The Pressure to be Happy for the Holidays

For every song on the radio filled with cheer and jingling bells, there’s another filled with loneliness and longing.  It’s good to know I’m not alone…


This year, school is out only a few days before the actual Christmas holiday.  With Thanksgiving having happened at the very end of the month, there hasn’t been much time to prepare.  Pressure is building to make sure the family experiences ALL the joy of the season: decorations, shopping, tree lighting, Christmas concerts, school shows, baking, visiting with family, crafts, on and on.

We push ourselves to accomplish all of our “normal” activities AND the additional activities of the season, and do it all while grinning wildly from ear to ear—lest we be called a humbug.  For some of us, it feels a little like moving through molasses.  Every activity requires twice as much energy (and leaves a lingering sticky residue).

A while back, I wrote about authentic happiness. Not everyone’s happiness looks the same.  TV seduces us into thinking true happiness is a bubbling and bursting, a new-car-with-huge-red-ribbon kind of glee.  Some people have a happiness quotient that is more of a simmer, save for those actual lotto-winning moments, and it is much more quiet.

Surprise new car

Like our bodies, happiness comes in all shapes and sizes.  We think something is wrong when we don’t feel what we think we should feel.  We tell other people to, “SMILE!!”, as if that is the only way to walk around in the world.  There is a difference between being unhappy and not-as-happy.

Make this distinction in your solitude.  Appreciate the moments you have when your child says something magical about the season, when a great friend is in town for a visit, when your favorite movie comes on TV.

It’s also perfectly reasonable to appreciate the quiet of the season: the glow of the lights when your house has turned down for the night, the warm smell of baking, the tears shed over people who have passed.

We don’t give ourselves, or each other, enough opportunity to express an emotion other than jubilation this time of year.  There is room for reflection, remembrance, and reverence.  It is the pressure to be happy that tips the scale–turning memories into melancholy.

Set aside time for yourself to decompress. Schedule it if you have to. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotion you need to feel without guilt. Cry, scream, sit in silence.  It’s perfectly normal.

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