives. What makes the holidays so difficult in any year is matching those hopes and expectations with reality.
With the pandemic, this year our reality is quite horrible. We are being robbed of our hopes, expectations and opportunities to have the most important part of the holidays. We are now seeing how much we have taken as granted all our lives. It’s a big deal, and it will have an impact on all of us.
One of the secrets of the happiness movement is that it is not all about happiness. It is as much about misery and unhappiness because in order to be happy – as an individual or as a community, you have to heal your misery. We wanted to share some of the ways we are getting ready for the holidays. Here are three tips for surviving the holidays.
Grieve your loss
Covid-19 is the ultimate grinch. It has taken so much from us already, and now it’s taking our holidays. It is making it unsafe for use to do what we humans have done throughout history – gathering at special times to prepare food and share it with each other, sing songs, exchange news and gifts, unwind and enjoy each other.
The grief process is the way that we come to terms with something we cannot change and do not want. Grief allows us to accept the unacceptable. When we process our grief, we find silver linings. This is called resiliency. We process our grief through feeling our emotions and talking about them with another person who accepts who we are and does not judge us.
Grief comes in waves of emotion, some tsunami-sized, some tiny ripples. You already know the stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. You already know that the waves do not necessarily come in order and are often jumbled together. You can process grief at one point, then find you are doing it all over again. It takes time to process grief.
When we do not process our grief, feelings come out sideways. Take anger for instance. It is normal to be angry at Covid-19 and its spread, but it does not make sense. So perhaps you stuff your anger. You may find that you are irritable and unreasonable with people or in situations that would normally not bother you, even getting annoyed at someone who is trying to help you. You may find yourself raging - and fully convinced that the object of your rage deserves all of your hate - when it’s not normal for you to indulge in temper tantrums. Perhaps you are spending an inordinate amount of time obsessing or seething over something that happened in the past or someone who is not really that big a part of your life. These are just a few ways that the anger can come out sideways.
Turning your back on your sadness can also come out sideways. Feelings do not go away if you ignore them. Sadness ignored can fester into anxiety or depression. “She drowns in those uncried tears” is the way Annie Lamott describes being stuck in sadness in her book Small Victories. It’s a myth that suicide rates increase over the holidays (CNC, 2013), but not a myth that the pandemic is precipitating suicide (Reger, Stanly & Joiner, 2020) . One cause is isolation and loneliness, which exacerbates all the conditions of unprocessed grief. Depression and anxiety are completely convincing, so convincing that some of us take our own lives. Depression and anxiety come in many forms – from apathy, sluggishness, insomnia, physical pain, and carelessness about your own safety to restlessness, agitation, feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts. There is nothing wrong with any of these feelings, and there is everything right with getting help when you have them. See your doctor (masked up in-person or visit online) and talk about how you are feeling. If your doctor won’t listen or you don’t feel like they care, find a doctor who does listen, who you feel like does care about your feelings and who understands that your feelings and your health are directly connected. Talk to friends. If anyone in your life (friend, family, work) – even someone in your ancestry – has had a problem with alcohol, join an Al-Anon online meeting and attend regularly. (Al-Anon is not the same as AA. It is for anyone who has been in a relationship with an alcoholic, addict, or abusive person). You can find an Al-Anon meeting by searching with your city, town or region and Al-Anon or on the Al-Anon world service website. It is more available and less expensive than therapy and can be as helpful for many.
It may seem antithetical that guidance for the happiness in holidays is to allow yourself to feel angry and sad, but it’s true. At the Happiness Alliance we have lots of tools (in the form of presentations you can view and download) for how to be happy when you are feeling sad on our How to Be Happy page.
We usually equate holidays with gifts. Giving and receiving gifts wrapped up and full of promise that bring a smile to your face. This year will be different. Many of us have been soothing ourselves with online buying and don’t need much. But for many, Covid-19 has brought economic strife and much suffering. In particular, for low-income families in your area, as well as communities in developing nations that relied on tourism, are in dire straits and are suffering. So is wildlife in the areas where tourism supported conservation. This year, for those people in your life who don’t need or want anything and will appreciate it, donate in their name.
Research has shown that giving to charities actually makes people feel good for longer than any other kind of gift (Dunn, Whillans, Norton & Aknin, 2019). That said, we are happier about a donation when we have a choice. So be inventive about your giving – and give your gift recipients a choice about who to donate to in their name. You can find choices by searching for the name of their city, town or region and “charities that help low income families and children” or “non-profits needing help.” You can find international choices in organizations such as OxFam, and smaller grassroots non-profits like The Maa Trust in Kenya, Nourish Bangladesh (two nonprofits we personally know are directly helping people) or by searching for nonprofits operating in the remote areas you have visited or would like or visit.
This holiday season, redefine what it means to give with an internal paradigm shift too. Give yourself the gift of time abundantly, deliriously, cheerfully and without remorse. Waste your time – a ton of it. Do things that are utterly unproductive and completely pointless. If you live with roommates or your family, start a new tradition of a completely useless and utterly consuming pastimes like card games, board games, or reading plays together (here is a fun example, but with movie stars). Jigsaw puzzles work equally well for wasting time if you live alone or with others. Do stuff that you love to do but never have the time to do because it is too trivial or maybe even stupid – or better yet, something you want to do but do not because you don’t think you are good enough at it. If gaming is your thing, dive into those games that leave you feeling happy and generous and give you good dreams when you detach from the keyboard.
Give to yourself in other ways. Take your vitamins, especially vitamin C and D (make sure to visit your doctor for your annual preventative exam to see if you have deficiencies). Sleep like a cat. Take walks like a dog, seeking out things to be curious about and finding wonder in the shape of a tree or your neighbor’s decorations.
Finally, if you still have time to give, volunteer for a nonprofit. With Covid-19, it’s harder to give your time, but most, if not all, nonprofits are having a harder time these days. If you don’t have one in mind, the map app on your computer or smartphone can help when you put in the term nonprofit or charity and choose search near me.
Plan but Don’t Do
A lot of us are planning to avoid this year’s holidays by getting away. It can be a really good strategy sometimes, but this year – don’t. Instead make plans for a crazy fantastic all expenses paid wonderful trip – dream, storyboard, plan it all out. Fantasize, find out the ticket prices...do everything except actually travelling to another area, city or country.
There are two major reasons for not traveling. First, particularly if you are planning to travel to an exotic location - the area you probably want to visit does not have adequate health care coverage for vulnerable populations and can’t afford an outbreak of Covid-19, and is low on the priority for vaccines when they are finally available. The people who will be serving you are members of the vulnerable populations or live and care for elderly and often can’t afford to fully socially distance due to their work. Even if you test negative for your flight, there is no guarantee that you won’t end up being a super spreader – and super spreader tourists are already causing devastating effects on remote communities. The second reason is travel bans. It may not seem like such a bad deal if you get stuck on your dream island, but if you play out all the consequences in your head, you’ll have another think.
So instead make plans. Making plans is good for you. It helps you to build your capacity for patience, which is one of the ingredients of resilient and happy people. It also brings your focus on what you want, which makes it more likely you will get the essence of what you want and is good for you. Don’t limit your planning to a vacation. Plan out a crazy improbable and fantastic future for yourself. Make a story about how the next month, year and decade will be. Let it be messy. Don’t be realistic. Put away any expectations. If ever a thought comes up about what you should do or accomplishment or how you measure up, tell that thought to get screwed and make your plans even more improbable, crazy and impossible. Build your castle in the sky as high up and as big as you possibly can – with lots of detail. Have super fun with it. Occasionally reflect on your plans. (This goes back to wasting time). Ask yourself what the themes and patterns are in your plans, and what they tell you about yourself. In this reflection you will find hidden gems – love gifts from you to you.
In sum, our three tips for the holidays are:
1. be sad + be mad + be disappointed = grieve the loss of this holiday season
2. put a spin on giving = donations 4 presents + wildly waste time
3. stay home and build castles in the sky.
Next year will be better – or may be better. We don’t really know, but it probably will be. This year sucks. We hope these tips are useful to you. If they are not, we get it. However, know that we really are in this together and we give you these tips out of love and with a desire to help – you and ourselves. And we would love to hear your tips for surviving the holidays, and will share them in our next newsletter: Let us know here! https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScNQasPlfTRYroXOAmUEUKKbpFhOlsCUiXgRbnND4pTSEThdA/viewform